B. H. Haggin
A lifelong resident of New York City, he graduated from the Juilliard School in 1920 as a piano major. He published his first article in 1923, and his career as a journalist commenced shortly thereafter as a contributor to The New Republic.
He was music critic of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from 1934 to 1937, and from 1936 to 1957 was music critic of The Nation. From 1946 to 1949, he wrote a column for music on the radio for The New York Herald Tribune.
Haggin was a staunch but not entirely uncritical admirer of the conductor Arturo Toscanini. Their personal friendship lasted from Toscanini's early years in the late 1930s conducting the NBC Symphony to 1950, four years before Toscanini's retirement. He was the first major American critic to recognize choreographer George Balanchine. In the 1930s, he had launched the career of the future record producer John Hammond, hiring him as a reviewer for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Haggin wrote twelve books on music and two on ballet. He was the author of the first general guide to recorded classical music, Music on Records (1938), later expanded as The Listener's Musical Companion (1956), which Haggin regularly updated in new editions until 1978. His best-known books are about Toscanini: Conversations with Toscanini (1959), a personal reminiscence and the closest thing to a series of interviews with the publicity-shy Toscanini that has ever been published, and The Toscanini Musicians Knew (1967), a series of interviews with musicians who played or sang under the venerable Italian maestro. The two volumes were republished in 1989 as Arturo Toscanini, Contemporary Recollections of the Maestro. He was one of the few critics who became a personal friend of the conductor, and therefore had unprecedented access to him until 1950, four years before his retirement.
Haggin's books on Toscanini were deliberately written as a corrective to what Haggin felt were misinformed opinions and misrepresented facts about Toscanini which were beginning to circulate at that time.
As a critic, Haggin showed little patience for mediocre music, musicians or fellow critics. He criticized RCA Victor for issuing badly engineered or equalized recordings of Toscanini and "enhancing" them with echo-chamber effects, treble-peaking and/or pseudo-stereo sound. He was strongly critical of the interpretive style of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who at the time was considered Toscanini's polar opposite and greatest rival. Nor was he ashamed to make value judgments about composers and works that offended some readers and endeared him to others. When Toscanini gave the American premiere of Shostakovich's Seventh ("Leningrad") Symphony in 1942 in which the maestro heard the "suffering of the Russian people" at the hands of the German invaders, Haggin dissented, declaring it "an inflated monstrosity of straining, portentous banality." He also made some of his most passionate pronouncements from the standpoint of "meta-criticism," sometimes spending more column inches in criticizing his fellow critics' opinions than in expressing his own sentiments on the music or performers in question.
Books listed in chronological order.
- A Book of the Symphony (New York: Oxford University Press, 1937)
- Music on Records (New York: Oxford University Press, 1938); revised as: Music on Records: a New Guide to the Music, the Performances, the Recordings (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1945)
- Music for the Man who Enjoys 'Hamlet' (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1944)
- Conversations with Toscanini (New York: Doubleday, 1959)
- The Toscanini Musicians Knew (New York: Horizon Press, 1967); 2nd edition 1980 ISBN 9780818012044
- The New Listener's Companion and Record Guide (New York: Horizon Press, 1967); 2nd edition: 1968; 3rd edition: 1971 ISBN 9780818012075; 4th edition: 1974 ISBN 9780818012112; 5th edition 1978 ISBN 9780818012167)
- A Decade of Music (New York: Horizon Press, 1973 ISBN 9780818012105)
- Music Observed (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964); reissued as 35 Years of Music (New York: Horizon Press, 1974 ISBN 9780818012136)
- Music and Ballet, 1973-1983 (New York: Horizon Press, 1984 ISBN 9780818012266)
- Arturo Toscanini: Contemporary Recollections of the Maestro, containing reprints of two titles: Conversations with Toscanini and The Toscanini musicians knew (New York: Da Capo, 1989) ISBN 9780306803567
- Arturo Toscanini, Contemporary Recollections of the Maestro, ISBN 0-306-80356-9
- Tim Page, "B.H. Haggin, Critic, Essayist, and Author of Books On Music," New York Times (May 30, 1987). (Obituary)
- "Music: The Hamlet of B. H. Haggin" (Review of "Music for the Man Who Enjoys Hamlet") (access available with subscription)