It wasn't surprising to read that musicologist and impresario Lawrence Morton, who died May 8, had explicitly asked that no formal memorial service be held. Anyone who knew him can picture this unsentimental and self-effacing man writhing at the thought of a stream of earnest eulogies. Still, the urge among his friends to pay tribute to Lawrence is strong, even in those who, like myself, didn't know him well.
As an editor at the County Museum of Art, I worked and visited with Lawrence often during the last two of his 17 years there as coordinator of music programs. I wasn't musically aware enough to gauge his achievements in resurrecting neglected old works and championing obscure new ones, but I knew enough about the musical mainstream to admire the tenacity and individuality that this lifelong task must have demanded. Indeed, from what I saw, he was a true individualist whose education and uncluttered sense of himself led him to keep an open mind while keeping a firm grip on his beliefs and tastes.
He was drawn to simplicity and light and deplored what he called "fat" in both composition and performance. He talked about pieces he loved--by composers ranging from Gesualdo to his great friend Stravinsky--with a bracing spareness that made the music alive and immediate for me. His wit was spare, too, and dart-like. He used it to lance lies and pretense in the culture at large as well as in the music world. At the same time, he could show more compassion and gentleness than most people who pride themselves on their sensitivity.
I always felt refreshed, clear-headed after talking with Lawrence Morton. His unaffectedness, humor, and wisdom were as infectious as what his writer friend Daniel Schilliachi has called his "little boy smile."