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The American Musical Instrument Society


The Curt Sachs Award 2013

William E. Hettrick

Hettrick was presented his award in Williamsburg, Virginia, on May 31, 2013, during the annual meeting of the Society, "in recognition of his distinguished contributions as professor of music, author of books and articles on musical instruments, editor of critical scholarly editions, president of the Society, and editor of its Journal and its Newsletter."

Hettrick playing his serpent (in B-flat!) at a concert of the Hofstra University Collegium Musicum in November, 2012.
Hettrick playing his serpent (in B-flat!)
at a concert of the Hofstra University
Collegium Musicum in November, 2012.

Following are Professor Hettrick's remarks to members of the Society:

Dear friends, I am deeply moved by being awarded this singular honor by the society that I have been privileged to serve for over thirty-five years. When I received the happy news from Ed Bowles several months ago, I was simply speechless! And that was probably a good thing, because his message also advised me to keep my comments this evening short! Now, many of my students would tell you that this is impossible, but I promise you that I will be brief!

The nature of this occasion causes me to reminisce a little about the first few years of my association with AMI S. As a fledgling member of the Society, I was encouraged in 1978 to apply for the position of Editor of its Journal. Part of the process was a very pleasant interview I had with Howard Brown and Eric Selch in November of that year. It took place at a New York City location well known as a meeting place: under the clock in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel, right next to Grand Central Station. Sadly, Howard and Eric are now no longer with us, and even the Biltmore is gone; but the memories remain. As Editor, I was very lucky in the high quality of articles submitted to the Journal by scholars who had already made a name for themselves in their respective fields. To illustrate this, let me mention just a few authors who contributed to my first couple of volumes: Edmund A. Bowles, Robert E. Eliason, Phillip T. Young, Cynthia Adams Hoover, Cecil Adkins, and two young scholars named Albert R. Rice and Margaret Anne Downie. Incidentally, in those days, all my editorial work was done on paper. Imagine that, you younger members of the audience: on paper!

My own interest in the history of musical instruments began when I worked on undergraduate honors projects at the Stearns Collection of the University of Michigan. Under the direction of curator Robert A. Warner, I studied, examined, and learned to play the serpent and ophicleide in the collection, and I later served as his graduate assistant there. These early projects bore specific fruit many years later, when I edited and programmed an anonymous 18th-century divertimento for winds in a concert of the Hofstra University Collegium Musicum, which I directed. This was the piece that everybody in Vienna in the 1870s thought was by Haydn, including Brahms, who based his orchestral Haydn Variations on its second movement. The divertimento is written for two oboes, two horns, three bassoons, and serpent; and so I set about constructing what turned out to be a surprisingly convincing replica of a serpent, which I played in the concert to the astonishment of the audience, and in fact, myself! I repeated the exercise just last November with a new student group, with equal success. If it weren’t for the fact that our dining room this evening lacks projection facilities, you would now be treated to a slide showing me and my serpent taken on that occasion. You’ll just have to imagine it.

My graduate study of Thomas Simpson’s of 1610—a collection of pavans, galliards, courantes, and voltas—led to my interest in making critical editions of early instrumental music, which I began to publish when I started my teaching career and have continued to the present. My historical studies of musical instruments ranged from recorders to other, similar instruments, including the 16th-century rüspfeif and the 19th-century csakan, as well as to Renaissance German instruments of all types, especially those found in Martin Agricola’s Musica instrumentalis deudsch of 1529 and 1545. I also pursued a historical side-track, a piano-like, vernacular instrument of the early 20th century called the Dolceola, which was invented and manufactured briefly in Toledo, Ohio, by my paternal grandfather’s brother-in-law. Through the kindness of Jeannine and Dick Abel, I was able to acquire a surviving Dolceola, which I learned to play and wrote about. My further historical work involved the silent practice keyboards of Mr. and Mrs. Virgil (I can also play those very well), and then I moved on to topics closer to the center of the American piano industry. Probably my most popular project so far has been the saga of Harry Freund and his famous bonfire of 1904. More recently I have delved into the history of piano factories, the legendary Joseph P. Hale, and the American piano-supply industry—that’s a big article that I’ve been struggling with for a while. My explorations have taken me back to Toledo, to Atlantic City, up and down the island of Manhattan, and as some of you experienced first-hand last year and others will discover tomorrow— also to the Bronx.

The AMI S website characterizes the Curt Sachs Award as “honoring lifetime contributions toward the goals of the Society.” There is no denying that these words imply a certain finality, but the thirty distinguished scholars who have received this honor to date have shown no sign of merely resting on their laurels. I feel humbled by being chosen to join their ranks, and I thank you for this privilege.

-William E. Hettrick

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