With news of Richard Taruskin’s passing, UC Press Music, Film, and Media Studies Editor Raina Polivka shares a tribute to his work.

Richard Taruskin, who died on July 1st, was a longtime author at University of California Press and Series Editor for the prestigious California Studies in Twentieth-Century Music. His scholarly output in many ways maps to the history of the press’s distinguished music list, one that has benefited from the sage leadership of Lynne Withey and the careful curation of Doris Kretschmer, who worked with Richard through Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions and who, according to Richard, never once questioned its prodigious length. He contributed to a publishing program that grew and blossomed under the savvy prudence of Mary Francis, who edited his earlier essay collections and who worked with Richard to bring some of the brightest minds in musicology into his series, establishing University of California Press as the home for New Musicology and its attendant expansions into contemporary musics, new technologies, and sound studies. In the meantime, many of Richard Taruskin’s dynamic and sometimes controversial ideas took shape in numerous articles contributed to journals published by UC Press, including the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Journal of Musicology, and 19th-Century Music.

I have had the privilege of working with Richard these last six years. Over kippers and eggs at Saul’s Delicatessen in North Berkeley we’d swap stories of our travels, of our current reading material, of our children. Often in these final years, Richard would reflect on the controversial role he has played in the academy, acknowledging that there was much left to do. Most recently, with the war in Ukraine, Richard expressed regret that as a scholar, he dealt mostly in the world of ideas about a bygone Russia, without addressing the very real political and intellectual threat they have become in the present.

Richard was nothing if not steadfast, but especially to his students, whose minds and relationships he treasured. With a strut and a saunter, he could be found at Point Isabel, the lively dog park on the shores of El Cerrito, carefully listening to a student’s newest research, actively thinking alongside his companion. Indeed, to be in Richard’s orbit was to be in the nebula of greatness.  

And now, as I read through these pages of Richard’s final book, Musical Lives and Times Examined, I hear his voice crackling with wit, laden with love for the word, for the work. For, to Richard, writing and thinking were a true art—one that he exceeded the bounds of and pushed to its farthest reaches. His massive volumes could hardly contain his colossal mind. And I am humbled to be a small part of it all.

UC Press publications by Richard Taruskin:

Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works through Marva, 1996 (paper vols. 1 & 2, 2016).

The Danger of Music, and Other Anti-Utopian Essays, 2008 (paper, 2010)

On Russian Music, 2008 (paper, 2010)

Russian Music at Home and Abroad, 2016

Cursed Questions: On Music and Its Social Practices, 2020

Musical Lives and Times Examined: Keynotes and Clippings, 2006-2019, forthcoming 2023