Claudio Spies, professor of music, emeritus, died on April 2, 2020
I would like to express to Claudio’s family, my admiration for his music ( such as the extraordinary Shakespeare/Celan Sonnets), for the ever attentive teacher ( in his Pro-Seminars in 1978/79) in and outside the classroom, and for a lifelong friendship
initiated with the invitation for a Thanksgiving at his home , – in the company of Ema and their children-, to a Brazilian student recently arrived…. , and though enrolled for a WWS- MPA, he nevertheless admitted to his and Babbitt’ s classes.
With respect to his texts, and the seminal insights he brought for the understanding of Stravinsky and Schoenberg (of course ) but well beyond, it would be needless to speak about the elegance of his writing, which actually is a reflection of the man and of the humanist .
What a beautiful and fruitful life : Claudio was ,and remains, an inspiration to those who have had the privilege to meet him.
I am very sorry to learn of the passing of my Music Theory teacher, Claudio Spies, my freshman year at Swarthmore College during the fall semester 1959. My sympathies to his family and everyone who knew and admired him. From the beginning, we assumed we were related, for the name ‘Spies’ (originally ‘Spieß’) was and is fairly unusual (and nearly always mispronounced ‘spies’, instead of ‘spees’, by English speakers). As a result, Claudio always addressed me as ‘Cousin Nicholas’.
Claudio based his Music Theory class (intended for Juniors) on J. S. Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, Book I. Each piece was introduced by playing it on the classroom piano (the alternative would have been to do precise needle-drops on 33-1/3rpm LPs, which required a turntable Swarthmore did not have).
When Claudio and I met, I mentioned I played the piano, and he audited my performance of Prelude 1, which I knew quite well from memory. This probably gave him a very optimistic view of my playing, so he persuaded me to play each Prelude and Fugue before it was analyzed musically using figured bass notation, for chord inversions, etc.
The first few pieces were not a problem, except that I was very unused to playing in public, particularly in front of a college professor and upperclassmen anticipating careers in music. Moreover, I had preferred to play (and memorize) Chopin, Debussy, Schubert, and Beethoven, and hadn’t yet studied much Bach.
The subsequent Preludes and Fugues were, to varying degrees, were well beyond my feeble sight-reading ability. So, my joy at playing devolved to dread, as I increasingly felt humiliated fumbling through each piece. Needing a performance to introduce each class, Claudio continued to summon me to the piano with a ‘Cousin Nicholas’, even though I was failing, particularly in my own eyes.
Going back to our relatedness, Claudio invited my father and me to his house in Swarthmore for an informal evening to shed more light on exactly how we were related. My father, Otto Robert Spies, had grown up in Russia and then Germany, and knew many of his numerous cousins personally, although after arriving in the U. S. in 1929, his correspondence with them dwindled.
My father was aware that one of his cousins has settled in Chile, married, and had a couple of children with unfamiliar Spanish names. Claudio’s Chilean ancestors and relatives didn’t mesh comfortably with my father’s understanding of his Chilean relatives, so the status of our relatedness reverted to ‘unproven’.
However Claudio continued to address me as ‘Cousin Nicholas’ for the whole time I knew him.
Maybe 20 years ago, with the benefit of the internet, I found Claudio’s email address at Princeton and wrote to him, but he never replied, which saddened me. Despite my less than lackluster performances, Claudio was always kind and never made me feel uncomfortable either before the class or privately.
Even though our relatedness was more apparent than real, I tend to think of Claudio as being a relative in some sense, because I would have been proud to be his ‘Cousin Nicholas’ for real.
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