Remembering Nicholas Temperley

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Dear friends,

It is with great sadness that I inform you that Professor Emeritus Nicholas Temperley has died. This is a tremendous loss to both the School of Music and the field of musicology.

His friend and colleague Associate Professor Christina Bashford offers the following tribute:

"It is with great sadness and deep admiration that I offer this tribute to our colleague Nicholas Temperley, Emeritus Professor of Music, who passed away at his home in Urbana on April 8, at the age of 87. His lifetime’s work as a researcher, teacher, musician, and scholar will leave a lasting mark, not only on the University of Illinois, but also on the wider spheres of musicology and Victorian studies. In particular, his contributions to the understanding of nineteenth-century British music have been second to none, and they validated the subject area within the academy at a time when many scholars thought Victorian music unworthy of study.

"I first became familiar with Nicholas’s scholarship in the 1980s, when I was a graduate student in London, and I was beyond delighted when, twenty years later, I took up an appointment “across the pond” in the very institution in which he had forged his career. His encouragement and interest in the research of younger scholars is widely recognized, and I feel extremely fortunate to have benefited from his generous guidance and incisive conversation over the years. Not only that, but he and his late wife Mary welcomed me warmly into the Urbana community. I imbibed many early evening drinks at their house, learning not only what a martini really was, but also discovering fabulous homemade dips that Mary had named after composers in the “London Piano School”—Muzio Clementi and Jan Ladislav Dussek—whose music Nicholas had edited.

"Born and educated in England, Nicholas came to the University of Illinois in 1959 as a postdoctoral fellow, and he joined the faculty in 1967. He taught classes that appealed to students across the School of Music, supervised over fifty dissertations and theses, and served on dozens of doctoral committees. His many publications, which have remained a source of illumination to generations of musicologists and musicians, include The Music of the English Parish Church (1979), the path-breaking Hymn Tune Index (1998), editions of music (including volumes for the Musica Britannica series, and a meticulous edition of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique), and Bound for America: Three British Composers (2003), as well as several edited essay collections and scores of book chapters and journal articles.

"After retiring in 1996, Nicholas continued to be a prolific researcher, writer, and editor (The Whole Book of Psalms, edited with Beth Quitslund, appeared in 2018). He also went on to guide the establishment of the now vibrant North American British Music Studies Association [NABMSA] (2003) and serve as its first president, and he endowed prizes for student research: the Nicholas Temperley Dissertation Prize (later the Nicholas Temperley Musicology Research Scholarship) [U of Illinois] and the Nicholas Temperley Student Paper Prize [NABMSA]. Decades earlier, in 1977, he was one of the co-founders of the Midwest Victorian Studies Association [MVSA], a group that sought to promote the (then unusual) interdisciplinary study of Victorian culture; within weeks of my arrival in Urbana-Champaign, he drew me into the society, and I can vouch that he was a devoted conference participant up until last year.

"Recent years have seen several public tributes to Nicholas’s enormously influential work. In 2012, when NABMSA’s biennial conference was held at Illinois, we programmed a concert of choral and orchestral music to celebrate his 80th birthday, which surprised and delighted him in equal measure. That same year, a Festschrift in his honor (Music and Performance Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain, ed. Bennett Zon) was published. Last April, MVSA presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award for his truly foundational work in bringing music into the purview of Victorianists.

"Always one to champion the importance of musicology connecting with performance, Nicholas was thrilled in 2018 to help facilitate a professional recording of Edward Loder’s opera Raymond and AgnesHe considered the piece an overlooked jewel and recently shared his excitement with the graduate students in my Foundations of Musicology class. Nicholas wore his erudition lightly, and was a man of great modesty, humanity, and generosity. These qualities, along with his pioneering scholarship, have touched the lives of students and scholars across the world over more than half a century. While he will be sorely missed, his work endures, and we will all cherish having known him as a colleague, mentor, and beloved friend."


The family has informed us that there will not be an immediate funeral, but that a memorial service will be planned for a later date. They also ask that in lieu of flowers, people please send donations to the Evelyn Burnett Underwood fund at the Urbana School District, which provides musical instruments to students who can't otherwise afford them (contact Stacey Peterik at

In my short time at UI, it was a great pleasure and honor to get to know Nicholas personally, having been a long-time admirer of his scholarship. I join my colleagues in mourning the loss of a cherished colleague and a distinguished scholar and pedagogue.


Jeffrey Sposato
Professor and Director

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