B.H. Haggin in conversation with Patricia Marx – American Portrait – May 1965 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
B.H. Haggin is a name that unless you were a record collector in the 1950s and 1960s, did not venture beyond Classical Music and were also an Opera fan you most likely have no idea who he was.
For the record; B.H. Haggin was considered one of the foremost American music critics of his day starting in 1923, who wrote several books on the subject and was also considered something of an expert on the career of the conductor Arturo Toscanini.
His reviews sparked controversy, outrage and occasionally adoration. He was from a school that didn’t flinch when being absolutely brutal, yet also showered praise where it was needed. He was part of that small coterie of critics whose word was considered gospel and who could also, without too much effort, make or break careers. And rather than seeking approval and peer friendship (by pretending to be “one of the guys”), critics of Haggin’s caliber were often considered the “last word” on something and really didn’t much care what the reader thought.
Needless to say, they were rather feared by Artists and managers – and no amount of placating was going to change any minds once the typing got started. There were also rumors of axes to grind – sleights and personal affronts turned into vendettas and verbal assaults by the offended critic, no matter how petty they seemed to the reader or the people involved.
That was the state of Music Criticism as it was in the 1940’s through to the mid-1960s.
This interview of B.H. Haggin was conducted by Patricia Marx of WNYC and the syndicated radio series “American Portrait” in 1965.
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