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I was brought up during World War 2 and have vivid memories of the bombing of Portsmouth where I lived. My mother died when I was three and I was sent to Westminster Cathedral Choir School.

George Malcolm was the choirmaster and he was a total inspiration to me. I learned most of what I know about music from the Choir School. My father was a convert – he was caught outside Portsmouth Catholic Cathedral in a rain storm and the only place he could shelter was inside. He went in and found himself in the middle of a Pontifical High Mass. He had never seen anything like it and went to the sacristy at its conclusion to ask what was going on. This experience led to his conversion. My father remarried and Dad then decided to send me to the Choir School. He couldn’t afford the fees and the Parish Priest, a musician, offered to pay them. An extraordinary sequence of events.

I never had any ambition to play the organ – quite the contrary – I never wanted to be in the cathedral choir and tried my hardest to fail my voice test! I explained that I didn’t know any songs and William Hyde, the then choirmaster, said that I must surely know the National Anthem. I fell into the trap and to my horror was accepted. I always get a good laugh about Cardinal Heenan who also took a voice test for the Choir School and was turned down. This would have been the highlight of Sir Richard Terry’s life – if only he had known!

George Malcolm obviously spotted a musical gift in me and asked me to play for Friday Compline in the Cathedral. I was able to accompany  the chant from the chant book and also improvise. This all seemed to me to be perfectly normal, something that all eleven year old boys did, it is only recently that I realise it is quite amazing.

The three people who have had a profound effect on my life, apart from my father, are George Malcolm, Wilfred Purney (a superb priest) and Cardinal John Carmel Heenan. Colin Mawby (May 2013)

In 1951 Jack Parnell left Ted Heath and formed his own band. Its first engagement was playing for the West End show Fancy Free, staged by Val Parnell and starring Tommy Trinder and Pat Kirkwood. This required him to conduct, something he had never done. He turned for help to George Malcolm, conductor and harpsichordist, whom he had known since Bomber Command days. Malcolm helped him out in this predicament and went onto provide him with a thorough grounding in the conductor's art.
Telegraph (2010)

When the "beat groups" took over popular music, Parnell came off the road in 1956 to take on the role of musical director for Associated Television (ATV). Now needing to conduct, he studied with the brilliant harpsichordist and conductor George Malcolm, so that he was able to cope with every genre of music. His television job lasted for a quarter of a century and covered some 2,500 shows, ranging from Sunday Night at the London Palladium to specials with Sammy Davis Jr, Barbra Streisand and Horne. His crack studio orchestra – which from 1976 provided the "real" band for The Muppet Show – included many colleagues from the Heath band.
Guardian (2010)

"Because I was trying to learn the job I didn't know anything about conducting. I rushed off to George Malcolm, and started getting lessons from him. He taught me a tremendous amount. I learnt more about music with him, I think, than at any other time in my career. Everything else has just been experience." Jack Parnell (1976)

In the 1970s, ATV finally gave the band its own series. “We used to be on every Christmas Day for some strange reason. Yeah, there was a guy called Alan Tarrant – a producer/director – and we used to dream up different ideas, not very commercial I’m afraid. I remember doing one show just featuring the arrangers and getting them on. People like Bob Farnon, Peter Knight and Laurie Johnson – we got them all on one show. Then thinking of all the different kinds of keyboards. We had George Malcolm on it playing Flight of the Bumble Bee on the harpsichord. He was terribly, terribly thin, with a very cadaverous face, and he was told, at the end of it, to turn to the camera. There were a couple of stage hands looking at the monitor and one of them said, ‘You rang, sir?’ I’ll never forget it – we just broke up. But what a wonderful player. He taught me everything I know.” Jack Parnell

The composition of the Missa Brevis in D was inspired by George Malcolm's work as choirmaster at London's Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral. The sound world he developed with the boys there had a fresh, natural and slightly harder-edged vocal timbre, quite distinct from the smooth blend typically sought at many Anglican cathedral choirs. Britten loved it. 'The whole choir sang with a brilliance and authority which was staggering,' he wrote to Malcolm after hearing them in early 1959. Penned within a few weeks in early 1959, the Missa Brevis is a delightful work for three-part boys voices. Its themes show a typically playful iconoclasm (for instance, the Agnus Dei has an inescapable whiff of the cod horror movie about it), its harmonies are joyously rich and exotic, while the rhythms pose a delicious challenge for musically-adept choristers, with seven-in-a-bar syncopations in the Gloria. Barry Holden

So how at its best did Aldeburgh characterise itself? It did so by building around Britten’s works a collection of music which both illuminated and contextualised his work. There was music that had an influence on Britten: Purcell, who opened the first festival and was there every single year, with songs which were central to the joint recitals by Britten and Pears; Dowland songs, which Pears performed with Julian Bream; Mozart piano concertos that Britten himself performed long before some of them were fashionable, Bach cantatas, which created the Long Melford spin-off of Bach weekends; and the Schubert lieder in which Britten and Pears excelled. Then a whole range of early music arrived for live audiences at Aldeburgh at the same time as the Third Programme was beginning to uncover it for radio listeners. The first ever complete Bach St Matthew Passion sung in German in this country came from Holland in 1950, thanks to Peter Pears having sung there. George Malcolm and then Britten directed Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in 1951 – astonishing! - in a double bill with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Peter Pears sang the Evangelist in the Passion settings by Bach’s great predecessor Heinrich Schutz. Nicholas Kenyon: Excerpt from Aldeburgh Festival presentation (June 2007)

Long, intensive study, spontaneity in performance, continuous reinvention and discovery -all these elements made Schiff's Goldberg Variations what they are today. But what else was feeding in? Does Schiff acknowledge any specific mentors?

'I cannot speak too highly of the influence of George Malcolm,' he replies without hesitation. 'When I was a young student he took me under his wing. He always told me I didn't have to play Bach on the harpsichord. There actually wasn't a single harpsichord in his London home in Cheyne Walk - he didn't particularly like them!'

What Malcolm did like (and was roundly criticised for at the time) was playing with the endless colour possibilities in those great Gobles, with their eight or more pedals and handstops. This love of colour and imaginative recreation had a profound influence on Schiff when he turned to Bach and the piano. Gramophone (2003)

There's a long entry for the 17th, when i attended a harpsichord recital by George Malcolm in Balliol hall (those free Sunday classical concerts were highlights of the week). I’d been up half the previous night reading Sartre’s Nausea and arrived full of the futility of things. I sat on the stage, near the performer. Hard now to make out exactly what it was I experienced so powerfully. During the Bach, the purity and precision of the music wiped my brain’s slate quite clean and set my mind ‘working subtly and rapidly... yet I felt totally disconnected from everything. Then, when Malcolm played Handel, I began to have a revelation of some kind: here was 'the pivot, the basis, the clue, the key, the axle...' Graham Chainey (1965)

In 1972 I heard George Malcolm play the complete Goldberg Variations on harpsichord in the Great Hall at Christ Church, Oxford, as part of the English Bach Festival. During the performance, Great Tom tolled! When Mr. Malcolm was called back for an encore at the close of the concert, he said, "Let's make up for that damn bell and have another go at #___ !"
Nancy Winder

From Menuhin: 'Unfinished Journey' (1977)

“I first went [to Dartington Summer School] in ’73.. as a 5 year old… My parents were there from the start… Early memories include scorched brown grass in ’76, wasps around the sticky buns, George Malcolm’s flat cap, holding Simon Rattle’s baton (conducting looked simple as a child) and being just a little bit scared of Peter Maxwell Davies.. Nothing’s really changed..” Sébastien Constantine Tumnus-Pope

There had been a few harpsichord players in Britain before the war, such as Violet Gordon-Woodhouse and members of the Dolmetsch family, but the instrument was established in Britain in the two decades following 1945 by three main players: George Malcolm, Thurston Dart and Millicent Silver. She had a 35-year career on the harpsichord during which she played a very wide solo repertory, though never abandoning the revival-type instruments with pedals, 16' stops and piano-type construction popular in the 50s and 60s, though later supplanted by the authentic performance movement. (Wikipedia)

I went to Westminster Cathedral Choir School as a boy and my interest in choir music started then. I can remember as a boy of 13 or 14 going through the Tallis Forty-Part Motet [Spem in Alium nunquam habui] trying to find consecutive fifths or consecutive octaves because I was quite convinced that somewhere there must be a fifth or octave. There wasn’t and I was very disappointed. But I did study the stuff when I was a kid and I was very fortunate in being taught there by George Malcolm who was an extraordinary character. So that’s basically where it comes from and I seem to have an ear for this sort of thing. I’ve never written much orchestral music, partly because I think the ability of people to score orchestral music now is so enormous that I couldn’t possibly compete with it, there’s no way I could. With choral music I can [compete], because I do actually understand how choirs work, how they make the sounds. Colin Mawby


The Holst Museum is delighted to have received a gift of a charming clavichord, originally the property of Imogen Holst. The instrument was made in 1942 by the distinguished makers, Goble. Imogen gave it to Dr John Agate, a great friend and the geriatrician who looked after her in her later years. She also dedicated a carol 'Out of your sleep arise & wake' to Dr Agate. He was a great lover of music and friend of many musicians. George Malcolm, the celebrated harpsichordist, played the clavichord whilst it was in Dr Agate’s possession.

Elisabeth Etheridge, Dr Agate’s daughter, has generously given the instrument to the Museum on the instructions of her mother.

By an extraordinary coincidence, the clavichord had only been on show for a few days when a visitor to the Museum recognised it. She related that she had seen it in Dr Agate’s house and that the good doctor was responsible for inspiring her to become a geriatrician herself. Holst Museum

"At Christmas, Westminster Cathedral Choir used to sing carols in the cathedral every day between Christmas and the Epiphany, and in 1958 they sang Britten's 'A Ceremony of Carols', with the composer present. He was so moved that he asked Malcolm if he could write something for the choir, and Malcolm suggested that the best thing would be a Mass for the boys' voices in two or three parts with organ accompaniment. Britten agreed, but had not produced anything by the time Malcolm had decided to resign in July 1959. They met accidentally, and on hearing the news on Malcolm's impending retirement, Britten finished the Mass in two weeks and it was performed in the cathedral. The BBC got news of the occasion and recorded the performance live (on July 22 1959) without any practice or testing."
Peter Doyle (Westminster Cathedral)

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I remember a Brandenburg 5 broadcast where Enesco was cross at the presence of a harpsichord. It wouldn’t be able to provide the crescendo he wanted through the long solo. George Malcolm proved him wrong; by careful use of the pedals he provided a smooth crescendo from beginning to end, and Enesco was converted to the 'historical’ instrument.
Jeremy Montague

It actually started way back in 1951, when my father, a student at Bryanston School, got involved in one of Europe’s post-war cultural rebuilding efforts, a summer school of music run by William Glock. The summer school moved to Dartington Hall in 1953 and has been there ever since, and my father has been a constant presence.

He’s been an audience member, a trog*, a member of the management council and, now, archivist. His collection of photos, programs, the ‘daily’ and the ‘weekly’ are a real treasure trove. His memories are even richer. Moving harpsichords for George Malcolm, defending the Steinway in the Great Hall from being ‘prepared’, waltzing with Elizabeth Schumann and in later years, propping up the bar with Peter Sculthorpe and Wilfrid Mellers, three surprisingly non-grumpy old men of music. This year, even at the age of 80, he was still much in demand. (Good bassoonists are always hard to come by).

His involvement with Dartington Summer School has been the foundation of my musical life. My whole life, in fact, given that he met my mother at Dartington. My first Summer School was at five months, my last at about 23. So I’ve done 24 summer schools. But my father has done a great many more. Jeremy Wilson

*A trog (or troglodyte) was George Malcolm’s nickname for the team of stage managers.

The Summer School was organised by the British Arts Council with input from the BBC, taking advantage of philanthropy by the wealthy owners of Dartington Hall, with classes covering vocal and instrumental music under the direction of leading artists of the day, e.g. French pianist Vlado Perlmuter, Hungarian violinist Sandor Vegh, Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, her husband Rostropovitch on cello, Guitarist Julian Bream, British tenor Peter Pears, harpsichordist George Malcolm, composition class under Italian avant-garde composer Luigi Nono. Afternoon and evening concerts were given in the 14th century great hall with classes and rehearsals taking place in numerous outbuildings (others were dormitories).

On arrival in Devon I was struck by the beauty of the Hall and surrounding gardens/grounds - many acres - a fitting venue for some 'unforgettable' (if only...) music making. I faintly recall performances by the Vegh Quartet, piano recitals by Perlmuter and the amazing young British pianist (specialising in modern music) Susan Bradshaw, George Malcolm harpsichord - solo and duo with Bream, Vishnevskaya (with Rostropovich on piano), Peter Pears with Julian on lute/guitar and also with Benjamin Britten, piano - Britten also gave a piano-duet recital with William Glock (Organiser of the BBC Third Programme) a power behind the course organisation.
Avoz, Classical Guitar (c.1959)

I was interested to read the account of the recent visit of the Papal Choir to Westminster Cathedral, which revealed in a practical way, the extent of the Holy Father’s goodwill towards our Country. Without doubt the visit was very much a personal expression of gratitude for the warm welcome he received on his visit to  the United Kingdom, and for the sacred music performed in the his presence, particularly at Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

This is the first ever visit of the Papal Choir to this country , a truly historic event, which has allowed us to hear sacred music sung by a choir trained in the European continental style, as distinct from the style and technique of Westminster Cathedral Choir, faithful to the post-war Catholic choral tradition inculcated by the late George Malcolm

The continental choral tradition  has been described as ‘fulsome’ in its manner of presentation,  which while creating impressive and lively sound, loses perhaps a little in purity of tone and clarity of enunciation; whereas George Malcolm insisted, among other things, on the importance of these particular qualities, delivered directly and precisely. Since then, this tradition has been honed to near-perfection, with Westminster Cathedral Choir now regarded as one of the finest Cathedral Choirs in the world.  Umblepie (2012)

There used to be a musician's joke: when two pianists happen to travel on the same train, each takes a different car - as far as possible from each other, violinists seek different compartments, cellists sit one in a corner and the other at the window, while harpsichordists and organists sit together, discussing instruments, fingerings and registration until they miss their destinations. I don't know whether this applies still, but even then I wondered why. Maybe because even at school we needed each other to turn pages or put on registers, and so have few professional secrets. I'll never forget my horror when, as a "beginner", I discerned that my page turner was George Malcolm. From Zuzana Růžičková's book Královna Cembala

Graham Wade (2013)


Menuhin on GM

"He was the only man who's ever induced me to smoke a cigarette (I only smoked four puffs in my life) because he brought a wonderful little Indian cigarette, which was made of a single leaf of tobacco with a mouthpiece. I thought if I ever smoke, this is it! No additives, no chemical preservatives!"
From "Menuhin. A Life" Humphrey Burton (2000)

From James Blades "These i have Met" (1998)