Gossett’s studies on Italian opera garner $1.5 million grantBy Jennifer Carnig
Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor in Music and the College and one of the world’s foremost experts on Italian opera, is one of four humanities scholars to receive a 2004 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The lifetime achievement award provides its honorees with $1.5 million over a three-year period so they and their institutions can deepen and extend humanistic research. In contrast to other academic award programs that benefit the individual scholar exclusively, the Distinguished Achievement Awards recognize the interdependence of scholars and their institutions.
In addition to recognizing a scholar’s work, the awards are intended to support programs that enhance scholarship and teaching related to the recipient’s interests, underscoring “the decisive contributions the humanities make to the nation’s intellectual life.”
Gossett, a music historian who specializes in 19th-century Italian opera, specifically the works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi, was praised by the foundation for going “beyond the academy” and “bridging the gap between theory and practice” in his work with both major opera houses and those that are less well known. He also was called an “exemplary citizen of his University” and a “legendary and generous undergraduate teacher.
“His work produced a decisive change in the place and understanding of Verdi’s operas, as well as those of Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and other composers,” the foundation said in announcing the award winners. “In addition to his voluminous writings as a scholar and critic, Professor Gossett has led major editorial projects and carefully mentored generations of graduate students.”
Although the Distinguished Achievement Award is only four years old, this is the third time a University faculty member has won the prize: Robert Pippin, the Raymond W. and Martha Hilpert Gruner Distinguished Service Professor and Chairman of the Committee on Social Thought and Professor in Philosophy and the College, and Sheila Fitzpatrick, the Bernadotte E. Schmitt Distinguished Service Professor in Modern Russian History, are both previous winners. Gossett’s selection by the Mellon Foundation marks the first time a musicologist has been chosen for the honor.
The recognition is well-deserved, said Ellen Harris (A.M.,’70, Ph.D.,’76), a musicologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gossett “has been largely responsible for making 19th-century Italian opera what it is today, a major field and a respected field in musicological research.”
Before Gossett’s scholarship, it was considered inappropriate for a student to stray from studying the Renaissance or the great masters like Beethoven and Bach. “The only reason it doesn’t seem strange anymore is because of Philip. You can never say that someone has single-handedly done something, but to the extent that you can, he has single-handedly brought 19th-century opera into the highest levels of musicological scholarship,” Harris said.
Author of two books on Donizetti and of the forthcoming Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera (Spring 2006, Chicago), Gossett serves as general editor of The Works of Giuseppe Verdi and of The Critical Edition of the Works of Gioachino Rossini. Among the operas he himself has edited or co-edited are Rossini’s Tancredi, Ermione and Semiramide. He is currently working on Verdi’s La forza del Destino. In 1998, the Italian government awarded Gossett its highest civilian honor, Cavaliere di Gran Croce.
Gossett also has served as president of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Textual Scholarship, as Dean of the Humanities Division, and as a lecturer and consultant at opera houses and festivals in America and Italy. Gossett, who once was a math and physics major, received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1970, and has been teaching at the University since 1968.
Gossett said he plans to begin using the grant in the 2006-07 academic year to advance his more than 20-year-old project of creating new critical editions of both Rossini’s and Verdi’s works. In conjunction with this project, he will bring other opera scholars to campus to teach and do research.
He also plans to hold a major interdisciplinary conference examining the intersection of editorial theory, the preparation of critical editions that can be used as the basis for performance (musical or literary), and the use of these editions in the concert hall, on stage or in other performance venues.
He also will fund research trips to as yet unexplored archives in South America and Spain, where there are major theaters that once were Italian opera hubs.