William Lichtenwanger Died 16 December 2000 at His Home near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

By Newsom, Jon | Notes, June 2001 | Go to article overview

William Lichtenwanger Died 16 December 2000 at His Home near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia


Newsom, Jon, Notes


William Lichtenwanger died 16 December 2000 at his home near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Born in 1915, he was among the last of the founders and early members of MLA. These individuals, including Sydney Beck, Frank Campbell, Dena Epstein, Walter Gerboth, Richard Hill, Ruth Hilton, Phil Miller, Ruth Watanabe, and Bill Weichlein, helped shape the organization during its formative years.

Bill joined the staff of the Music Division at the Library of Congress in 1940 and spent his entire career there except for service in the Army from 1941 to 1945. He served as head of the Music Division's Reference Section from 1960 until his retirement in 1974. The thing he did best, on which he focused almost all of his considerable talents, and toward which he directed the energies of his staff, was reference work. As he often reminded me and my colleagues during our apprenticeship with him, our job was to serve the scholarship and curiosity of others.

Had he taught in a college or university, his writings would fill volumes. Instead, except for a few papers, most notably his account of his researches to establish that John Stafford Smith really composed the music of our national anthem, his legacy is spread out over the world in the countless letters and phone calls through which he helped seekers of obscure yet vital information. He had especially good access to buried information (see, for example, "The Music of the Star-Spangled Banner: From Ludgate Hill to Capitol Hill," Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress 34 [July 1977]: 136-70), partly through the tenacity of his bloodhound instincts and temperament, and partly through his legendary knowledge of music history, many languages (including, besides the usual ones, Albanian, Japanese, and Turkish), and the collections not only of the library but of many other institutions--and the people connected with them. Often, the quest for a difficult fact was a social occasion, and his network of accompli ces in the search for rare bits of musical knowledge from Los Angeles to Leningrad (as it then was) was rich and widespread. Acknowledgment in other peoples' books was all the public recognition he expected for the fruits of his seemingly inexhaustible patience and efforts.

In 1972, his old friend, Nicolas Slonimsky, opened one of the dozens of letters to Bill that he wrote during their long and copious correspondence: "You are a true scholar, 'one of those rare spirits to whom no musician is too obscure for tender care, no subject too trivial for thorough investigation, no bibliographical minutiae too small for weighing,' as the editor of the belated 1971 Supplement to Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians so aptly puts it." (The editor, of course, was Slonimsky himself, and he follows with a typically humorous account of the ensuing altercation between him and his secretary when she objected to his using the occasion of complimenting his friend to compliment himself for literary aptness.)

Bill's relationship with Slonimsky fostered a side of his nature, an irreverent sense of humor, that was not immediately apparent in person, though one might suspect it from the bright twinkle in his pale blue eyes and the incipient smile that animated the corners of his mouth, especially when he had made a particularly good find. They were both insatiable musical detectives who also relished in a particularly musical way words for both their sound and esoteric meanings. Their correspondence, occasionally ribald but unpublishable largely because of the enormous scholarly apparatus it would require, seems, like Finnegans Wake, to have been made for reading aloud with an array of dictionaries at hand. …

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William Lichtenwanger Died 16 December 2000 at His Home near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
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