Remembering Edward Olleson

Susan Wollenberg pays tribute to Dr Edward Olleson, who died on Friday 20 September 2003

I first encountered Edward Olleson when, as an undergraduate, I attended his lectures at the Music Faculty – which were extremely popular: his series on “Mozart’s Piano Concertos” was a special favourite. Edward was later to be my much-valued colleague (and source of wise advice) at the Faculty for many years. He and I both sat at the feet of the great Fred Sternfeld, and it was a particular pleasure to serve with him and our colleague John Caldwell as co­ editors of the Festschrift for Fred (The Well Enchanting Skill: Music,  Poetry, and Drama in the Culture of the Renaissance. Essays in Honour of FW Sternfeld) published at Oxford by the Clarendon Press in 1990.

Edward’s own contributions to musicology have been primarily in the field of Viennese Classical style, where his fine scholarship made a significant and lasting impact, for instance on research regarding Haydn’s Creation, and in his taking editorial responsibility, at Stanley Sadie’s invitation (after the latter had examined, and been greatly impressed by, Edward’s DPhil thesis on Baron van Swieten, patron of Haydn and Mozart), for 18th-century articles for the New Grove Dictionary of Music  and Musicians (1980). Indeed in his many editorships (including those of the Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association and the journal Music & Letters, as well as various symposia), Edward’s work had a tremendous influence on the development of the discipline in the last few decades of the twentieth century.

As a supervisor he guided (with legendary patience) a series of first-rate dissertations to successful completion; a nice tribute comes from one of his pupils, Professor Simon McVeigh, author of several distinguished works on 18th-century concert life and compiler of the authoritative database of references to music in 18th century London newspapers, who remembers Edward’s suggesting one day that Simon might “look at some newspapers of the period”- with consequences that even he may not have foreseen!

Besides all this (and  his college activity), Edward served the Faculty and University in high office, with a rare administrative flair; we reaped the benefits when he became “our man in Wellington Square” (as Vice-Chairman of the General Board), and forever afterwards he was regarded in the Faculty as a source of enlightenment on the mysterious workings of the University’s central administrative machinery. He has also left his mark on the Faculty’s lovely gardens, having served as our unofficial garden steward.

Susan Wollenberg, Professor of Music, Fellow & Tutor Lady Margaret Hall