Classical music, and the other creative arts, have suffered terribly from the impact of Aids. I have already written in these pages about the magnificent recording by Scott Ross (left) of the complete Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas. Here, as my small contribution to World Aids Day, is Michel Proulx’s account of Scott’s last years. The idiomatic translation is Michel’s own from his biography of Ross.
From then on, he did nothing but tour and record, and from records to concerts, rapidly becoming the most media covered harpsichordist, to the point of attracting to the instrument, thanks to his performance, a variegated public of which a good part should never have got interested in the harpsichord but for him.The recording of Scarlatti's 555 sonatas was started by Scott Ross on 16th June 1984. Ninety-eight sessions were required, and the last take was completed on 10th September 1985. In all, there had been eight thousand takes.
But already there was an urgency. When Catherine Perrin saw him in 1984, at a time when the rumour about AIDS was swelling in a terrifying rumble, he confided with her of his fears. He actually had had bronchitis, the winter before, which had degenerated in pneumonia, and knowing that this was one of the associated diseases, he said he was “mort de trouille” (he got the wind up). And he added that he didn’t want to do the test because he was sure to get confirmation of his fears. There may lie part of the reason for the intense activity which he spread during his last years.
In April 1989, he went to Rome, at the Villa Médicis, where he gave a masterclass for the French Television. One can see him very thinned down and weakened by the attacks of the disease. As he had no Social Security (Medicare), he did not take care of himself well, and it is also possible that he saw no good reason for looking after himself correctly. I have been told that he took whatever he could find as medicine, and one might speculate that (but what is it that couldn’t be done with ‘ifs’) maybe he would have survived, with good medical care.
Actually, he was an illegal alien for the French administration who wanted to have him expelled, and would have, had it not been for the intervention of some friends of him, of which some influent members of the Regional Council for Culture, who represented the Prefect how silly he would have looked for the media, if this happened.
In the course of his last months, he was looked after by his friends, especially David Ley, harpsichord maker, who had built his second double manual instrument, and Monique Davos, who had been an assistant director for the first Festival de Radio-France et de Montpelier, in 1983. According to testimonials, there was a sort of competition between both these persons for the care of Scott, and Mrs Davos was an advocate of the use of intensive medication. It seems that this was the cause of a Homeric struggle between her and those who wished him to die in peace. It was James Ross Jr. who finally brought Scott back to Assas, by the end of May.
On the following June 13, he passed away in his little house in Assas. His brother James, who had insisted upon coming to see him, assisted him right at the end. As, obviously, Scott had prepared nothing for the circumstances, it is James who took care of everything and it is he who asked for the rights of his records to be paid to the profit of an organization devised to help young harpsichordists. Unfortunately, I could find no trace of that organization, if ever it existed, nor could I trace back Scott’s brother who seems to have vanished in the haze.
After the cremation at the Grammont Funeral Center in Montpelier, Scott’s ashes were dispersed over the village of Assas from a small aircraft, according to his last wishes.
Scott Ross died of an Aids-related illness on 13th June 1989, he was 38
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