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Harold C. Schonberg passes at age 87

USCF board member Frank Brady remembers Pulitzer Prize winner Harold C. Schonberg as a “wonderful chess journalist. He really was enthusiastic about the game.” Schonberg was the senior music critic for the New York Times from 1960 to 1980, and died at the age of 87 July 2003. Although he was one of the most important and influential music writers in the US, “his interest in chess never left him,” recalls Brady, the author of Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy, a classic portrait of the American champion Robert Fischer, who also was on hand for the contest in Iceland.

Schonberg’s interest in chess also culminated during the first Spassky-Fischer World Championship match in Reykjavik, where, along with columnist GM Robert Byrne, Schonberg covered the historic meeting for the New York Times. His match coverage was greatly praised at the time, and he would add to his chess journalism in covering the Kasparov-Karpov match in 1984.

Harold C. Schonberg

Schonberg was born in New York on November 29, 1915. He was a child prodigy at the piano who eventually gave up performing music for the sake of writing. In addition to the volumes of daily, Sunday, and magazine writing, Schonberg also wrote a number of famous books. They include The Great Pianists, The Great Conductors, the Lives of the Great Composers, and The Glorious Ones. “He also wrote,” says Brady, “an incredibly good book, The Grandmasters of Chess, that ranks with his other books on pianists, musicians, and composers.”

One of Schonberg’s statements is well noted: “I write for myself—not necessarily for readers, not for musicians. I’d be dead if I tried to please a particular audience. Criticism is only informed opinion. I write a piece that is a personal reaction based, hopefully, on a lot of years of study, background, scholarship and whatever intuition I have. It’s not a critic’s job to be right or wrong; it’s his job to express an opinion in readable English.”

It is often remarked that there is a natural affinity between music and chess, two non-verbal arts. It is unusual, however, that someone can sculpt either chess or music into vivid words, and Schonberg certainly did that.