Maynard Solomon, Provocative Biographer of Composers, Dies at 90

Attending the High School of Music and Art, as it was then called, in Manhattan, Mr. Solomon played the piano and studied cello. Recalling family music-making sessions for a Talk of the Town feature in The New Yorker in 1955, Mr. Solomon said that though neither of his parents was musical, his mother “always wanted, and got, a trio in the house”: He played cello, his brother violin and his sister piano.

He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1950 with a B.A. in music and English, and continued his studies at Columbia University. Unusually for someone who became a respected scholar, Mr. Solomon never completed an advanced degree.

In 1950, with a $10,000 loan from their father, Maynard and his brother, Seymour, founded Vanguard Records. The venture began after Seymour, who had studied musicology at New York University, took a tape recorder to Vienna to capture performances of Bach cantatas by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Felix Prohaska.

Over time Vanguard and its Bach Guild label released an impressively diverse catalog of valuable recordings, especially of overlooked works, and issued pivotal albums of folk music, blues and jazz. The classical repertory included English madrigals, overlooked Bach cantatas, masses by Haydn and a landmark survey of the complete Mahler symphonies with Maurice Abravanel conducting the Utah Symphony Orchestra.

During the height of McCarthyism in the mid-1950s, Vanguard signed blacklisted performers including the bass-baritone Paul Robeson and the Weavers, whose 1956 release “The Weavers at Carnegie Hall” helped spark a revival of folk music in America. Vanguard became one of the industry’s leading folk and blues labels, releasing important albums by Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Odetta, Mississippi John Hurt, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and other acts. Jazz artists like Elvin Jones, Larry Coryell and Oregon also recorded for Vanguard, as did the rock group Country Joe and the Fish. The Solomon brothers sold the label in 1986.

In the 1970s, while maintaining a full-time job at Vanguard, Maynard Solomon had been drawn increasingly into research and writing, mostly working in the evenings and weekends. His political sympathies led to the publication in 1973 of “Marxism and Art: Essays Classic and Contemporary,” a collection of basic readings in Marxist criticism and aesthetics edited and introduced by Mr. Solomon. The sale of Vanguard allowed him to concentrate fully on research.

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