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An appreciation by ERIC VAN TASSEL

John Mansfield Thomson, the founding editor of the quarterly 'Early Music' and a distinguished historian of the music and culture of his native New Zealand, died early on Saturday morning (11 September) in hospital in Wellington.

It is for others, who knew him better than I did, to write his obituary; but I do want to pay my own tribute to a man of great charm and character who had a profound influence on me. For by engaging me as Record Reviews Editor for 'Early Music' in 1981, John Thomson started me on the road to my present precarious but fascinating existence as a freelance writer.

John made you think of 'Early Music' more as a family than as a business enterprise, and I was thankful to remain a member of that family after I returned to the USA in 1985. By then I had long since lost count of the number of great musicians I had met at 'Early Music' receptions. But when, after ten years back home, my wife and I decided to return to England for good, we did so partly in order to be near the centre of the early music world - a centre which, thanks to JMT's achievement, has since 1973 been defined as 'wherever "Early Music" comes from'.

For JMT had had the wisdom to see that starting such a journal - and at precisely the right moment - would give the early music community a focus it had previously lacked. It seems to me no exaggeration to say that JMT set up a standard under which historically informed performance would continue to be intellectually rigorous yet artistically flexible, healthily competitive but always collegial.

Like many New Zealanders, John became a citizen of Europe without ceasing to be fiercely patriotic. He taught me how to pronounce the name of Inia Te Wiata and arranged for Kiwi Records to send me a treasured copy of Inia's LP 'Waiata Maori'; he was seriously loyal to his country's wines; and he introduced me (and many other 'E.M.' contributors) to the kiwi-fruit pavlova at Shampers, the wine bar run by two New Zealanders, hard by Regent Street and hence convenient for the journal when it enjoyed the fabulously grand setting of Ely House.

Copyright © Eric Van Tassel, September 17th 1999 

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