H. Colin Slim (April 9, 1929 – October 22, 2019)

H. Colin Slim / photo courtesy of the University Communications archival collection

H. Colin Slim (1929–2019), music historian, conductor and pianist, founded the Department of Music at UC Irvine in 1965 and served as its chair until 1978, and several times thereafter. He had previously taught as an Assistant Professor at The University of Chicago. In 1968–69 he was a Fellow at Harvard’s Villa I Tatti in Florence. He later taught as a visiting professor, again at Chicago (1972–73), then at UC Santa Barbara (1984–85) and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (1985–86). He was named Distinguished Research Professor at Irvine in 1976 and rose to the rank of Full Professor Above-Scale in 1983. Taking advantage of the VERIP program, he retired early from UCI in 1994, remaining an actively publishing scholar, before suffering a debilitating stroke early this year. He died in Berkeley, California on October 22, 2019.

After earning a B.A. at the University of British Columbia in 1951 and a Ph.D. in music history from Harvard University in 1959, Slim edited and wrote about Italian madrigals, motets, and keyboard and lute music of the Renaissance. His two-volume Gift of Madrigals and Motets (Chicago 1972) received the annual Otto Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society in 1973. He subsequently pursued an innovative interest in identifying images of notated music and musical inscriptions in Renaissance paintings and drawings, which research often unlocked their meanings and the identities of their sitters. His iconological articles appeared in the first newsletter of the Repertoire International d’Iconographie Musical in 1975 and in the first issue of the journal Imago Musicae in 1984. He also published critical editions of two Italian operas from later eras, Massimo Puppieno by Alessandro Scarlatti (1978) and La donna del lago by Gioacchino Rossini (1991).

Colin was elected President of the American Musicological Society in 1989 and named an Honorary Member in 2001. He endowed a fund that has enabled the AMS since 2005 to present an annual H. Colin Slim Award for a musicological article by scholars past the early stages of their careers. He became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993. He also received a medal and honorary citizenship from the city of Tours in France, and received an Honorary Doctorate from McGill University in Canada.

While an undergraduate at UBC, he performed in the Canadian premieres of two works by Igor Stravinsky—as a pianist in the Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion and as conductor of the ballet Les Noces. This experience not only inspired him to pursue academic musical studies, it also sparked his lifelong passion for the Russian composer. He eventually donated his extensive collection of Stravinsky memorabilia and other materials to his alma mater in 1999. The annotated catalogue of this collection was published in 2002 and, this year, a month before his 90th birthday, the University of California Press issued his Stravinsky in the Americas: Transatlantic Tours and Domestic Excursions from Wartime Los Angeles (1925-1945).

Slim also expressed his love for music of all periods and styles as a conductor. He conducted the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra from 1951 to 1953, which included the 1952 premiere of the Symphony No. 2 (1950) by Canadian composer Barbara Pentland. While a graduate student he conducted the Concord (Mass.) Orchestra, and he led performances of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at Harvard. At the University of Chicago, he directed the University Symphony Orchestra, on a campus with no majors in music performance. One of his undergraduate concertmasters there was Leon Botstein, now president of Bard College and conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra in New York City.

At UCI, Slim took the occasional turn at the podium and soloed in Beethoven’s first Piano Concerto (which he had played in 1948 with the Vancouver Junior Symphony). He participated in student works on the regular departmental Composers’ Concerts and performed numerous times on the annual faculty concerts to benefit scholarships for UCI majors in music, for whom he also endowed a designated scholarship in his parents’ name. (With smaller gifts to the University Library and the Schools of the Arts and Social Sciences, his donations to UCI totaled over $400K.) Slim was always convinced that knowing music well came from performing it well and was adamant that performance should always be a core part of the UCI curriculum for music majors, even while the then-School of Fine Arts was just getting off the ground. Only gradually were full-time faculty appointed in performance areas. In the early decades, violinists in the Los Angeles Philharmonic trekked down to Orange County to teach in the fledgling program, until the New York String Quartet began their residence. One of Slim’s eventual programmatic innovations was the establishment of a lute and guitar major, in which any student interested in guitar had to study lute and include a lute segment as part of the senior recital. A number of our young guitarists did in fact become professional lutenists and have gone on to recording careers. Apart from his international academic honors, Colin Slim was equally proud of the Music Department’s fifty-three years of programmatic growth and its successes in making and studying music by his students, those who joined the profession, and his many colleagues alike.

On April 9, 2021*, professor Slim's birthday, the department of music in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, in collaboration with the office of the Dean, will present a commemorative event of memorial presentations and performances at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

*This event has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.