Remembrances

Mark Swed

Perhaps, I am being too obvious when I say that Alan Rich loved music. It was a great love, an adoration, a life. He lived to write about not music so much as his love for it. He chronicled — in witty, caring, pointed prose — what he loved and why.

There were many sides to Alan, and many contradictions. He was my difficult friend of 30 years. Alan, coming up the ranks in an era of supposedly objective criticism and cynicism, broke all the rules. He made boyish enthusiasm fashionable. He unfettered those of us who followed him. He was sophisticated and happily careless. He reacted rather than pondered. He was very quick and never hesitated to jump in.

Being the kind of personal critic he was meant that Alan expected everything about music to be personal. He was most content when he could commune with music as directly as possible. That’s why he liked so much the intimacy of the Classicists – Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (particularly the chamber music) and Schubert – and why he distrusted anything too grand. He put up with Mahler and Wagner mainly because of their moments of intimacy.

We once quarreled over an orchestra version of Terry Riley’s “In C,” which I thought glorious, and he, a travesty. When Riley took my side, Alan decided that Terry didn’t know what he was talking about. No one, not even the composer, dare stand in the way of Alan and his infatuations.

Mostly, though, Alan and I reinforced each other. He was a great influence on me when I was music critic of the Herald Examiner. Then he succeeded me at the HerEx and showed them how it is really done. After I took over at the Times, Alan and I championed many of the same causes, especially in our support of new music. Writing against Alan was, to the end, an irreplaceable education for me (as surely it must have been even for his enemies, loathe as they might be to admit it).

But Alan could also be a thorn in my side in his petulant attacks against my colleagues. I argued with Alan about this time and again. He felt that if we didn’t police ourselves who would.
Anyone who ever entered Alan’s kitchen knew that he was not a tidy person. Yet when it came to music, he demanded law and order. There were no compromises (other than the ones he insisted on).

But Alan will not be remembered for his proud belligerence. To me, the great Alan Rich anthology would include no negative reviews, no attacks. It would contain, instead, a great and lasting collection of love letters. To music.