Edward R. Reilly

The Independent, U.K. July 14, 2004
Edward Randolph Reilly, musicologist: born Newport News, Virginia 10 September 1929; Professor of Music History, Vassar College 1972-96 (Emeritus); married 1957 Evangeline Broderick (two sons, one daughter); died Poughkeepsie, New York 28 February 2004.

Edward Reilly always “Ted” to his friends was one of a triumvirate of Mahler scholars (the others being Donald Mitchell and Henry-Louis de La Grange) whose thorough investigative work provided the academic support to the rise of popular interest in Mahler’s music. For Mitchell, Reilly was the leading Mahler scholar in the United States, and the leading figure as far as Mahler’s sketches and manuscripts were concerned not only in terms of whereabouts (he knew where everything was) but also in terms of analysis. He brought to life the information that the sketches and manuscripts provide in the way that described the evolution of the creative process. He was very influential in Mahler’s popularity, a very important man. 

A native Virginian, Reilly became a Bachelor of Music at the University of Michigan in 1949, remaining there for his Master’s degree in 1952 and a doctorate in musicology in 1958, having lost two years to the US Army when he served in the Korean War. His academic career had already begun, with a professorship at Converse College, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1957; he remained there until 1962, spending the summer of that year teaching at San Francisco State College and the next decade at the University of Georgia. His long association with Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, just north of New York, began with a visiting professorship in 1970-71; he was awarded a full professorship in 1972 and stayed at Vassar until his retirement in 1996. 

Brian Grohl, a student of Reilly’s from 1993 to 1996, recalls him as an exceedingly tall man [who] cut an imposing and perhaps, to some students, even intimidating figure. He seemed to come almost from another era, and to students at Vassar in the 1990s his style and manner probably seemed a bit anachronistic. Perhaps shy, and certainly modest, one quickly discovered that Ted Reilly’s quiet dignity and intellectual enthusiasm bridged any perceived generational gulf. Of course, that he was kind, gentle, firm, clear, courtly, precise, understanding, and so dedicated, committed and enthusiastic helped tremendously. 

The writer Norman Lebrecht found him the least assertive of men. I have been with him at Mahler symposia where everyone else was plugging his or her latest book or discovery and Ted was content to talk about children, the weather, anything except self-promotion. He was genuinely a gentleman and a scholar.

That quiet, to-the-point manner enriched his relationship with his students, as Brian Grohl discovered:
A compliment from him following a performance one took part in, though often just a few words and never delivered effusively, really meant something. Ted Reilly was not one to waste words. When he said more than a few sentences about something outside of the classroom, it was a sign of real interest.

Donald Mitchell found him an extraordinarily generous colleague as a scholar. If anybody ever put a question to him, without question he gave the fullest possible reply. He was a model of his kind.

Although it is principally for his painstaking work on Mahler’s manuscripts that Reilly will be remembered, he first established his reputation in questions of performance practice, publishing the first complete translation of the landmark 1752 treatise Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen by the eighteenth-century flautist and composer J. J. Quantz (as On Playing the Flute) in 1966. A companion volume, Quantz and his Versuch: Three Studies, followed in 1971. He was also enthusiastic about the music of Mussorgsky.

History can follow some unpredictable paths. One of the founding fathers of modern musicology was the Austrian scholar Guido Adler (18551941); a close friend in Vienna was Gustav Mahler who gave Adler, as a 50th-birthday present, the manuscript of the song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (“I have become lost to the world”), the fourth of the five Rückertlieder and one of his most moving compositions. After the Anschluss in March 1938, the Adlers who were Jewish were in a position of obvious danger. Guido’s son, Joachim, fled to the United States with his wife and young family; Guido himself died of natural causes before a worse fate could be visited on him; his daughter, Melanie, was transported east and slaughtered. 

It took Joachim Adler five years of post-War wrangling to recover a part of his father’s library, confiscated by the Nazis, and in 1951 to import it to the United States, where it was sold to the University of Georgia as the cornerstone of their musicological holdings. This was a treasure trove of some size: around 1,200 books published between 1875 and 1930 and correspondence with the likes of Gustav and Alma Mahler, Richard Strauss and Siegfried Wagner, son of Richard some 74 boxes in all. When Ted Reilly arrived at the University in 1962, he sat down and patiently catalogued all these papers, generating the material for what would become one of his most influential publications, Gustav Mahler and Guido Adler: Records of a Friendship (CUP, 1982). 

Going through this forest of documents, Reilly discovered an unpublished postscript to one of Adler’s books, where he mentioned the Mahler manuscript, which was hitherto unknown: Adler, a very private man, had never discussed his most prized possession in public. So where had it gone? 

In autumn 2000, Adler’s grandson Tom was astonished to find the Mahler manuscript being offered at auction by Sotheby’s, Vienna the son of the lawyer who had helped a pro-Nazi musicologist plunder Adler’s library was now offering it for sale. Tom Adler sprang into action, armed with an affidavit from Reilly, who provided the documentary evidence to confirm the true ownership of the manuscript the unpublished postscript where Adler mentions that Mahler gave him the autograph orchestral score, “With embrace, kiss and the dedication ‘To my dear friend Guido Adler (who will never be lost to me) as a memento of his fiftieth birthday’”, of the song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”.

Four years of litigation followed before Adler’s grandson was able to reclaim what had now become something of a symbol of the twentieth century; when it is offered for auction at Sotheby’s on 21 May, it is expected to sell for around half a million pounds. (A reproduction of the frontispiece can be found at

Though retired, Reilly was still busy with his chief endeavor at the time of his death. The Netherlands Mahler Society, for example, has just published the first of a two-part examination of the sketches of “Abschied”, the vast closing song of Das Lied von der Erde Mahler’s last work and now the focus of Reilly’s last commentary. Donald Mitchell considers it a tragic loss to the Mahler community that he wasn’t able to complete the work he was engaged on, a total scrutiny of the sketches and the manuscripts. But other scholars will be taking up this task and bring to completion the work that he spent so many years on and never quite completed. 

Martin Anderson