Philip Gossett, scholar of 19th-century Italian opera, 1941–2017

Philip Gossett
Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Emeritus Professor in Music
Photo by
Jason Smith
Andrew Bauld
News Officer for Arts and HumanitiesNews Office

Philip Gossett, an acclaimed musicologist and scholar of 19th-century Italian opera, died June 13 at his home in Hyde Park. He was 75.

Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Emeritus Professor in Music at the University of Chicago, conducted exhaustive research of composers such as Giuseppe Verdi and Gioachino Rossini. His work included uncovering forgotten operatic compositions, editing critical editions on such works as La gazzetta, and writing books, including the award-winning Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera.

In a 2010 interview, Gossett said he hadn’t planned to study Italian opera. “I was thrown into it because I began looking at available sources for some of the music of Rossini, and I discovered that every single source that I looked at was different from every other source, and at a certain point I had to ask myself, ‘well what did the man actually write?’” he said.

Born in New York, Gossett began studying piano at age five. During high school, he attended what is now Juilliard’s Pre-College Division. Gossett completed his undergraduate studies at Amherst College in music, having started in physics, and received his doctorate in musicology from Princeton University. He joined the University of Chicago in 1968.

“I’ll always treasure the memory of Philip as a scholar’s scholar, a musician’s scholar and a public scholar—all in full and equal measure,” said Anne Robertson, dean of the Division of the Humanities and the Claire Dux Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Music and the Humanities.

Over his 40 years of scholarship, Gossett helped unearth such operas as Verdi’s Stiffelio, which was staged at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 1993. The Italian government recognized Gossett’s efforts with the Cavaliere di Gran Croce, the country’s highest civilian honor.

Gossett was the first musicologist to receive a Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award, a $1.5 million prize, and served as general editor of The Works of Giuseppe Verdi and of The Critical Edition of the Works Gioachino Rossini. His book Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera received the Gordon J. Laing Prize from the University of Chicago Press and Otto Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society as the best book on music of the year.

After retiring from teaching full-time in 2010, Gossett continued to actively research, write and discover new opera masterpieces to share with modern audiences. Over a distinguished career, Gossett served as president of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Textual Scholarship, as dean of the Division of Humanities, and as a lecturer and consultant at opera houses and festivals in America and Italy.

James Chandler, the Barbara E. & Richard J. Franke Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English, remembers Gossett for his incredible passion for the University of Chicago, including during his time as dean from 1989 to 1999.

“Phil Gossett was probably the hardest working colleague I’ve ever known,” Chandler said. “I mostly got to know him after he became dean, a job he attacked with enormous zeal. He made you want to be a part of the institution to which he himself was so passionately committed.”

In 2017, Gossett donated his complete music collection of more than 2,000 items to The Julliard School as part of their special collections.

Gossett is survived by his wife, Suzanne Gossett, professor emerita of English at Loyola University Chicago; and sons David and Jeffrey.

Services were held on June 15 at KAM Isaiah Israel Temple in Chicago. A private burial will take place in New York.