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B.H. Haggin

The career of music critic Bernard H. Haggin (December 29, 1900 - May 28, 1987), better known as B.H. Haggin, spanned nearly the entire 20th century. A lifelong inhabitant of New York City, he graduated from Juilliard School in 1920, where he studied piano. His career as a journalist commenced shortly thereafter as a contributor to The New Republic, among other publications. From 1936 to 1957 he was the music critic of The Nation. Haggin was a staunch but not uncritical admirer of the conductor Arturo Toscanini, whom he befriended.

Haggin wrote twelve books on music and two on ballet. He was the author of the first general guide to recorded classical music Music on Records (1938), later expanded as The Listener's Musical Companion (1956), which Haggin regularly updated in new editions until 1978. Haggin's best-known titles are about Toscanini: Conversations with Toscanini (1959), a personal reminiscence, and The Toscanini Musicians Knew (1967), a series of interviews with musicians who played in orchestras or sang with the Italian conductor. The two volumes were republished in 1989 as Arturo Toscanini, Contemporary Recollections of the Maestro.

As a critic, Haggin was trenchant, imperious, and meticulous, having little patience for mediocre music, musicians, or fellow critics. He engendered enmity by criticizing RCA for issuing badly-recorded or badly-mixed recordings of Toscanini and "enhancing" them with artificial stereo sound.

Iconoclastic his entire life, Haggin didn't fit well into the mainstream music-criticism establishment; in his later years, he wrote mostly for lesser-known journals. Based solely on his critical canon, however, Haggin belongs in the pantheon of great music critics of the past 150 years, along with French composer Hector Berlioz, Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw, and British critic W.J. Turner.

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