I was one of several Americans whose dissertation, completed in the years around 1980, could not have been written without substantial assistance and encouragement from E. Eugene Helm. Over the years Helm had amassed a comprehensive collection of copies of sources and editions for the music of C.P.E. Bach, and he freely made these available to me during my graduate studies and afterward, when I carried out work for the editorial project which he founded. At a time when such things had to be obtained either as microfilms or as physical paper copies, often through considerable personal expense and trouble, and from the other side of the Iron Curtain, this was no trivial undertaking, especially for an American.
That Helm was a violinist who devoted himself to a composer known for keyboard music was an indication of his unselfish and creative approach to musicology, which extended beyond the pursuit of simple facts and tangible sources. At one point he mentioned that he was writing a study of “restoration” as a musical phenomenon, but apparently it never reached publication. There was, to be sure, a homespun idiosyncratic aspect to his scholarship, and this was probably one cause of the problems that were severely criticized when his thematic catalogue of C.P.E. Bach’s works—based primarily on his personal collection—was finally published. But his writings also reflected his unpretentious, convivial personality, which led him to provide generous hospitality to a beginning scholar. I remember his serving me homemade “chickenanddumplings” (he insisted on pronouncing this as a single word, Louisiana-style) at his home in Washington, D.C., where the walls were hung with artwork that he collected with his attorney wife. The two could be seen dancing up a storm at the parties which were once the chief social events of annual American Musicological Society meetings.
Helm had an old-fashioned concern for making academic writing lively and personable, and I think that he therefore distrusted the more technocratic approaches to Bach scholarship that developed during his career. Yet he was also scathingly critical of bad musicology, as I once witnessed when he walked out of a mediocre talk by a graduate student from his own institution (the University of Maryland). This took place during an AMS chapter meeting to which he had kindly driven me. I was pleased to be able to include his article on C.P.E. Bach’s “Hamlet” Fantasia in an anthology that I edited (see Eugene Helm, “The ‘Hamlet’ Fantasy and the Literary Element in C.P.E. Bach’s Music,” in
, published by Ashgate in 2015, pp. 141–60). I still hold, as I wrote in the introduction to that volume, that “Helm’s humane and readable setting of one of Bach’s most famous compositions in its cultural context has not been surpassed.”