Ian Partridge  tenor
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GEORGE MALCOLM

CBE   ISM Distinguished Musician Award 1996/7

[b. London, 28 February 1917; d. London, 10 October 1997]



George Malcolm will be identified in many people's minds as a harpsichordist, choir trainer or conductor. In fact he first studied the piano. He was taught for 18 months by a gifted nun in the kindergarten class at the Notre Dame Convent in Clapham, and, deciding he had a special talent, she took him along to play to Hugh Allen at the Royal College of Music. He was accepted, and at the age of seven studied piano with Kathleen McWhitty. There was no Junior department at the College in those days, and for several years he was the only child there. While attending a London day school, he continued at the College and then, having completed his time at Oxford University, he returned to take up his studies with Herbert Fryer. He was on the threshold of his career as a professional pianist when the onset of war drastically changed the direction of his life. He was appointed an RAF bandleader, which involved organising and conducting concerts all over the country. After the war he had hoped to resume his intended career. He liked the idea of owning an antique instrument for his own pleasure at home, and he bought his first harpsichord. The instrument was rare then, and very soon George and his harpsichord were in great demand for concerts. His favourite instrument was to be built by Thomas Goff, and was known for its marvellous dynamic qualities, which George used to exciting and dramatic effect, although his brilliant harmonies and ornamentations have always annoyed purists.

While his concert career was being established, he was appointed director of Music at Westminster Cathedral. He had a deep affinity with Catholic church music and had enjoyed a successful period of time as choirmaster in a south London church. He disliked the hooty sound so prevalent in choirboys at that time, and was to achieve great success in producing the bright "continental" sound that so impressed Britten when he wrote his "Missa Brevis" especially for the Westminster Cathedral Choir. It was a year earlier that I had joined the choir as a tenor, my first work as a professional singer. George taught me how to sing plainchant and was very encouraging.

He was measured and precise in everything he did. He had no small talk, and found any form of overt praise embarrassing. I can remember having tea in Fullers with George and some other choir members, during which his mother arrived. She enthused about his new harpsichord record "Bach goes to Town", which consisted of some tech- nically brilliant and entertaining arrangements by George of some well known pieces, including a truly stunning "Flight of the Bumblebee". He was not at all happy with the adulation!

He left the Cathedral to enable him to accept the ever increasing demands on him for concert performances. He became conductor of the London Philomusica and associate conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra, as well as continuing to play the large 18th century keyboard repertoire.

I had the pleasure of performing some Schubert songs with him at his 80th birthday celebration concert at the Wigmore Hall this February, after which, in my capacity of President of the ISM, I was thrilled to present him with the ISM Distinguished Musician award.

Ian Partridge, 23 October 1997.

Real Audio featuring George Malcolm