Sams, Eric 1926-2004

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SAMS, Eric 1926-2004

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born May 3, 1926, in London, England; died September 13, 2004, in London, England. Government official and scholar. Sams was best known as a leading scholar of German and French music and of William Shakespeare.

Possessing a brilliant mind and fantastic memory, he was recruited right out of public school to serve in the British Army's Intelligence Corps from 1944 to 1947; here, while World War II was still going on, he deciphered German and Japanese correspondence. Returning to civilian life, he entered Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he earned a B.A. in 1950. He then surprised his teachers by shunning academia for a civil service career. From 1950 to 1978, Sams was principal officer in the Department of Employment. However, he suffered from severe depression, which led to his leaving this post. By this time, he had already established a reputation as a respected musicologist and literary scholar. Sams was considered an expert on such composers as Hugo Wolf, Robert Schumann, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Johannes Brahms, as well as in the study of European songs—the German lieder and French melodie. Still suffering from depression, he drew on his troubled mental state to empathetically write about composers who had similar problems, such as Schumann and Wolf, and he commented on how these problems influenced their musical compositions. Sams's insightful mind also led him to theorize an explanation for Schumann's mysterious hand injury, which he felt was probably caused by the composer injesting mercury as a cure for syphilis. While still in his civil service post, he began publishing books and contributing articles to journals; he also served as opera critic for the New Statesman and provided commentary for radio programs. From 1976 to 1977, he was a visiting professor at McMaster University in Ontario. Among Sams's publications on classical music are The Songs of Hugo Wolf (1961; third edition, 1992), The Songs of Robert Schumann (1969; third edition, 1993), Brahm's Songs (1972; revised edition, 1989), and The Songs of Johannes Brahms (2000). In addition to music, Sams was a scholar of William Shakespeare, putting forth a theory that some of the Bard's quartos—which other scholars called the "bad quartos" because they believed they were inaccurate records written down by actors who did not recall the playwright's lines properly—are actually the early drafts of a writer still learning his craft. Similarly, Sams attributed such plays as Edward III and Edmund Ironside to Shakespeare, asserting they are either early plays or that he contributed to them in some way. These ideas were controversial at first, but later gained acceptance among scholars. Sams wrote about his ideas in such books as The Real Shakespeare, 1564-94 (1995; second edition, 1997) and in editing Shakespeare's Lost Play "Edmund Ironside" (1985; revised edition, 1986) and Shakespeare's Edward III (1996). For his remarkable scholarly work, Sams was awarded a Ph.D. from his alma mater in 1970.



Independent (London, England), September 30, 2004, p. 43.

Times (London, England), September 22, 2004, p. 31.