Category Archives: Passings

News of deaths of musical personalities

Lorin Maazel RIP

So,Lorin Maazel’s cancellation of the concert in Berlin when Semyon Bychkov stood in for him and his recent retirement from his position in Munich make full sense now, with the announcement that he died today at his home in Virginia, USA after suffering complications from pneumonia.

The usual obituaries have popped up on the internet, including from The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The BBC (which includes a rare photograph of the maestro as a a young man).

That BBC item links to an interesting feature from 2011, not the only piece which refers to critical disagreement about his interpretations. On the other hand, there is total agreement about several of his recordings, most notably the complete Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet with the Cleveland Orchestra, his early recordings of the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius symphonies (Vienna Philharmonic), and a highly regarded Mahler 4. I also remember a wonderful version of Ravel’s Left Hand Concerto with Jean-Philippe Collard as soloist. Oh yes, and there’s also more Ravel: the operas L’Enfant et Les Sortilèges and L’Heure Espagnole.

Another demise: Regina Resnik R.I.P.

What a time we’re having lately! Now to be added to the list of musical deaths is the operatic soprano Regina Resnik.

This obituary in the New York Times begins like this:

Regina Resnik, a Bronx-born opera star who sang more than 300 performances at the Metropolitan Opera and who made the shift from soprano to mezzo-soprano in the middle of her career, died on Thursday in Manhattan. She was 90.

The obituary is well worth a read.

Now we’re without Colin Davis

The great conductor

News of the death of Colin Davis has just come to light with word that he died this evening as the result of an illness. I got the news through the Friends of Radio 3 forum which I subscribe to, and the post concerned linked to the website of the London Symphony Orchestra, whose president he was, and where a book of condolence has been opened. A quick search failed to ring up any obituaries, but Im sure they’ll follow pretty soon.

What an inspirational conductor he was! His Berlioz recordings alone would ensure him a lasting legacy, but he was such a prolific music-maker that it would be desperately wrong to limit his reputation to Berlioz and only Berlioz. One of the jewels in my own CD collection is his superb Royal Opera House recording of Tosca, with Montserrat Caballe, José Carreras and Ingvar Wixell. In fact, I’m off right now to listen to part of that. We’ve been going through a bad time over the past year with musical deaths. The loss of this fine musician is among the saddest of the sad news.

Not another one! Now it’s Van Cliburn RIP.

Goodness but we’re really going through a bad time, with musical personalities dying off left right and centre. Latest to add to the list is Van Cliburn, who died this morning aged 78.

The New York Times has an extensive obituary online, which naturally enough gives a lot of space to the pianist’s win at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 and his triumphant homecoming to a New York ticker-tape parade.

Yet another musical death

This time it’s a conductor, namely Wolfgang Sawallisch, who died on Friday. I always find it sad when Wikipedia updates a page after somebody’s death and changes everything to the past tense, as it has now done in the case of Sawallisch.

I’ve only just now heard the news, which comes with a link to an obituary from The Philadelphia Inquirer, which may seem an unlikely source until one remembers that Sawallisch was Music Director there from 1993 to 2003. A quick Google search brings up many other obituaries and tributes, of which this one from a close friend and colleague is rather special. The Phildelphia Inquirer has also followed up on its obituary with a separate page of tributes.

His career has been long (he would have been 90 later this year), and his reputation has been assured for some time, not just as a conductor, but also as a highly accomplished and sensitive Lieder accompanist. I’m off now to look through my collection for whatever I have by him. A little bit of a personal tribute seems appropriate.

Lisa Della Casa R.I.P.

What a year it has been for deaths in the musical world! The latest sad news is that Lisa Della Casa died yesterday, aged 93.

I haven’t yet found an obituary from any of the usual sources, but Norman Lebrecht has a tribute on his weblog. His entry includes a number of videos featuring this fine soprano.

I’ll update this when I come across a decent obituary.

Elliott Carter R.I.P.

Hard on the heels of the Death of Hans Werner Henze comes news that Elliott Carter, the Grand Old Man of American music, died yesterday, just short of his 104th birthday. Despite his advanced years, he continued composing right up to the end, completing his final work just a few months ago. His large and diverse output was challenging in the main, but was never short of advocates and performances. This pithy quote from the New York Times obituary gives some idea of the man’s sense of humour, which was sometimes evident in his music:

“As a young man, I harbored the populist idea of writing for the public,” he once explained to an interviewer who asked him why he had chosen to write such difficult music. “I learned that the public didn’t care. So I decided to write for myself. Since then, people have gotten interested.”

Some other quotes from the NYT obituary:

  1. Mr. Carter continued to explore new ground into his later years. He avoided opera for most of his career because, as he put it in 1978, “American opera is a novelty, to be played once and that’s all, even when they’re good pieces,” and because he doubted he could find a libretto that interested him. Yet when he was 90 he completed his first opera, What Next?
  2. “I just can’t bring myself to do something that someone else has done before,” he said in 1960. “Each piece is a kind of crisis in my life.”
  3. Some listeners found his music cerebral, elitist and devoid of emotion. Even some who respected Mr. Carter’s erudition and the detail inherent in his compositional method were unmoved by his music. Reviewing the Concerto for Orchestra (1969) when Leonard Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic in the work’s world premiere, Harold C. Schonberg wrote in The Times, “It may be a tour de force of its kind, but to me it is essentially uncommunicative, dry and a triumph of technique over spirit.”
  4. “There are many kinds of art,” he said in 1978, when asked what he had to say to concertgoers who felt that great music should have tunes that could be whistled. “Some kinds are hard to understand for some people, and easy to understand for others. But if the works are very good, then finally a lot of people will understand them. And it seems to me that if a work has something remarkable to say, then someone who wants to whistle it will find something in it to whistle. But these things are very subjective. Just this morning, I had a call from Ursula Oppens, who is playing my Piano Concerto. She said, ‘I finally know all the tunes in your concerto.’ I said, ‘Which tunes are those?’ And she whistled one. So there you are.”

Hans Werner Henze R.I.P.











Hans Werner Henze has died, aged 86. As usual, The Guardian has done the best job in the obituary department with a lengthy contribution from Guy Rickards on 27th October.

I first encountered Henze’s music back in my vinyl days, and a much-prized item in my LP collection was a Deutsche Grammophon box set of Symphonies 1 to 6, conducted by the composer. Also in my collection was a recording of Henze’s cantata The Raft of the Medusa, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau making a wonderful contribution and demonstrating once again his championing of contemporary music during his career.

The Guardian obituary deals extensively with the left-wing political slant of much of Henze’s output, and is well worth a read.


I’ve included Alex Ross’s blog The Rest is Noise on the Links list here, but I’ve lifted this video performance of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau from there just in case it’s missed your notice. Much has been written about the great baritone since his death, but no amount of words can convey his rare artistry as well as this short clip of Der Leiermann, the final song from Winterreise.

Alex Ross’s blog entry also includes the following links to other tributes: Worth reading are a Guardian obituary by the late Alan Blyth; a memorial from Ian Bostridge; appreciations by Tony Tommasini and Leo Carey; and Martin Kettle's quietly heartbreaking 2005 interview with the singer, in which he wonders if he will be forgotten. He will not.

Josef Suk RIP

Okay, so he was 81 when he died on Wednesday last, 6th July. Still, he’s a sad loss, especially since it’s only a year since he recorded a CD of arrangements for violin and piano of songs by Dvorak (on the Toccata label, with Vladimir Ashkenazy, incidentally, and well worth investigating — a recommendation which might surprise those familiar with my normal distaste for such arrangements).

I heard about his death last night, thanks to an email list which I subscribe to, and I must say the news saddened me. One commenter on the obituary in The Telegraph rightly mentions that he’s “far too male and not wearing a revealing enough dress to be listenable to today, as far as the Classic FM [or Lyric] world is concerned”. A wonderfully musical artist despite the shallow preferences of the Lyric generation.

As usual, the Telegraph obituary is excellent (there’s one in The New York Times too, but it’s less detailed). For those without the time to read either of these in full, here are a few quotes to be going on with:

  • Josef Suk, who died on July 6 aged 81, was a Czech violinist who carried the mantle of his grandfather, the composer Josef Suk, and his great-grandfather, Antonin Dvorák.
  • His grandfather, who was Dvorák’s favourite pupil at the Prague Conservatoire and a member of the Bohemian Quartet, had married Dvorák’s daughter Otilie in 1898 and later served as Rector of the Conservatoire. His father, although musical and an amateur composer and painter, chose to pursue a career in engineering, while his mother died when he was eight. Josef never knew Dvorák and he was only 5 when his grandfather died, but the musical dynasty was rescued when his talent was spotted at an early age by the great Bach interpreter Jaroslav Kocián, one of the foremost Czech pedagogues; they remained teacher and pupil until Kocián’s death in 1950.
  • After the Suk Trio disbanded he played trios with the cellist János Starker and the pianist Julius Katchen. He continued to travel to Britain, setting the seal of authenticity on the Wigmore Hall’s Bohemian Festival in 1990; in 1996 he gave what the critics called a “passionately spontaneous performance” of the Violin Sonata by Leos Janácek, another of his compatriots.
  • He … performed in New York as a recitalist, though not always with the same success he achieved in ensemble performances. After a 1979 recital at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Donal Henahan wrote in The Times that in works by Dvorak and Smetana, “Mr. Suk played everything with the verve of a civil servant filling out an official document.”
  • In 1999 President Havel awarded Suk his country’s highest medal for merit. He was decorated again on his 80th birthday by President Klaus. He also held the title of National Artist in the Czech Republic.