JOHN MANSFIELD THOMSON
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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