John McCabe obituary
by John Turner, The Guardian, Friday, 13 February, 2015
[Text only - photos and links added for this wepbage presentation]
Prolific composer and pianist of international standing
The gifted English composer and pianist John McCabe, who has died aged 75, was a remarkably rounded musician who was responsible for more than 200 compositions and pursued a busy solo career over several decades.
As a pianist of international standing, he inspired many composers, including John Casken, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett and George Benjamin, to write solos and concertos for him. He relished accompanying, and formed partnerships with Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), Erich Gruenberg (violin), Ifor James (horn) and the singer Jane Manning.
His first recording, a 1967 LP of songs by Charles Ives, Alexander Goehr and Gerard Schurmann, with the American soprano Marni Nixon, was both pioneering and revelatory, not least because Ives was largely ignored at that time. But McCabe’s Haydn piano sonatas and the complete piano music of Carl Nielsen are probably his most lasting pianistic legacy. McCabe’s technique was immaculate, sensitive and unshowy, as faithful as possible to the composer’s intentions. His preparation of scores was extremely thorough, often with every note fingered in pencil.
His compositional work is particularly noteworthy for its sense of colour; in the orchestral works there is often a striking use of percussion and brass to create ear-tickling sonorities, as in the much-admired orchestral song cycle Notturni ed Alba (1970).
Landscape was frequently an inspiration for him; one of his best-loved works was the brass band piece Cloudcatcher Fells (1985), which reflected a lifelong love of the Lake District, while his series of “desert and rainforest” works drew on foreign landscapes relished on his worldwide trips.
McCabe’s compositions covered most of the established forms, with the exception of grand opera, and included seven symphonies, three piano concertos, and concertos for most orchestral instruments. Also for piano, he composed a series of 13 studies, as well as the large-scale Tenebrae (1993) and Haydn Variations (1983). He leaves five full-length ballets, including Edward II (1995), commissioned by the Stuttgart Ballet, and Arthur Pendragon (1999) and Morte d’Arthur (2000), both for the Birmingham Royal Ballet. He wrote chamber music and choral music in abundance, as well as several sets of light educational pieces.
McCabe regarded his composing and piano playing as equally balanced elements of his musical personality. But in addition he was a perceptive author on musical subjects, and an effective political crusader for British music and performers. His writings included the definitive life and works of his friend Alan Rawsthorne, and BBC Music Guides on the Haydn piano sonatas and Béla Bartók’s orchestral music. He was president of the British Music Society and the Rawsthorne Trust, and a patron of the William Alwyn Foundation. He also fought tenaciously with the Performing Rights Society for the interests of composers.
McCabe was born in Huyton, near Liverpool. His father, Frank, was a research physicist, working on the development of transistors, and was one of the four children of Joseph McCabe, the free-thinking writer. His mother, Elisabeth Herlitzius, a talented watercolourist, was of German descent and came to England in the early 1920s with her father, an inventor of confectionery recipes.
John was the only child of their marriage, and showed great precocity as a pianist and composer from the age of six. A childhood accident with fire in the home resulted in much time off school, which allowed his musical gifts to develop quickly. When he was eight he started piano lessons with Gordon Green, the well-known Liverpool pianist, at the Royal Manchester (now Royal Northern) College of Music, and he remained Green’s piano pupil for 17 years. His general schooling was at the Liverpool Institute (now the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts), where his younger contemporaries included Paul McCartney and George Harrison. McCabe’s light-hearted recorder and piano piece Domestic Life (2000), with its catchy Merseybeat tunes, recalled those formative Liverpool years.
He entered Manchester University to read music, and took lessons from the composer Thomas Pitfield, who was so astonished at his pupil’s facility that he maintained he could compose a piece on the top deck of a bus. He then went to the Royal Manchester College for a four-year postgraduate diploma in piano and composition. Many of his early successes date from this period: his Violin Concerto No 1 (1959) was played by Martin Milner with the Hallé Orchestra, and Variations on a Theme of Hartmann (1964) was taken up by the Hallé as a repertoire piece for many years.
After a year studying in Munich, from 1965 to 1968 McCabe was pianist in residence at Cardiff University, another fruitful period for composition, including Symphony No 1 (1965) performed by the Hallé under John Barbirolli, and the children’s opera The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1968), after CS Lewis. From 1968 onwards, he lived and worked in London, then Kent, as a freelance composer and pianist, although he also had a spell as director of the London College of Music from 1983 to 1990 and subsequent short tenures as a visiting professor at the universities of Melbourne and Cincinnati. He was appointed CBE in 1985.
McCabe’s last completed works were a Proms commission, Joybox (2013), a choral work for the Hallé, Christ’s Nativity (2014), and a trumpet sonata. He was contemplating an eighth symphony, two more string quartets, and solo pieces for cello and piano.
John married Hilary Tann in 1968; they were divorced in 1972. Two years later he married Monica Smith, who survives him.
• John McCabe, composer and pianist, born 21 April 1939; died 13 February 2015
|Tannoy Ltd is a British manufacturer of loudspeakers and public-address systems. The company was founded by Guy Fountain in London, England, as Tulsemere Manufacturing Company in 1926, and moved to Coatbridge, Scotland, in the 1970s. Later on it was confirmed that the Coatbridge facility would be closed and all R&D and marketing developments would be relocated to Manchester and production would be moved to China. The term 'tannoy' is often used generically in colloquial English throughout the British Commonwealth to mean any public-address system, or even as a verb (to "tannoy"), particularly those used for announcements in public places. Although the word is a registered trademark, it has become a genericized trademark. The company's intellectual property department keeps a close eye on the media. To preserve its trademark, it often writes to publications that use its trade name without a capital letter or as a generic term for a PA system.|
|Josef Mysliveček (9 March 1737
– 4 February 1781) was a Czech composer who contributed to the formation of
late eighteenth-century classicism in music. Mysliveček provided his younger
friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with significant compositional models in
the genres of symphony, Italian serious opera, and violin concerto; both
Wolfgang and his father Leopold Mozart considered him an intimate friend
from the time of their first meetings in Bologna in 1770 until he betrayed
their trust over the promise of an operatic commission for Wolfgang to be
arranged with the management of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. He was close
to the Mozart family, and there are frequent references to him in the Mozart
John McCabe, composer - obituary [The Telegraph, 6:15PM GMT 13 Feb 2015] [Text only - photos and links added for this website presentation]
Composer-pianist in the tradition of Bartók and Rachmaninov, who drew inspiration from art and literature
John McCabe, who has died aged 75, was a prolific composer, a formidable pianist and an enthusiastic administrator. He was, wrote Michael Kennedy, a man of his time, who in his composition flirted with serialism, drew inspiration from rock and jazz, and latterly nodded in the direction of minimalism.
The public knew his virtuosic keyboard work (a recording of Haydn’s piano sonatas brought acclaim), while the cognoscenti recognised his distinctive style – “a mix of Vaughan Williams, Britten and Tippett leavened with Karl Amadeus Hartmann and serial procedures”, the critic Guy Rickards noted. In truth the performance and the composition fed each other. He was, said Gramophone, a musician in the composer-pianist tradition of Bartók and Rachmaninov.
There were few areas in which this musical polymath was not influential: he composed the theme for the 1970s ITV series Sam, lectured on Webern’s piano music and gave the British premiere of John Corigliano’s Piano Concerto. He wrote musical criticism and published guides to composers as diverse as Haydn and Alan Rawsthorne, his fellow Northerner. There were also academic posts, including principal of the London College of Music from 1983 to 1990.
McCabe’s influences were many. Gaudí and Mosaic, two of his piano studies, were inspired by Catalan architecture and Islamic art respectively. His third string quartet took its inspiration from the landscape around Ullswater, and his fifth from illustrations of bees by Graham Sutherland. He also wrote for individuals: a dissonant flute concerto for James Galway (1990), for example, and for the pianist Barry Douglas a meditation on mortality called Tenebrae. McCabe argued that the music of other English composers should be heard more often. “Why do we have to wait until Walton’s 75th birthday to hear his overtures?” he demanded. “Why do we not hear more Vaughan Williams?”
John McCabe was born at Huyton, on Merseyside, on April 21 1939, the son of a Scottish-Irish research physicist. His mother, who claimed multiple European ancestries, was a talented violinist. Badly burnt in a fire, John missed his early schooling – time he spent listening to records, learning the piano and writing 13 symphonies, which he later destroyed.
At Liverpool Institute, where he played the cello (“very badly – I was the principal and at times the only cellist in the school orchestra”), he was a contemporary of Paul McCartney and George Harrison. He yearned to be a cricketer but “I never even made the school 11”, although he became a walking encyclopedia on the sport and often composed with it playing on the television.
At the University of Manchester he was reputedly expelled from Humphrey Procter-Gregg’s class after playing his own music in a recital. He then studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music, followed by a year in Munich with Harald Genzmer, a pupil of Hindemith. Meanwhile, the Hallé Orchestra premiered his Violin Concerto (Martin Milner was the soloist), while in November 1962 he gave the first London performance of Elliott Carter’s Piano Sonata, “giving the impression of grasping [its] shape and sense of direction”, one critic wrote. In 1965 he joined the University of Wales as pianist in residence for three years.
His First Symphony, subtitled Elegy and influenced by jazz, was commissioned by the Hallé and premiered at the Cheltenham Festival in 1966 under John Barbirolli. Notturni ed Alba, a setting of Latin texts for soprano and orchestra brimming with vocal virtuosity, was heard at the Three Choirs Festival in 1970 and brought McCabe to wider attention. He also created an enchanting children’s opera from C S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
McCabe the pianist was now touring extensively, once performing five different programmes on five nights in five cities across North America. “I was wandering around airports in a daze,” he recalled.
He began his Haydn marathon for Decca in 1975, and two years later still found pleasure in the composer’s music. “Even the simplest [sonatas] have tremendous variety and riches,” he said, and as if to prove a point wrote his own Haydn Variations in 1983. Unwilling to be pigeon-holed, he then recorded Hindemith’s fiendish Ludus tonalis for Hyperion in 1996.
In the mid-1970s McCabe dropped serialism – even though he had used it brilliantly in The Chagall Windows (1974), a 30-minute tone poem – and adopted a more melodic approach. International acclaim came in 1982 when Georg Solti championed his Concerto for Orchestra in Chicago. By the late 1990s ballet had come to the fore, with works such as King Arthur for Birmingham Royal Ballet. His last work was Christ’s Nativity, a setting of 17th-century poetry by Henry Vaughan for the Hallé Choir premiered in Manchester two months ago.
McCabe, who was appointed CBE in 1985, is survived by his wife Monica Smith, whom he married in 1974.
John McCabe, born April 21, 1939, died February 13, 2015
© 1986 & 1998 Bruce Duffie
These conversations were recorded in Chicago on October 6, 1986, and May 10, 1998. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1989, 1990, 1994, and 1999; and on WNUR in 2006 and 2012; and on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio in 2007 and 2015. This transcription was made in 2016, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.