Career in the recording industry
Maynard Solomon founded Vanguard Records jointly with his brother Seymour Solomon in 1950. The label was one of the prime movers in the folk and blues boom for the next fifteen years. As well as producing many albums, he was a prolific writer of liner notes.
Vanguard's first signing was The Weavers. They generated the first major commercial success for the label with that group's 1955 Carnegie Hall concert. Solomon also acquired the rights to record and release material from the Newport Folk Festival, which meant he could issue recordings by artists who had not actually signed with Vanguard. In this period, Elektra was the main competitor for folk artists. Their singers, Phil Ochs and Judy Collins, were recorded at Newport, as was dynamic young Columbia artist Bob Dylan.
Solomon insisted on a clean appearance on stage, and clear diction, views in accord with majority public opinion at the time. More bravely, he signed Paul Robeson for Vanguard at the height of the McCarthy era.
In 1960, he signed Joan Baez. Two years later, Vanguard recorded Odetta at Town Hall (New York), one of her best albums. The Rooftop Singers recorded "Walk Right In" in 1963, a hit on both sides of the Atlantic produced by Solomon along with some of their other songs. Unfortunately their next single, "Tom Cat," was banned for being slightly suggestive, though tame by modern standards. It was probably Solomon's influence that induced Baez to record "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5" by Villa-Lobos.
Solomon's belief in Marxism was a driving force in these early years, but it wasn't until 1973 that his writings explicitly reflected this. His book Marxism and Art from that year has been continuously in print since then.
In the late 60's Vanguard had some success with rock artists, most notably "Country Joe and the Fish" (today usually called Country Joe McDonald), along with some jazz, blues or disco records that have not stood the test of time. One of the most surprising signings he made, in 1969, was Michael Szajkowski, an electronic composer. The material was borrowed from Handel, but the sound, on a synthesizer, was far from classical. His brother Seymour, however, had previously signed humorous electronic music artists Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley (Perrey and Kingsley) in 1965. That team's work has stood the test of time: their Vanguard music is still used on commercials, children's television, and elsewhere. He continued to work with folk artists up to the 1980s, but then moved dramatically into classical music.
Solomon then began a second career as a musicologist, notably as author of composer biographies, and his work (particularly his studies of Mozart and Beethoven) has met with both acclaim and criticism (overly simplistic psychological interpretations of their subjects).
Characteristic of Solomon's approach is a careful sifting of the scholarly evidence, often with the goal of supporting new hypotheses about the events or motivations of the great composers in question and those around them (for instances cited in this encyclopedia, see Maria Anna Mozart, Mozart's Berlin journey, Mozart's name and Antonie Brentano). A great deal of effort seems to reside in the attempts to compare and contrast certain ideas that need to be analyzed. Solomon is also careful to avoid uncritical repetition of old formulae in composer biographies; for example, like other recent biographers, he characterizes 1791, the last year of Mozart's life, as of personal revival cut off by terminal illness rather than the steady slide toward the grave typical of more traditional biographies. Most boldly, he hasn't hesitated to offer specific psychological analyses and diagnoses of his subjects. He has, however, been criticized for anachronistic assumptions and a lack of understanding of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German.
Solomon became, in 1997, a member of the International Musicology Society, and addressed its congress in London. He is the author most recently of Mozart: A Life, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography which won the Deems Taylor Award, as did his biography of Beethoven and his study of Charles Ives. His Beethoven Essays won the Otto Kinkeldey Award for most distinguished book on music published in 1988.
An associate editor of American Imago, and co-founder of the Bach Guild (a subsidiary Vanguard record label), he has also published articles in applied psychoanalysis and edited several books on aesthetics. His current projects include a life of Schubert and a book tentatively titled Beethoven: Beyond Classicism. He has held visiting professorships at Yale, Harvard and Columbia, and is currently on the graduate faculty of the Juilliard School.
Selected discography of records produced by Maynard Solomon
- - "Best of the Vanguard Years" (2000) (The Clancy Brothers)
- - "Best of the Vanguard Years" (2000) (Tom Paxton)
- - "Best of the Vanguard Years" (1998) (Ian and Sylvia)
- - "Best of the Vanguard Years" (2004) (The Rooftop Singers)
- - "Best of the Vanguard Years" (2003) (Buffy Sainte-Marie)
- - "Best of the John Hammond" (1989) (John Hammond)
- - "Best of the Eric Anderson" (1970) (Eric Anderson)
- - "Vanguard Sessions: Baez Sings Dylan" (1998) (Joan Baez)
- - "Reunion at Carnegia Hall, 1963, Pt 1" (2001) (The Weavers)
- - "Reunion at Carnegia Hall, 1963, Pt 2" (2001) (The Weavers)
- - "The Joan Baez Songbook" (1964) (by Maynard Solomon and Eric von Schmidt)
- - "Noel: The Joan Baez Christmas Songbook" (1967) (by Joan Baez, Maynard Solomon and Eric von Schmidt)
- - "Marxism and Art" (1973)
- - "Beethoven and the Enlightenment". Telos 19 (Spring 1974). New York: Telos Press.
- - "Myth Creativity Psychoanalysis: Essays in Honor of Harry Slochower" (1979)
- - "Mozart" (1994)
- - "Beethoven: Vida e Obra" (1987)
- - "Beethoven" (1998)
- - "Beethoven Essays" (1988)
- - "Memories of Beethoven" (2003) (by Gerhard von Breuning and Maynard Solomon).
- - "Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination" (2004)
- - "Mozart: A Life" (1995)
- Nicolas Slonimsky, "Maynard Solomon", in: Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th edition (1991/92).
- Marie-Elisabeth Tellenbach, Psychoanalysis and the Historiocritical Method: On Maynard Solomon‘s Image of Beethoven, in: The Beethoven Newsletter 8/3 (1993/1994), S. 84–92; 9/3, S. 119–127
- Matthew Head, "Myths of a Sinful Father: Maynard Solomon's 'Mozart'" Music and Letters 80 (1999): 74-85.
- Rita Steblin, "The Peacock's Tale: Schubert's Sexuality Reconsidered," 19th-Century Music 17, no. 1 (Summer 1993): 5-33.
- Norman Weinstein (December 4 - 11, 1997). "Folk'd Up: The Good and the Bad of Vanguard", BostonPhoenix.com.