John Barbirolli: Wikis


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a man in late middle age seen in profile looking to the right side of the picture
John Barbirolli in the mid 1960s

Sir John Barbirolli, CH, 2 December 1899 – 29 July 1970) was an English conductor and cellist. He was particularly associated with the Hallé Orchestra, Manchester, which he helped save from dissolution in 1943 and conducted for the rest of his life. Earlier in his career he was Arturo Toscanini's successor as music director of the New York Philharmonic, serving there from 1936 to 1943. He was also chief conductor of the Houston Symphony from 1961 to 1967, and was a guest conductor of many other orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic, making recordings with all these orchestras.

Barbirolli's early career was principally in opera, as conductor of the British National Opera Company and Covent Garden's touring company. After taking up the conductorship of the Hallé he had less opportunity to work in the opera house, but he conducted productions of works by Verdi, Wagner, Gluck, and Puccini at Covent Garden with such success, in the 1950s, that he was obliged to disclaim the prospect of becoming the company's permanent musical director. Late in his career he made several recordings of operas, of which his 1967 set of Puccini's Madama Butterfly for EMI is probably the best-known.

In the concert hall Barbirolli was particularly associated with the music of English composers such as Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams. He was known for his performances of late nineteenth and early twentieth century music by composers including Mahler and Sibelius, but was also admired for his interpretations of earlier classical composers such as Schubert.




Early years

Giovanni Battista Barbirolli was born in Southampton Row, Holborn, London, the second child and eldest son of an Italian father and a French mother. His father, Lorenzo Barbirolli (1864–1928), was a violinist, who had settled in London with his wife, Louise Marie, née Ribeyrol (1870–1962).[1] Lorenzo and his father had played in the orchestra at La Scala, Milan, where they had taken part in the première of Otello.[2] In London they played in West End theatre orchestras, principally the Empire, Leicester Square.[3]

The young Barbirolli began to play the violin when he was four, but soon changed to the cello.[4] He later said that this was at the instigation of his grandfather who, exasperated at having the child wandering around practising the violin, bought him a small cello to stop him from "getting in everybody's way".[5] His education at St. Clement Danes Grammar School overlapped, from 1910, with his scholarship at Trinity College of Music.[1][6] As a Trinity student, he made his concert début in a cello concerto in the Queen's Hall in 1911.[4] The following year he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, which he attended from 1912 to 1916, studying harmony, counterpoint and theory under Dr J B McEwen and the cello with Herbert Walenn.[7] In 1914 he was joint winner of the academy's Charles Rube Prize for ensemble playing,[8] and in 1916 The Musical Times singled him out as "that excellent young 'cello player, Mr Giovanni Barbirolli."[9] From 1916 to 1918 he was a freelance cellist in London. He recalled, "My first orchestral engagement was with the Queen's Hall Orchestra – I was probably the youngest orchestral musician ever, joining them in 1916. We had an enormous repertory – six concerts a week, three hours or more rehearsal a day. In those days we were happy if we began and finished together".[10] While playing in the Queen's Hall Orchestra, Barbirolli also played in the opera pit for the Beecham and Carl Rosa opera companies, in recitals with his regular playing partner Ethel Bartlett, in orchestras in theatres, cinemas, hotels, restaurants and dance-halls, and, as he said, "everywhere except the street".[1][7][11]

During the last year of World War I Barbirolli enlisted in the army and became a lance-corporal in the Suffolk Regiment.[7] Here he had his first opportunity to conduct, when an orchestra of volunteers was formed. He later described it thus:

I was stationed on the Isle of Grain – a ghastly place but the first line of defence against invasion – and in our battalion of the Suffolks we had a number of professional musicians. So we formed an orchestra and played in the equivalent of the NAAFI during our spare time. I was the principal cello and we were conducted by the bandmaster, one Lieutenant Bonham. The other boys knew that I was longing to conduct and one day when Bonham fell ill with 'flu, they thought "old Barby" – as I was known – should have a go. It was really rather romantic – I was scrubbing the floor in the Officers' Mess when they came and invited me to take over. We did the Light Cavalry overture and Coleridge-Taylor's Petite Suite de Concert but I can't say I recall the rest of the programme.[10]

While in the army, Barbirolli adopted the anglicised form of his first name for the sake of simplicity: "The sergeant-major had great difficulty in reading my name on the roll-call. 'Who is this Guy Vanni?' he used to ask. So I chose John."[12] After demobilisation he briefly reverted to the original form of his name until 1922.[13]

On re-entering civilian life, Barbirolli resumed his career as a cellist. His association with Elgar's Cello Concerto began with its première in 1919, when he played as a rank and file member of the London Symphony Orchestra.[14] He was the soloist at another performance of the concerto just over a year later.[15] The Musical Times commented, "Signor Giovanni Barbirolli was not entirely equal to the demands of the solo music, but his playing unquestionably gave a considerable amount of pleasure."[16] At the Three Choirs Festival of 1920 he took part in his first Dream of Gerontius, under Elgar's baton, in the LSO cellos.[17] He joined two new string quartets as cellist: the Kutcher Quartet, led by his former fellow student at Trinity, Samuel Kutcher,[18] and the Music Society Quartet (later called the International Quartet) led by André Mangeot, with whom he made several early broadcasts.[19]

First conducting posts

Barbirolli's ambition remained to conduct. He was the prime mover in establishing the Guild of Singers and Players Chamber Orchestra,[20] and was invited to conduct a new chamber orchestra at the Chenil Gallery in Chelsea.[7][21] The Chenil ensemble was later renamed "John Barbirolli's Chamber Orchestra".[22] His concerts impressed Frederic Austin, director of the British National Opera Company (BNOC), who invited him to conduct some performances with the company. Barbirolli had never conducted a chorus or a large orchestra, but had the confidence to accept.[10] He made his operatic début directing Gounod's Romeo and Juliet at Newcastle, followed within days by performances of Aida and Madama Butterfly.[23] He conducted the BNOC frequently over the next two years, and made his début at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with Madama Butterfly in 1928.[24] The following year he was invited to conduct the opening work in Covent Garden's international season, Don Giovanni, with a cast that included Mariano Stabile, Elisabeth Schumann and Heddle Nash.[25]

In 1929, after financial problems had forced the BNOC to disband, the Covent Garden management set up a touring company to fill the gap, and appointed Barbirolli as its musical director and conductor. The operas in the company's first provincial tour included Die Meistersinger, Lohengrin, La bohème, Madama Butterfly, The Barber of Seville, Tosca, Falstaff, Faust, Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci, Il trovatore, and the first performances in English of Turandot.[26] In later tours with the company Barbirolli had the chance to conduct more of the German opera repertory, including Der Rosenkavalier, Tristan and Isolde, and Die Walküre.[27] During his years with the touring opera companies Barbirolli did not neglect the concert hall. In 1927, deputising at short notice for Sir Thomas Beecham, he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Elgar's Symphony No. 2, winning the thanks of the composer. Barbirolli also won warm praise from Pablo Casals, whom he had accompanied in Haydn's D major cello concerto at the same concert.[7][28] He conducted a Royal Philharmonic Society concert at which Ralph Vaughan Williams was presented with the society's Gold Medal,[29] and another RPS concert at which Mahler's music, rarely heard in the mid-twentieth century, was given – Kindertotenlieder, with Elena Gerhardt as soloist.[30] Although Barbirolli later came to love Mahler's music, in the 1930s he thought it sounded thin.[31]

When the Hallé Orchestra announced in 1932 that its regular conductor, Hamilton Harty, was to be absent in America, Barbirolli was one of four guest conductors named to direct the orchestra in Harty's absence: the other three were Elgar, Beecham and Pierre Monteux. Barbirolli's programmes included works by composers as diverse as Purcell, Delius, Mozart and Franck.[32] In 1933 Barbirolli was invited to become conductor of the Scottish Orchestra. It was not then, as its successor the Scottish National Orchestra was later to be, a permanent ensemble, but gave a season lasting about six months of each year.[33] Barbirolli remained with the Scottish Orchestra for three seasons, "rejuvenating the playing and programmes and winning most favourable opinions".[1] Notwithstanding his growing reputation in Britain, Barbirolli's name was hardly known internationally, and most of the musical world was taken by surprise in 1936 when he was invited to conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in succession to Arturo Toscanini.[1]

New York Philharmonic

In the spring of 1936, the management of the New York Philharmonic was confronted with a problem. Toscanini had left in search of higher fees with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.[34] Wilhelm Furtwängler had accepted the orchestra's invitation to fill the post but because he continued to live and work in Germany under the Nazi government, local political lobbying raised such an outcry that he felt unable to take up the appointment. For want of any available conductor of comparable fame the management of the orchestra invited five guest conductors to divide the season among them. Barbirolli was allotted the first ten weeks of the season, comprising 26 concerts.[34] He was followed by the composer-conductors Igor Stravinsky, Georges Enescu and Carlos Chávez, each conducting for two weeks, and finally by Artur Rodziński of the Cleveland Orchestra, for eight weeks.[35]

the interior of a nineteenth century concert hall looking from the auditorium towards the platform
Carnegie Hall, New York, where Barbirolli conducted from 1936 to 1943

Barbirolli's first concert in New York was on 5 November 1936. The programme consisted of music by Berlioz, Arnold Bax, Mozart and Brahms (the Fourth Symphony). During his ten weeks, he programmed several American novelties including Charles Martin Loeffler's tone-poem Memories of My Childhood, a symphony by Anis Fuleihan, and Philip James's Bret Harte overture. He also conducted Serge Koussevitzky's Double Bass Concerto.[34] The New York Times later noted, "Barbirolli was an immediate success with both players and audience.… [A] deputation of players told the Philharmonic management that they would be happy for Barbirolli to be appointed to a permanent position. The outcome of this was an invitation to him to become Music Director and Permanent Conductor for three years starting with the 1937-38 season."[34]

One of the features of Barbirolli's time in New York was his regular programming of modern works. He gave the world premières of Walton's second Façade Suite,[36] and Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem and Violin Concerto; he also introduced pieces by Jacques Ibert, Eugene Goossens, and Arthur Bliss and by many American composers including Samuel Barber, Deems Taylor and Daniel Gregory Mason. The new works he presented were not avant-garde, but they nevertheless alienated the conservative subscription audience, and after an initial increase in ticket sales in his early years sales declined.[34] Barbirolli also had to cope with "a rough press campaign in New York from interested parties who wished to evict him from his post".[2] The influential critic Olin Downes had opposed Barbirolli's appointment from the outset, insisting that though "we abhor chauvinism" the post should have been offered to "native conductors".[37] Downes, and the composer Virgil Thomson, continually wrote disparagingly about Barbirolli, comparing him unfavourably with Toscanini.[34] The management of the orchestra nevertheless renewed Barbirolli's appointment in 1940. When his second contract expired in 1942 he was offered 18 concerts for the following season, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic invited him to become its conductor, but he accepted neither offer as he had decided to return to England.[38]

Barbirolli's first reason for leaving was local musical politics. He later said, "The Musicians Union there ... brought out a new regulation saying that everyone, even soloists and conductors, must become members. Horowitz, Heifetz and the rest were shocked by this but there was little they could do about it. They also said that conductors must become American citizens. I couldn't do that during the war, or at any time for that matter."[10] His second reason for leaving was that he felt strongly that he was needed in England. In the spring of 1942 he made a hazardous Atlantic crossing:

I was in America when the war broke out, as conductor of the New York Philharmonic. A. V. Alexander, who was First Sea Lord,[39] wrote to me to say that, contrary to expectations, music was flourishing and would I come back as I was missed. I was longing to return and it was just a question of how it was to be managed. A.V. went to Churchill, who apparently said, "If he's fool enough to come, let him come". It took us 23 days to cross on a fruit trader and, of our convoy of 75, only 32 ships arrived in Liverpool. I played here for ten weeks with the LSO and LPO for the benefit of the musicians, and then went back on a Fyffe banana boat of 5,000 tons. We were spotted by U-boats the moment we left Northern Ireland but that kind of thing never worries me as I'm something of a fatalist. It had been wonderful anyhow to be back, to see England at its greatest, and to visit my old mother.[10]

After his return to New York Barbirolli received an appeal from the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester to become its conductor. The orchestra was in danger of extinction for lack of players, and Barbirolli seized the opportunity to help it.[10]

Hallé Orchestra

exterior of a Victorian building with ornate brickwork
Free Trade Hall, Manchester, the Hallé's main base in the Barbirolli years

In 1943 Barbirolli made another Atlantic crossing, avoiding death by a fluke, having changed flights with the actor Leslie Howard at Howard's request. Barbirolli's plane landed safely; Howard's was shot down.[10] In Manchester he immediately set about reviving the Hallé. The number of players in the orchestra was down to about 30. Most younger players were serving in the armed forces, and to compound the shortage the management of the orchestra had ended the arrangement by which many of its players were also members of the BBC Northern Orchestra.[40] This had been mutually beneficial in the years of the depression. However, the Hallé board had now resolved that its orchestra must follow the example of the Liverpool Philharmonic, which the Hallé's former guest conductor Malcolm Sargent had transformed into a full-time, permanent orchestra.[4][41] Only four of the players shared with the BBC chose to join the Hallé.[42]

The Times later wrote of Barbirolli's first actions for the orchestra: "In a couple of months of endless auditions, he rebuilt the Hallé, accepting any good player, whatever his musical background – he found himself with a schoolboy first flute, a schoolmistress hornist, and various brass players recruited from brass and military bands in the Manchester area.… The reborn Hallé's first concert somehow lived up to the Hallé's great reputation."[4] The Musical Times also noted, "From his earliest days with the orchestra it was the string tone that commanded immediate attention and respect. There was a fiery intensity and glowing warmth that proclaimed the born string coach".[17] His reputation for training orchestras increased over the years: "If you wanted orchestral experience you'd be set for life, starting in the Hallé with John Barbirolli."[43] Players and critics in Europe and the United States commented on the improvement in the playing of their orchestras when Barbirolli was in charge.[44] Later he extended his teaching skills to the Royal Academy of Music, where he took charge of the student orchestra.[11]

Barbirolli received invitations to take up more prestigious and lucrative conductorships.[4] Shortly after he took over the Hallé he received an offer from the sponsors of an ambitious scheme which would have put him in charge of the London Symphony Orchestra,[45] and in the early 1950s the BBC sought to recruit him for the BBC Symphony Orchestra.[46] Also in the early 1950s the head of the Royal Opera House, David Webster, wanted him to become the musical director there. Barbirolli conducted six operas for Webster, Turandot, Aida, Orfeo ed Euridice, Tristan and Isolde, La bohème and Madama Butterfly, 1951–53,[47] but he declined to be deflected from the Hallé.[48] His biographer Charles Reid wrote, "His Manchester kingdom is a kingdom indeed. He is not manacled or chivied in his choice of programmes. Broadly speaking he conducts only what he loves ... His kingdom approximates to a conductor's paradise."[49] Nevertheless, in 1958, after building the orchestra up and touring continually, conducting up to 75 concerts a year, he arranged a less onerous schedule, allowing him more time to appear as a guest conductor with other orchestras.[50] He also worked at the Vienna Staatsoper[2] and the Rome Opera House, where he conducted Aida in 1969.[51] In 1960 he accepted an invitation to succeed Leopold Stokowski as chief conductor of the Houston Symphony in Texas, a post he held until 1967, conducting an annual total of 12 weeks there in early spring and late autumn between Hallé engagements.[52] In 1961 he began a regular association with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which lasted for the rest of his life.[50]

old newspaper classified advertisement with twenty lines of text in small type
The Hallé's first programme (1858) replicated by Barbirolli and the orchestra a hundred years later

From 1953 onwards, Barbirolli and the Hallé appeared regularly at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts at the Albert Hall in London. As well as major works from the mainstream repertory they gave an annual concert of music by Viennese composers, including Franz Lehár and Johann Strauss, which, like Sir Malcolm Sargent's annual Gilbert and Sullivan nights, rapidly became a firm favourite with the Promenaders.[53] At one 1958 promenade concert Barbirolli and the Hallé played a replica of Charles Hallé's first concert with the orchestra in 1858.[54]

Barbirolli's interest in new music waned in post-war years, but he and the Hallé appeared regularly at the Cheltenham Festival, where he premiered new works of a mostly traditional style by Arthur Benjamin, Alan Rawsthorne, Richard Arnell, Gordon Jacob, Peter Racine Fricker, William Alwyn and others.[55] For its hundredth anniversary in 1958 the Hallé commissioned several new works, including Walton's virtuosic divertimento Partita.[56] Increasingly, Barbirolli concentrated on his core repertory of the standard symphonic classics, the works of English composers, and late-romantic music, particularly that of Mahler.[31] In the 1960s he made a series of international tours with the Philharmonia (Latin America, 1963), BBC Symphony Orchestra (USSR, 1967) and the Hallé (Latin America and West Indies, 1968).[50] It was a lasting disappointment to him that it never proved possible to take the Hallé on a tour of the U.S.[4]

In 1968, after 25 years with the Hallé, Barbirolli was appointed Conductor Laureate.[1] In his last years his propensity to concentrate on detail at the expense of the whole of a piece became more marked. His loyal friend and admirer the critic Neville Cardus wrote privately in 1969, "he seems so much to love a single phrase that he lingers over it, caressing it; meanwhile the general momentum is lost."[57] His last year, 1970, was dogged by heart trouble; he suffered collapses in April, May, June and July. His last two concerts were with the Hallé at the 1970 King's Lynn Festival. He produced "inspired" renderings of Elgar's Symphony No. 1 and Sea Pictures.[58] The last work he conducted in public was Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 on the Saturday before his death.[59] On the day he died, he spent several hours rehearsing the New Philharmonia Orchestra for a forthcoming tour of Japan which he was scheduled to lead.[60] Among other planned engagements forestalled by his death were a production of Otello at the Royal Opera House, which would have been his first appearance there for nearly 20 years,[61] and opera recordings for EMI, including Puccini's Manon Lescaut,[31] and Verdi's Falstaff.[2]

Repertoire and recordings

group of four images of head and shoulders shots of men, one with a moustache, one with a moustache and beard and the other two clean-shaven
Elgar (top l.), Verdi, (top r.) Vaughan Williams (lower l.) and Mahler, whose music was central to Barbirolli's repertoire

Barbirolli is remembered as an interpreter of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Mahler, as well as Schubert, Beethoven, Sibelius, Verdi and Puccini, and as a staunch supporter of new works by British composers. Vaughan Williams dedicated his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies to Barbirolli, whose nickname, "Glorious John," comes from the inscription Vaughan Williams wrote at the head of the score of the Eighth: "For glorious John, with love and admiration from Ralph."[34] Barbirolli did not disdain lighter repertoire. Herbert von Karajan's biographer wrote that if all Barbirolli's recordings were to be lost except that of Lehár's Gold and Silver waltz "there would be reason enough to say, 'Now, there was a conductor!'"[62]

Barbirolli's repertoire was not as wide as that of many of his colleagues because he insisted on exhaustive preparation for any work he conducted. His colleague Sir Adrian Boult liked and admired Barbirolli but teased him for his meticulousness: "We can't all be like you and spend months studying these things and then have days of rehearsals before we conduct them. For some of us they're only sporting events." Barbirolli was shocked by such levity.[63] His approach was illustrated by the care he took with Mahler's symphonies. His biographer, Michael Kennedy, commented, "it is ironical that the effort of composing the symphonies shortened Mahler's life; interpreting them certainly put an enormous strain on Barbirolli in his last decade."[64] He found that mastering a Mahler symphony took between 18 months and two years, and he would spend hours meticulously bowing all the string parts in preparation for his performances.[31] His first performance of Mahler's Ninth took nearly 50 hours of rehearsal.[65]

From almost the start of his career Barbirolli was a frequent recording artist. As a young cellist he made four records for Edison Bell in 1911, with piano accompaniment by his sister Rosa,[66] and as part of the Kutcher and the Music Society string quartet he recorded music by Mozart, Purcell, Vaughan Williams and others in 1925 and 1926.[67] As a conductor he began recording in 1927 for the National Gramophonic Society (an offshoot of The Gramophone).[68] Among his records from that period was the first to be made of Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for Strings. On hearing it, the composer said, "I'd never realised it was such a big work." Elgar, despite an extensive discography as a conductor, never recorded the work himself, and some have speculated that "the breadth, nobility and lyrical poetry" of Barbirolli's interpretation left the composer disinclined to compete.[69] In 1928 Barbirolli made some recordings for the Edison Bell label. The same year, he began his long association with the His Master's Voice label. Immediately after the LSO concert at which he had stood in for Beecham, he was approached by Fred Gaisberg, the chief recording producer for HMV who signed him for his company shortly afterwards.[70] An HMV colleague of Gaisberg described Barbirolli as "a treasure", because he could accompany Chaliapin "without provoking an uproar", win warm praise from Jascha Heifetz, Artur Rubinstein, Fritz Kreisler and Pablo Casals, "and conduct one of the finest recorded performances of the Quintet from Meistersinger"[2]

group of four photographs of men's heads and shoulders, all taken in the early part of the twentieth century
Fritz Kreisler (top l.), Jascha Heifetz (top r.), Alfred Cortot (lower l.) and Artur Rubinstein, whom Barbirolli accompanied in his early HMV recordings

Many of Barbirolli's pre-war recordings for HMV were of concertos. His reputation as an accompanist tended to obscure his talents as a symphonic conductor, and later, his detractors in New York "damned him with faint praise by exalting his powers as an accompanist and then implying that that was where it all stopped." Barbirolli became very sensitive on this point, and for many years after the war he refused to accompany anyone in the recording studio.[2] Among his early HMV records are works, mainly concertos, by Brahms, Bruch, Chopin, Dvořák, Glazunov, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schumann, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Vieuxtemps.[68] From the 1990s onwards, archive recordings of Barbirolli's early concerts in New York have been issued on CD. Kennedy wrote in 2004 that they "prove that the orchestra played superbly for him and that the criticism of him was largely unjustified."[1] Recordings from this period include symphonies by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, and other orchestral music by Berlioz, Debussy, Menotti, Purcell, Ravel, Respighi, and Rimsky-Korsakov.[68]

Within six months of his return to Britain in 1943, Barbirolli resumed his contract with HMV, conducting the Hallé in the Third Symphony of Bax and the Fifth of Vaughan Williams, followed by works by a wide range of composers from Corelli to Stravinsky.[71] In 1955 he signed a contract with Pye Records, with whom he and the Hallé recorded a wide repertoire, and made their first stereophonic recordings. These records were distributed in the U.S. by Mercury Records. A company was formed, named Pye-Barbirolli, of which he was a director: the arrangement was designed to ensure an equal partnership between the company and the musicians.[72] They made many recordings, including symphonies by Beethoven, Dvořák, Elgar, Mozart, Nielsen, Sibelius, Mahler, Tchaikovsky and Vaughan Williams, as well as a few concertos, short orchestral pieces and operatic excerpts.[73]

In 1962, HMV persuaded Barbirolli to return to them.[2] With the Hallé he recorded a Sibelius symphony cycle, Elgar's Second Symphony, Falstaff and The Dream of Gerontius, Vaughan Williams's A London Symphony, and works by Grieg and Delius. With other orchestras, Barbirolli recorded a wide range of his repertoire, including many recordings still in the catalogues in 2010. Of these, his Elgar recordings include the Cello Concerto with Jacqueline du Pré, Sea Pictures with Janet Baker, and orchestral music including the First Symphony, Enigma Variations and many of the shorter works. His Mahler recordings include the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies (with the New Philharmonia) and Ninth Symphony (with the Berlin Philharmonic). With the Vienna Philharmonic, he recorded a Brahms symphony cycle, and with Daniel Barenboim, the two Brahms Piano Concertos. He made three operatic sets for EMI: Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with Victoria de los Ángeles (1966),[74] Verdi's Otello with James McCracken, Gwyneth Jones and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1969),[75] and a set of Madama Butterfly with Renata Scotto, Carlo Bergonzi and Rome Opera forces that has remained in the catalogues since its first issue in 1967.[76] The impact of the last was such that the Intendant of the Rome Opera invited him to come and conduct "any opera you care to name with as much rehearsal as you wish."[2] HMV planned to record Die Meistersinger with Barbirolli in Dresden in 1970, but following the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 he refused to conduct in the Soviet bloc, and his place was taken by Herbert von Karajan.[77]

Honours, awards and memorials

exterior of a modern concert hall
Bridgewater Hall in Barbirolli Square, Manchester

Among Barbirolli's state awards were a British knighthood in 1949 and Companion of Honour in 1969; the Finnish Grand Star and Collar of Commander 1st Class of the Order of the White Rose in 1963; from Italy the Order of Merit in 1964; and from France, Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1966, and Officier de l'Ordre national du Mérite, 1968.[78] Awards from musical institutions included the Freedom of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, 1966; Honorary Academician of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, 1960; Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society, 1950; Bruckner Medal, Bruckner Society of America, 1959; and the Mahler Medal, Mahler-Bruckner Society of America, 1965.[78]

There are memorials to Barbirolli in Manchester and London. Barbirolli Square in Manchester is named in his honour, with a statue of him by Byron Howard (2000). The square includes the modern concert venue, the Bridgewater Hall, the present base of the Hallé Orchestra. The Barbirolli Hall is the main hall in St. Clement Danes School in Chorleywood, formerly St. Clement Danes Grammar School, at which Barbirolli was a student when it was located in central London.[79] A commemorative blue plaque was placed on the wall of the Bloomsbury Park Hotel in Southampton Row in May 1993 to mark Barbirolli's birthplace.


Barbirolli's first marriage, in 1932, was to the singer Marjorie Parry. They divorced in 1939. His second marriage, from 1939 to his death, was to the British oboist Evelyn Rothwell. There were no children of either marriage.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Kennedy, Michael. Barbirolli, Sir John (1899–1970), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, October 2009, (subscription required), accessed 7 February 2010
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Bicknell, David, and Ronald Kinloch Anderson. "Sir John Barbirolli", The Gramophone, September 1970, p. 33
  3. ^ Rigby, p. 15
  4. ^ a b c d e f g The Times, obituary, 30 July 1970, p. 8
  5. ^ Rigby, p. 17. In adult life, Barbirolli, when he needed to play the violin to show how he wanted a passage to be phrased, would hold the violin upright on his lap like a miniature cello.
  6. ^ The Musical Times, 1 September 1910
  7. ^ a b c d e Graves, Perceval. "From Cellist to Conductor", The Gramophone, September 1929, p. 5
  8. ^ The Times, 30 May 1914, p. 5
  9. ^ The Musical Times, 1 August 1916, p. 381
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Blyth, Alan. "Sir John Barbirolli talks to Alan Blyth", The Gramophone, December 1969, p. 34
  11. ^ a b Royal Academy of Music
  12. ^ Ayre, p. 19
  13. ^ The Times, 27 October 1919, p. 10; and 14 June 1922, p. 11; and Kennedy (Barbirolli), p, 41
  14. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), p. 38
  15. ^ Some sources state that Barbirolli gave the second performance of the concerto, but the original soloist, Felix Salmond, gave the work its second performance, with the Hallé in Manchester on 20 March 1920, and Beatrice Harrison also played the solo part before Barbirolli did: see Kennedy (Barbirolli) p. 40
  16. ^ The Musical Times, 1 March 1921, p. 195
  17. ^ a b Anderson, Robert. "Obituary, Sir John Barbirolli", The Musical Times, September 1970, p. 926
  18. ^ The Observer 22 June 1924, p. 1
  19. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 16 November 1925. p. 11; 25 November 1925, p. 11; 16 December 1925, p. 13; and 10 April 1926, p. 12
  20. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), p. 43
  21. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 25 May 1926, p. 6
  22. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 7 June 1928, p. 12
  23. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), p. 49 and The Manchester Guardian, 17 November 1926, p. 1
  24. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), p. 57
  25. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 29 May 1929, p. 8
  26. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 7 September 1929, p. 7
  27. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 4 October 1932, p. 9
  28. ^ The Times, 13 December 1927, p. 14. The paper's critic did not share Elgar's and Casals's enthusiasm.
  29. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 14 March 1930, p. 5
  30. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 30 January 1931, p. 4
  31. ^ a b c d "John Barbirolli", EMI Classics, accessed 7 February 2010
  32. ^ The Manchester Guardian, 6 October 1932, p. 1; and 13 January 1933, p. 11.
  33. ^ Lindsay, p. 233
  34. ^ a b c d e f g "'Glorious John' in New York", The New York Times, 1 November 2005
  35. ^ The Times, 9 April 1936, p. 12
  36. ^ Kennedy (Walton), p. 99
  37. ^ Downes, Olin. "And After Toscanini: What?", The North American Review, Vol. 241, No. 2 (June 1936), pp. 218–09
  38. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), pp. 152 and 167–68
  39. ^ Alexander was in fact First Lord of the Admiralty – the political head of the Royal Navy – rather than First Sea Lord, who is the senior serving officer of the navy.
  40. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), pp. 165–66
  41. ^ Rigby, pp. 130–132
  42. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), p. 167
  43. ^ Previn, p. 67
  44. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), pp. 266, 273 and 281
  45. ^ Rigby, p. 154
  46. ^ Reid (Sargent), p. 353
  47. ^ The Times, 5 October 1951, p. 8; 23 December 1952, p. 2; 10 January 1953, p. 8; 5 November 1953, p. 4; and 9 December 1953, p. 3
  48. ^ Haltrecht, p. 185 and ODNB
  49. ^ Reid (Barbirolli), p. 8
  50. ^ a b c Crichton, Ronald and José A. Bowen. "Barbirolli, Sir John (Giovanni Battista)", Grove Music Online (subscription required), accessed 7 February 2010.
  51. ^ "Barbirolli, John (Sir Giovanni Battista Barbirolli )", Oxford Companion to Music, online version (subscription required), accessed 7 February 2010
  52. ^ The Times, 1 November 1960, p. 16 and ODNB
  53. ^ Cox, p. 163
  54. ^ Cox, p. 178
  55. ^ The Times, 1 July 1948, p. 6; 2 July 1948, p. 6; 30 June 1949, p. 7; 2 July 1949, p. 7; 6 July 1950, p. 8; and 7 July 1950, p. 6
  56. ^ Kennedy (Walton), pp. 208–09
  57. ^ Brookes, p. 253
  58. ^ The Gramophone, May 2003, p. 42
  59. ^ Kennedy (Hallé), p. 92
  60. ^ The Times, 30 July 1970, p. 1
  61. ^ The Times, 26 June 1970, p. 7
  62. ^ Osborne, p. 461
  63. ^ Kennedy (Boult), p. 268
  64. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), pp. 245–46
  65. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), p. 247
  66. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), p. 341
  67. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), pp. 341–42
  68. ^ a b c "John Barbirolli", Naxos records, accessed 7 February 2010
  69. ^ Kennedy, Michael. Liner notes to EMI CD 5-67240-2, published 2000
  70. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), pp. 55–56
  71. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), pp. 362-72
  72. ^ The Gramophone, July 1956, p. 40
  73. ^ The Gramophone, 1956-61 passim.
  74. ^ The Gramophone, October 1966, p. 77
  75. ^ The Gramophone, October 1969, p. 97
  76. ^ The Gramophone, September 1967, p. 25
  77. ^ Kennedy (Barbirolli), pp. 306–07, and The Gramophone, October 1971, p. 102
  78. ^ a b "Barbirolli, Sir John (Giovanni Battista)", Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2008; online edition, Oxford University Press, December 2007, (subscription required), accessed 7 February 2010
  79. ^ [1], St. Clement Danes School


  • Ayre, Leslie. The Wit of Music: Introduction by Sir John Barbirolli, Leslie Frewin, London, 1966
  • Brookes, Christopher. His Own Man: The Life of Neville Cardus, Methuen, London, 1985. ISBN 0-413-40940-0
  • Cox, David. The Henry Wood Proms, British Broadcasting Corporation, London, 1980. ISBN 0-563-17697-0
  • Haltrecht, Montague.The Quiet Showman: Sir David Webster and the Royal Opera House, Collins, London, 1975. ISBN 0-00-211163-2
  • Kennedy, Michael. Adrian Boult, Papermac, London, 1989. ISBN 0-333-48752-4
  • Kennedy, Michael. Barbirolli, Conductor Laureate:The Authorised Biography, MacGibbon and Key, London, 1971. ISBN 0-261-63336-8
  • Kennedy, Michael. The Hallé, 1858–1983: A History of the Orchestra, Macmillan, London. ISBN 0-7190-0921-9
  • Kennedy, Michael. William Walton, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989. ISBN 0-19-315418-8
  • Lindsay, Maurice. Northern Diary, in Music 1951, ed. Ralph Hill, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1951.
  • Osborne, Richard. Herbert von Karajan: A Life in Music, Chatto and Windus, London 1998. ISBN 1-85619-763-8
  • Previn, André (ed). Orchestra, Macdonald and Jane's, London, 1979. ISBN 0-354-04420-6
  • Reid, Charles. "John Barbirolli", in Milein Cosman, Musical Sketchbook, Bruno Cassirer, Oxford, 1957
  • Reid, Charles. Malcolm Sargent, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1968
  • Rigby, Charles. John Barbirolli. John Sherratt and Son, Altrincham, 1948

External links

Simple English

Sir John Barbirolli, (born London, 2 December, 1899 ; died London 29 July 1970), was a British conductor and cellist. Barbirolli was particularly remembered as the conductor of the Hallé Orchestra, Manchester, which he conducted for nearly thirty years, turning it into a world famous orchestra. He was conductor of other great orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and the Houston Symphony, and also conducted orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Vienna Philharmonic. He often played the music of English composers such as Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams.



Early years

Barbirolli was born into a musical family. His father and grandfather had come from Italy and moved to London. His mother was French. His father and uncle were violinists.

Barbirolli won a scholarship to study at Trinity College of Music, and later studied at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1916 he joined the Queen’s Hall Orchestra where he was the youngest member. The next year he gave his first solo recital. He spent two years in the army where he got conducting experience with a voluntary orchestra. In 1919 he was again playing in orchestras and twice appeared as soloist with the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra.

Between 1929 and 1933 he conducted opera at Covent Garden. From 1933 to 1936 he conducted the Scottish Orchestra in Glasgow.

In 1927 he took over a concert that Thomas Beecham would have conducted with the London Symphony Orchestra. He conducted other English orchestras including the Hallé Orchestra and was becoming very well known. He could learn music very quickly. In the 1930s he made many recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra and London Philharmonic, accompanying concertos with famous soloists such as Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein.

International career

In 1937 Barbirolli was invited to take over from Arturo Toscanini as conductor of the New York Philharmonic. To follow such a great conductor was a very great honour. He conducted there for five years with great success, although there were some critics who supported Toscanini and were always criticizing Barbirolli. It was a difficult time for him as a new orchestra had just been formed in New York, the NBC Symphony Orchestra which was conducted by Toscanini and they paid their musicians more money. When he was invited, in 1942, to stay on with the New York Philharmonic he decided not to, partly because he would have to become a US citizen.

Hallé Orchestra

The Hallé Orchestra, based in Manchester, England, had been famous under the conductor Hamilton Harty. However, in recent years they had been sharing half their players with the BBC. This had saved the orchestra in the difficult years when the economy was bad and during the early war years, but the orchestra was not as good as it had been. Barbirolli was invited to become the conductor of the orchestra, so he moved back to England in 1943.

The first thing he had to do was to rebuild the orchestra. It had not had a permanent conductor since 1933 when Hamilton Harty left. Only four of the shared players with the BBC chose to join the Hallé in Manchester, so Barbirolli auditioned many musicians. The “new Hallé” made several recordings including symphonies by Arnold Bax and Vaughan Williams.

Barbirolli conducted the orchestra for 25 years. In 1958 he became “conductor-in-chief”, so that he could share the work with others. In 1968 he was given the title “conductor laureate” for the rest of his life.

As well as his work with the Hallé he conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra and other London orchestras, and made many recordings. From 1961 to 1967 he was also principal conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in Texas. He was also made guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic.

During his last years he had serious health problems His last two concerts were held in the St Nicholas Chapel, King's Lynn, as part of its 1970 Festival. Although he collapsed during the Friday afternoon, he managed to conduct Elgar's Symphony No 1 and Sea Pictures. The last piece he conducted was Beethoven's Symphony No 7 on the Saturday before his death.

His reputation

Barbirolli is remembered for his great interpretations of Romantic music and of early 20th century English music. He was not interested in very modern music although he did conduct Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto and Sinfonia da Requiem in New York. He is remembered for his performances of Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Mahler, as well as Franz Schubert, Beethoven, Jean Sibelius, Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini. Vaughan Williams gave him the nickname “Glorious John”. He was a great supporter and friend of the great cellist Jacqueline du Pré.

He was knighted in 1949 and made a Companion of Honour in 1969.


His first marriage was to singer Marjorie Parry. His second marriage from 1939 to his death was to the British oboist Evelyn Rothwell who died at the age of 97 in January 2008.



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