Henry Pleasants (music critic)
May 12, 1910|
January 4, 2000
|Known for||Spy, Music critic|
- Early career 1
- Writing 2
- Death 3
- References 4
- Further reading 5
- External links 6
Pleasants studied voice, piano and composition at the Curtis Institute of Music, from which he received an honorary doctorate in 1977. In 1930, at age 19, he became a music critic for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and was the paper's music editor from 1934 to 1942, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
In 1948-49, he re-entered the military as an army West German Federal Intelligence Service.
Following the end of the war, from 1945 to 1955, Pleasants contributed articles on European musical events to The New York Times. He also wrote regularly for Opera Quarterly, was London editor for the magazine Stereo Review, and for 30 years, beginning in 1967, was the London music critic for the International Herald Tribune. In 1964, he retired from the service and settled in London with his wife, Virginia Pleasants, a harpsichordist and fortepianist.
His most famous and controversial work was his 1955 publication The Agony of Modern Music, a polemical attack on the direction taken by much of twentieth-century music and an argument in favor of jazz as the "true" master music of the time. The book stated, "Serious music is a dead art. The vein which for 300 years offered a seemingly inexhaustible yield of beautiful music has run out. What we know as modern music is the noise made by deluded speculators picking through its slag pile." He further developed this critique of contemporary music in Death of a Music?: The Decline of the European Tradition and the Rise of Jazz (1961) and Serious Music and All That Jazz (1969).
Henry Pleasants’s first and major enthusiasm, however, was the human voice. His The Great Singers: From the Dawn of Opera to Our Own Time (1966) became a standard reference work. Other books on singers and singing were The Great American Popular Singers, Opera in Crisis: Tradition, Present, Future, and The Great Tenor Tragedy: The Last Days of Adolphe Nourrit, about the nineteenth-century French singer who committed suicide after his vocal style became outdated. His article "Elvis Presley," reprinted in Simon Firth, ed., Popular Music: Ciritical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies, volume 3 (2004), describes in detail Elvis Presley's "extraordinary compass and very wide range of vocal color."
On January 4, 2000, Pleasants died aged 89 in a London hospital after suffering a ruptured aorta. He was survived by his wife, harpsichordist Virginia Pleasants (1911 - 2011), two sisters, Constantia Bowditch of Peterborough, New Hampshire, and Nancy Logue of Clarksville, Tennessee; and a brother, William, of Bethel, Delaware (1911 - 2005).
- James H. Critchfield: Partners at Creation: The Men Behind Postwar Germany's Defense and Intelligence Establishments. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2003. x + 243 pp, ISBN 1-59114-136-2.
- Kelly, Bill (2008-11-04). "Felix Leiter = Henry Pleasants". Retrieved 2011-11-29.
- Stevens, David, "Obituary of Henry Pleasants," International Herald Tribune, January 13, 2000.
- Martin, Douglas, "Henry Pleasants, 89, Spy Who Knew His Music," New York Times, January 14, 2000
- History of the Tenor - Sound Clips and Narration