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A tribute by PETER DALE to Wilfrid Mellers
for a unique life of music and letters


Wilfrid Mellers' retirement from writing seems a thing conceivable in principle but almost impossible to grasp as a fact. In his books, his lectures and his journalism he has been so much a fact and feature of musical and intellectual life for so long -- as much internationally as provincially English -- that the thought of there not being any more will mark a milestone in our own lives.

One or two other people may have paralleled the breadth of his interests and the depth of his achievements but it is hard to think of anyone who has equalled them in the last fifty years. Trying to find comparisons suggests what a very remarkable man and author he is. For depth -- for his ability to shift the way we see things by dint of insight and sheer intelligence -- he reminds me of Isaiah Berlin, and perhaps the comparison doesn't stop there for both were stipendiary academics but conscientious communicators with audiences far beyond academia; both have that rare knack of marrying rare intelligence with accessible intelligibility. For sheer breadth of musical interests only George Steiner (but, in his case, the breadth spans literature) comes anywhere near -- and Steiner has never quite managed to be as accessible as Mellers, though both share a sublime indifference to received opinion and both have caused many an academic to choke on the scrambled eggs of their scholarly narrow-mindedness. The sensitivity to cultural contexts which has given Mellers' writing so much of its colour and authority and challenging edge has no parallel at all except perhaps in the work of Charles Rosen -- but his polymathematician's mind has managed to embrace so far only the 18th and 19th centuries whereas Mellers' hugs everything, and then passes it on for everyone else to embrace too.

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Copyright © 20 June 2002 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK





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