Donal Henahan, Thought-Provoking Times Critic, Dies at 91

Monday, August 20, 2012 - 05:33 PM

Donal Henahan, the music critic known for his spirited and thoughtful commentaries in nearly 25 years of writing for the New York Times, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 91. 

Henahan's death was was confirmed by his wife, Michaela Williams and reported in the Times.

Born in Cleveland, Henahan got his professional start in Chicago, where he earned a bachelor's degree at Northwestern University and did graduate work at the University of Chicago. He joined the Chicago Daily News in 1947 and became its chief music critic a decade later. 

In 1967, he joined the New York Times reviewing staff, where his first review was of a Ravi Shankar concert at Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall). He went on to write extended essays, cultural criticism and authoritative reviews of a wide range of classical performances, first as a staff critic and, starting in 1980, as the chief music critic, replacing Harold C. Schonberg.

Henahan's essays for the Times Arts & Leisure section on Schubert's sexuality, Tchaikovsky's purported suicide and the introduction of supertitles at the Metropolitan Opera in 1984 generated a barrage of letters. While he was a master of the long-form think piece, he also was also quick with the quip; he once said that Philip Glass's work is to music what "See Spot Run" is to literature. He also called Arthur Rubinstein "a fountain from which music spouted, not a recitalist.”

Henahan won a Pulitzer Prize for his for distinguished criticism in 1986.

After his retirement in 1991, Henahan continued to write for the New York Times, contributing articles and book reviews on topics ranging from flying to gardening.


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Comments [2]

arnie from Manhattan

Re; "See Spot Run". Terrific analogy! I've been looking for a good way to describe Philip Glass's music other than saying it sounds like a stuck record. I'm not sure how how meant that comment on Artur Rubinstein. Left out of this report is the fact that Donal Henahan flew P-51s against the Luftwaffe in WW2 something for which we should all be grateful.

Aug. 22 2012 10:30 AM

I remember Mr. Henahan's very literate reviews. I still miss reading them although Allan Kozinn and Anthony Tommasini are upholding Mr. Henahan's high standards. Generally, music criticism at newspapers (and online) isn't nearly as good as it once was, but we can hope there will be a return to that loftier level of journalism in the near future.

Aug. 21 2012 11:22 AM

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