Volume 4, no. 2: Spring/Fall, 1998 / Editor: William Summers / Webmaster: Michael O'Connor

In Memoriam:

Robert J. Snow

By Grayson Wagstaff
Assistant Professor of Musicology
University of Alabama

On Tuesday June 9, 1998, Robert J. Snow died of an apparent heart attack at his home near Austin, TX. He was born in 1926 and grew up in Crothersville, Indiana, where his parents owned a store. Snow retired in 1996 as Professor of Musicology from the University of Texas at Austin, having been a faculty member since 1976. He had previously been on the faculties of the University of Notre Dame, the University of Illinois, Duquesne University, and the University of Pittsburgh. Snow completed his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, where his principal teacher was Dragan Plamenac, who, along with Charles Hamm, directed Snow's dissertation. He held B. Music and MA degrees from Indiana University; there he worked primarily with Willi Apel, for whom Snow served as an assistant in graduate notation classes.
Unlike most of us whose work has been entirely in the academy, Robert Snow had a varied career. Before entering undergraduate school at IU, he attended Catholic seminary. This experience prepared him for service as a church choir master, a post he held with the Diocese of Pittsburgh for many years. These dual interests in scholarship and practical sacred music made Snow a logical candidate to serve as one of the music advisors to the American Council of Bishops during the post Vatican II conversion to vernacular liturgies in the late 1960s. Prof. Snow was quite proud of his service to the Church during this difficult time; at one point, he quipped that he was one of the most performed composers in the world, having written several of the melodies used in daily masses by Catholics world wide. Although he would later confine his work to the world of academe, Snow continued to believe that the performance of early music was a primary goal of musicology. This concept--that the repertory of European sacred music from earlier periods was part of a living tradition of performance--was to pervade his work throughout his lifetime.
When he dedicated his monograph, A New World Collection of Polyphony for Holy Week and the Salve Service: Guatemala City, Cathedral Archive, Music MS 4, to Robert M. Stevenson "on whose shoulders we all stand," Snow brought together the two most important threads in our current understanding of music in Renaissance Spain and Colonial Latin America before 1700: Stevenson's biographical research and cataloging of manuscript sources, and Snow's work to place these Iberian and Latin American works in the contexts of the liturgy and the wider European traditions. As Professor José López-Calo, the third in this triumvirate of senior scholars of Hispanic music, stated at the Baltimore IHMSG session in Snow's honor, these two "great Roberts" of American musicology have created an enormous legacy in scholarship. Since Snow's death, Professor Stevenson has stated to me that he considered Snow's ability to understand these works without equal. It is in that spirit of honor that I will attempt to survey some of Snow's important contributions.
Early in his career, Snow developed interests in Spanish music. His master's thesis, directed by Apel, was a study of Spanish guitar tablature. However, at the University of Illinois he changed focus, writing a dissertation on the Strahov manuscript (preserved in the former Praemonstratensian abbey of Strahov in Prague. This choirbook contains a number of works that are also found in the much better known Trent codices. These works by French and English composers are preserved alongside items of Eastern European origins. This depth and breadth of knowledge was to serve Snow well in that he had a profound understanding of the "mainstream" Renaissance European tradition and was widely respected by the leaders of that field during his youth; these included Gustave Reese, with whom Snow edited Essays in Honor of Dragan Plamenac on His 70th Birthday, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1969; reissued by Da Capo Press in 1977). Snow's own article in this collection, "The Mass-Motet Cycle: A Mid-Fifteenth-Century Experiment," displayed his expertise in the music of Dunstable and his contemporaries. Such mastery is also exhibited in his many articles for standard reference works such as The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967-74).
His disparate interests in music of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries continued long after Snow had become primarily associated with Iberian and New World Hispanic music. His article "An Unknown Missa pro defunctis by Palestrina?" in De music hispana et aliis: miscelánea en honor al Prof. Dr. José López-Calo, S. J., en su 60o cumpleaños (Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, 1990) showed once again his understanding of so many factors affecting composers during this time and his ability to bring together stylistic analysis, manuscript codicology and liturgical parameters to present a complete understanding of this work, attributed to one of the most distinguished Italian composers of this era. That Snow was able to confirm that at least portions of the Mass are indeed by Palestrina is perhaps his single most important contribution to Renaissance music scholarship outside the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America.
In addition to his expertise in mainstream Renaissance music, Snow had wide--ranging interests in Medieval music, especially the monophonic repertories of the Western Church. He combined this knowledge of the different chant dialects with some of the most profound liturgiological expertise found in musicology in the past four decades. This is evident from his study of the so-called early Roman chant repertory included in Apel's Gregorian Chant, (Indiana University Press, 1958). Much of what he wrote in that study, though then impossible to prove because much elementary research remained to be done, has now been accepted as a basic part of the history of chant. This attention to liturgy and the monophonic traditions as the context of all music during the periods Snow studied was to be one of the ground--breaking aspects of all his scholarship.
In addition to chant, Snow studied various Medieval polyphonic traditions. His examination of St. Martial or Acquitanian polyphony and its relationship to other early polyphonic repertories continued throughout his better-known research activities. This study culminated in his presentation of the Sixth Gordon Athol Anderson Memorial Lecture at the University of New England in Armidale Australia in 1988, a talk entitled "The History of Medieval Music: Are All Our Premises Correct?" Despite these successes in other repertories, it is Snow's work on Spanish and Colonial Latin American music between 1500 and 1700 for which he will be remembered.
Both of Snow's earlier books, The 1613 Print of Juan Esquivel Barahona (1978) and The Extant Music of Rodrigo de Ceballos and Its Sources (1980), though brief, are complete in that they apply a full range of musicological approaches to understanding these two important composers whose works were then largely unknown. His study of Esquivel, like all of Snow's work, says much in very few words. Each of the items is explained in terms of musical techniques used, why this genre appears in the publication, and how Esquivel's setting related to the wider Spanish tradition for that text or genre. Snow's Esquivel continues to be the basis for work on that composer's output; this ongoing scholarship includes the doctoral dissertation of Michael O'Connor of Florida State University, now in progress. O'Connor consulted Snow on the works, as did numerous other young scholars beginning work on Spanish and Colonial Latin American music. Snow's study of Ceballos was not only a source of inspiration for other scholars interested in this unjustly neglected master, but it confirmed his own desire to one day present a complete edition of Ceballos' works, a project that would occupy much of his last years.
During the 1970s and 80s, Snow amassed a huge amount of archival material from Spain and Latin America, microfilms of nearly the entirety of sources for Latin-texted polyphonic music written in the late-fifteenth through early-seventeenth centuries, plus a huge amount of polyphonic music from Portugal and hundreds of liturgical and monophonic sources from Europe and Latin America. This period of his work witnessed one of the most significant "discoveries" of his career, as announced in his "Toledo Cathedral Manuscript Reservado 23: A Lost Manuscript Rediscovered" (Journal of Musicology, 3/1 1983). This choirbook, which is central to understanding the dissemination of Franco-Flemish music in Spain during the sixteenth century, would provide Snow with several ideas for later projects, including his study, "The Extant Music of Adrien Thiebault, Maestro of the Flemish Chapel of Charles V, 1526-1540" (Nasarre).
During this time, Snow edited for his own use almost all surviving music by Francisco Guerrero, the least understood of Stevenson's Golden Age greats, and wrote a number of articles that placed Guerrero alongside his contemporaries. His study, "Music by Francisco Guerrero in Guatemala, " Nasarre 3/1 (1987) opened a path that would lead Snow eventually into perhaps his greatest project, the study of music in colonial Guatemala, through Cathedral MS 4. The research on Guerrero continued on into the late 1980s with such studies as "Liturgical Reform and Musical Revisions: Reworkings of their Vespers Hymns by Guerrero, Navarro, and Durán de la Cueva" in Livro de homenagem a Macario Santiago Kastner (1992). The fact that so much seminal research on Guerrero that Snow did during this time remains unpublished is perhaps the great tragedy of his career. During many graduate seminars Snow would share with students his own lengthy charts of information on works by Guerrero: detailed liturgical analysis, how they related to dozens of works by composers in Spain and elsewhere, and his own musical analysis of Guerrero's language. Much of this knowledge, which went with Snow's death, could have contributed greatly to our understanding of perhaps the most Spanish of Stevenson's three great sixteenth-century composers.
Snow considered one project to which he contributed during the late 70s and 80s to be one of the most important efforts of musicology during this time: The Census-Catalogue of Manuscript Sources of Polyphonic music, 1400-1550 (1979-88). He collected data that became the basis for the majority of entries on Iberian and Latin American music manuscript sources that the Catalogue includes. This was a typical attitude for Snow, in that he could have devoted much of this time to more high profile projects--articles solely under his name, for instance--but he considered the need for such a reference tool to outweigh his own personal reputation.
This generosity also extended to the extraordinary amount of time he spent with doctoral and master's students that he was directing during this time. As I have expounded elsewhere, this is perhaps the most amazing facet of Snow's career, that he maintained such high levels of scholarly production while giving as he did to students. Although it has been impossible for me to compile a complete list of Snow's former students, many are active in the worlds of academe, performance, and scholarship. Snow's Ph.D. students included, at the University of Pittsburgh, Tom Ward, now of the University of Illinois; at the University of Texas, Timothy Thomas, a teacher and choral conductor in Birmingham, Alabama; Rui Viera Nery of the Universidad Nova in Lisbon; and the present author. Though he did not direct their dissertations, Snow was also closely associated with Garry Gibbs, who finished his Ph.D. at Texas and now serves as director of education at Houston Grand Opera; and Douglas Kirk, a professional early music performer and scholar of Iberian music for whom Snow served as a guest reader when Kirk finished his Ph.D. at McGill University.
The topics that Snow directed are as varied as his own interests. This list includes studies of the polyphonic hymn and German sources; the music of Spaniard Juan Navarro; a survey of the extraordinary library of John IV of Portugal; work on American opera; study of Spanish and Mexican instrumental music in the sixteenth century; and my own far-flung survey of the Mass and Office for the Dead. At the time of his death, Snow continued to work with two Ph.D. students, Alberto Requejo of Pamplona, Spain, and Oscar García-Landois from Monterey, Mexico.. Snow contributed to the careers of dozens of young scholars who were not officially his students. I have personally witnessed him on numerous occasions in the midst of hours preparing materials to share with younger colleagues and students at other universities, many of whom went on to be eminent teachers and scholars.
As the 1980s progressed and Snow's health was often poor, he struggled to finish a number of editions of Iberian and Latin American music. The first was his Gaspar Fernandes: Obras Sacras (1990), a volume that went on to win the Best Publication award of the Conselho Português da Música. This composer provided a special opportunity for Snow in that Fernandes was one of a very small number of Portuguese composers who worked in Spanish Colonial territories, and he is the most historically important of these. This gave Snow an opportunity to contribute something to the understanding of Portuguese music, a way of thanking the many people in that country who had made him feel so welcome as a guest faculty member on several occasions. In this book, Snow was able to demonstrate many important connections between the choirbooks at Puebla and the Oaxaca Codex, the primary source for Fernandes's music. He was also able to trace the liturgical basis for the contents of most of the choirbooks surviving in Puebla, revealing how that Cathedral's music repertory had grown during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in order to embellish particular services, and thus why Fernandes, who was active as a copyist, composed the works that he did. For Snow, this was his only major project on music in Mexico that he was able to bring to completion. Like his work on Guererro, Snow had edited and cataloged hundreds of pieces for his own research, and the amount of material that he still left unpublished is a great loss to scholarship on music in Colonial Mexico.
Another one of Snow's late projects was Rodrigo de Ceballos: Obras Completas, of which four volumes of sacred Latin works had already appeared at the time of Snow's death. In addition to these four volumes, Snow had completed much of the work on the fifth volume--Spanish texted works--and much of the research for the planned final volume on Ceballos' biography and musical legacy. Snow's delight in this music was evident at the IHMSG session in Baltimore, at which the choir from George Washington University sang items from the Marian Salve devotion as he had reconstructed the service. Bonnie J. Blackburn, the editor of the Chicago Monuments of Renaissance music--who oversaw Snow's book on Guatemala--said in the session that Bob's goal with his editions was to give people great music to sing. The performance proved that his dedication to Ceballos' works was well deserved and that his belief in performing such music in its liturgical context brings an even greater level of understanding to them.
The session that the International Hispanic Music Study Group sponsored in honor of Robert Snow, like the previous one in honor of Robert Stevenson, gave us a chance to say thank you for the countless hours of work that such scholarship requires. When David Crawford and I planned this session, we wanted it to reflect the legacy of Bob's scholarship and the ongoing research inspired by his efforts. I believe that we succeeded. For Snow, it was a chance to hear the music that he believed in performed in a beautiful setting. It was an opportunity for him to meet Bonnie Blackburn, with whom he had spent many hours on telephone and fax conferring about the edition of Guatemala MS 4. Snow delighted that his friend José López-Calo traveled from Spain to speak about the state of research there, and that Jane Hardie, a younger scholar whose work and friendship Snow cherished, came from Australia to speak about her own work on Lamentations. This session was one of a number of honors that Snow collected as he neared retirement. The Festschrift, also edited by Crawford, will include articles on a variety of topics by Snow's associates in the US, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Chile, and Australia. Snow was gratified to see the breadth of topics and to know that these articles would be cited in many areas of research in addition to Iberian and Latin American music. One final honor of which Snow was particularly proud was his election to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes in Granada, which cited his significant contributions to understanding the musical heritage of Spain.
The crowning achievement of Snow's career was his edition and study of Guatemala Cathedral Music Manuscript 4, which he published in the University of Chicago Press Monuments of Renaissance music series. For Snow, the edition was justification of his lifelong efforts that Spanish and Colonial Latin American music stand alongside the acknowledged masterpieces of the "mainstream" Renaissance composers. It was also a chance for him to demonstrate the heights of his powers by explaining such often-misunderstood matters as the structure of the Marian Salve service and the complex relationship of various local liturgical traditions in Spain in regard to the Holy Week genres. Bruno Turner, in his review of the book for Early Music August, 1997, sums up Snow's achievement: "This is indeed a monument. It is an achievement fully worthy of Edward Lowinsky's vision when he founded the series and one in which Bonnie Blackburn, as current General Editor, may take pride." Turner went on in his review to note how much impact Snow had on studies of Hispanic music, not just on his own students but through his generosity to countless others. As Turner noted, the freedom given conductors and scholars to copy this music for their own performances makes this volume so much more than the supreme scholarship drawn from Snow's lifelong work. Like his Ceballos, this edition is a gift of song. In describing Snow's mastery, Turner closes his review by stating that "try as one might to catch the author out, one is confounded in the next paragraph or in a footnote below; your query is covered, he is ahead of you."
He was ahead of us all in explaining how so much of this music functioned in its own time. As we go on and continue to grapple with many of these issues, we will return to various articles and books and notice how far he had already progressed. As I struggled with my own work as a graduate student, he would allow me to work through issues that he had understood decades before. He showed this same generosity with colleagues as he loaned them copies of microfilms that he had cataloged, analyzed, and edited for his own work and then put away. I am glad that he was given the gift of time to publish these last editions and studies as models and representations of just how powerful his achievements with this repertory were.
I will always value my friendship with Robert Snow. Since I did my master's thesis under his direction, his tutelage--until his death--encompassed my entire career as a scholar. He has set a wonderful example, as do both Robert Stevenson and José López-Calo, that extraordinary scholarly acumen affords one the opportunity to shape the lives of countless students and younger colleagues. For me, Robert Snow will be remembered not only as the author of so much brilliant scholarly work and an extraordinary teacher, but also as someone who would leave a meeting and stop to save injured kittens or to help families in need. He would spend an afternoon packing materials to mail off to friend or colleague when he could have been using them for his own work. As Turner said, he was "ahead" of us. I hope that we can live up to his legacy, both in scholarship and in kindness.

[This necrology is based in part on an obituary published in the Austin American Statesman and on a compilation of Snow's work done by David Hunter, Music Bibliographer of the University of Texas at Austin.]  

Editors Note:

In this volume of the Newsletter we include the notice of the death of Professor Robert Snow and the necrology composed by G. Grayson Wagstaff.

We are all very much diminished by the loss of Bob Snow, most especially since he left this world with much, much more to say about the history of music in both Spain and Latin America. May I call your attention to volume 3/2 of this Newsletter, that is available on the world wide web, devoted in large part to the tributes offered in his honor during the Balitimore Special Study session.  

Emilio Ros-Fábregas, who will Chair the Special Study Session in Boston, offers his working paper on the topic to be explored on Friday Evening, 30 October, 1998, "Nationalism and its Effects on Spanish and Latin American Music History." 


We also include two of the submissions from the Special Study Session, held in Pheonix, Arizona, in 1997, by Leonora Saavedra and James Parakilis. The remaining presentations will be published in Volume 5, along with the contributions to the Boston Study Session.


Paul Laird and Paul Murphy present a review and pre-publication articles on two recent publications.  


Dr. E. Thomas Stanford describes an important multi-disc recording initiative that was launched during the Inagural Deliberations of the Instituto de Identidad y Cultura, Universidad Anáhuac del Sur, Mexico City, February      

Recent Recordings

Nationalism and the Rescue of Mexico's Musical Past: The URTEXT discs and Música del Nuevo Mundo (A Report)  

Musical Identities, the Western Canon and Speech about Music in Twentieth-Century Mexico - Leonora Saavedra

Conference Reports

News and Notes

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International Hispanic Study Group

Individuals and institutions wishing to participate in the International Hispanic Music Study Group may contact the coordinator at the addresses given below. 

William Summers, Coordinator
Hispanic Music Study Group
Music Department
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755 
U. S. A.
Telephone: (603) 646-3310
e-mail: William.Summers@dartmouth.edu
fax: (603) 646-2551 

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