RIP Stewart Craggs

When you were young, did you ever want to be “The Next” someone? Perhaps The Next JFK, or Elvis, or Sally Ride, or Abdul-Jabbar, or Jane Goodall, or Toni Morrison. Someone you had never met, but whose work you infinitely admired. Someone who you longed to meet and learn from. Someone of whom you believed yourself to be their biggest fan in the whole world.

In days of yore, I dreamed of being The Next Stewart Craggs. Yes, you’ve probably never heard of him. Craggs was the father of all scholarship about the music of Sir William Walton, the twentieth-century English composer who has captured my devotion since I was a teenager. Bach had his Schmieder, Mozart his Köchel, Schubert his Deutsch… and Walton his Craggs. In the late 1970s, he compiled the first catalogue of Walton’s works. This and his further efforts laid the foundation for all Walton research since. It is safe to say that no one in history—with the exception of the composer’s widow—has expended so much energy to the cause of Walton’s music.

His musicological output consisted largely of catalogues and bibliographies, including volumes on at least thirteen other British composers. This is perhaps appropriate since his day-job was that of librarian. He did on occasion write articles, chapters, and introductions, always clearly, precisely, and with the greatest detail. But magically even Craggs’s catalogue reads like a labor of love. His prose paragraphs, casual asides, remarks of clarification, mentions of projected works… they all convey a sense of wonder and rejoicing in having uncovered this or that morsel of Waltonalia. Even just reading a catalogue, I felt like I knew the author.

Though they corresponded, Craggs never met Walton. And similarly, I have never met Stewart Craggs. We shared just one brief email exchange three years ago, after a mutual friend introduced him to my Walton dissertation, about which he was extremely complimentary. I regret having been so starstruck that I timidly allowed the conversation to lapse. He was right to have written: “Do let me know if you are visiting the U.K. at any time. I’m sure we would have a great deal to talk about!!”. Last fall, when he suffered a severe stroke, I came to terms with the notion that the time had regrettably passed. Similarly I had reached out to Lady Walton just a bit too late: she died three months before we were scheduled to meet in Italy.

This morning ago I learned that Stewart Craggs died about a week ago. There are lessons sufficiently obvious that I need hardly state them. Reach out to anyone. Celebrities are just people too. Act now. People don’t last forever. Ah, well. I’ve made certain decisions in my life such that I will never be The Next Stewart Craggs. But that’s OK: I don’t need to be. After all, The Original Stewart Craggs already accomplished more than one lifetime can hold.

27 Aug 2019

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