AAM Explore


24 September 2014

Christopher Hogwood: a life in music


In the days and weeks following Christopher Hogwood's death, we have been moved and humbled by the outpouring of public grief and affection expressed in print and digital media, on radio and television, and in personal correspondence honouring the life and work of our Founder and former Emeritus Director.

Notable pieces have run in the Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Washington Post newspapers.

Tributes have appeared on blogs the internet over, including on former AAM General Manager Heather Jarman's blog, Sapori & Saperi. More recently obituaries have appeared in BBC Music, Classical Music and Opera magazines; as well as in The Strad, the International Record Review and Gramophone.

And online and on the air remembrances and tributes have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (the Early Music Show and Music Matters) and Radio 4 (The World Tonight and Last Word).

But the most moving tributes to Christopher's life and work have come in the form of personal recollections from some of the people who knew him well. AAM Society members Profs John and Hilary Birks write:

We (John, Hilary) first met Christopher Hogwood in the spring of 1972. We were having dinner at Nick and Judith Shackleton’s house in 1 Claremont. During coffee, Chris, who was then living with Nick and Judith, came in for some food and joined the conversation. Our most lasting memory of that evening was Chris discussing the need for a Volvo estate car to enable him to transport his 1786 Kirckman harpsichord. We had no real idea that evening that he was already an active performer with David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London and with Neville Marriner and the Academy of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields and also the writer and presenter of The Young Idea on BBC Radio 3. We never imagined he would soon found his own Academy of Ancient Music that was to become so important in the development of HIP in the 1970s and 1980s. As an undergraduate at Newnham College in the early 1960s, Hilary had met Chris before as she sang in a performance of Haydn’s Nelson Mass with Pembroke College Choir conducted by Chris who was then an undergraduate at Pembroke.

We next encountered Chris in the autumn of 1979. We had been donated two tickets for a concert at West Road given by the AAM. We went along expecting a chamber orchestra but were surprised that the AAM consisted of Chris (harpsichord) and Mark Caudle (cello and viola da gamba) accompanying Emma Kirkby. It was a wonderful evening’s music-making. They performed a selection of pieces from Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach with Chris providing concise and informed introductions to each piece as well as delicately playing a French Suite, Emma in top form, and Mark providing impeccable continuo. In the interval we bought two AAM LPs – CPE Bach Eight Symphonies and JC Bach Six Favourite Overtures. A few weeks later we bought their recordings of Arne Eight Overtures and Stamitz Symphonies and Clarinet Concerto. On reading the sleeve notes for the Stamitz LP, we realised that our scientific colleague Nick Shackleton had not only written some of the notes about the clarinet that Alan Hacker played on the LP but that he had provided Alan with an appropriate 1760 clarinet for the recording. We now understood the close link between Chris and Nick!

We (John, Hilary, Christopher) got to know Chris well through our mutual friend Nick (later Sir Nicholas) Shackleton, attended many AAM concerts between 1979 and 1985, and organised some in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, before we moved to Norway in 1985. One of the most memorable was Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico played to a totally packed Chapel in Sidney, with people sitting on the floor all around the band. We fondly remember 11-year-old Christopher (Birks) presenting a bouquet to Emma Kirkby at the Queen Elizabeth Hall after Emma sang Exsultate Jubilate so brilliantly at the AAM’s 10th anniversary concert. Other musical highlights include Christophe Coin elegantly performing Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C major in the Senate House, Christophe’s macabre performance of Marais’ Tableau de l’Operation de la Taille with the AAM in Comberton, and Handel’s Messiah in Westminster Abbey on a very cold and snowy day just before Christmas in 1981. This performance was subsequently released on video and is now on DVD. We greatly enjoyed the Mostly Mozart and Basically Bach festivals at the Barbican and regularly got lost there. We never imagined then that the AAM would become an Associate Ensemble at the Barbican Centre. The most amusing concerts were Christopher Hogwood’s A New Yeare Gifte at the Wigmore Hall where just about anything could happen and did with Michael Copley playing ocarinas, the newly formed Amsterdam Loeki Stardust Quartet on sparkling form, and Lucy Skeaping and Roddy Skeaping (Sneak’s Noyse) playing Holborne on just one bass viol(!), tango music, and music by Stevie Wonder! Another amusing concert was in Colchester when Chris gave a lecture recital about Three Centuries of Keyboard Music. Chris played a harpsichord and one of his beloved clavichords. The different sound levels resulted in many of the older members of the audience trying to adjust rapidly their hearing aids, so we heard a CPE Bach sonata for clavichord accompanied by hearing-aid whines. One day, Chris invited young Christopher and a friend to his Claremont house to play one of his treasured Haas clavichords and the boys were fascinated by its delicate soft sound.

Just before Christmas 1981, we all went to see Chris at 2 Claremont. Christopher (Birks) was amazed to see Chris eating breakfast at 4 pm! Chris explained that he was living on American time as he was back and forth to the USA conducting Messiah. John and Hilary then had to try to explain to young Christopher why times were different in Cambridge (Mass) and Cambridge (UK). In 1982, whilst John was working in Minnesota, he heard a wonderful error on National Public Radio when the broadcaster introduced some Vivaldi concertos played by “the Academy of Ancient Musicians”! Between 1982 and 1985 John helped at Heather Jarman’s Amanuensis business to file the AAM music library. It was great fun to see some of the musician’s candid annotations and comments on some of the Mozart symphony scores.

We were able to attend many of Chris’s concerts with the AAM in London between 1985 and 2013 (e.g. Handel operas at the Barbican, Mozart, Mendelssohn) by arranging John’s teaching at University College London to coincide with AAM concerts. John last talked with Chris at 10 Brookside in September 2013 at the 40th anniversary birthday party for the AAM. John and Chris discussed mainly their close but deceased friend Nick Shackleton as John is preparing a seminar about Nick as a polymath in climate research, palaeoceanography, and clarinets. Chris was very close to Nick and he used extensively the commemorative postage stamp portraying Nick that was produced for the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society in 2010.

We kept in good contact with Chris after we left Cambridge and we always looked forward to his wonderfully original Christmas cards each year. The greetings message always matched the drawing or picture such as “Best wishes for an anonymous Christmas and an incognito New Year” to accompany ‘Anonymous portrait of an unknown boy, mid-18th century, playing an unidentified concerto (? Thomas Arne) on a spinet by an unknown maker (? Thomas Barton)’, or “Best wishes for a harmonious Christmas and concerted New Year”, and “With best wishes for an Amadeus-free Christmas and a Byrd-like New Year”.

Inspired by Chris’s approach to historically-informed performance (HIP), John adopted this philosophy when starting ecological resampling surveys of vegetation on Norwegian mountains to discover what changes have occurred since the original surveys in the 1920s or 1930s. For these resurveys, we used maps, guidebooks, field equipment, and soil analytical procedures of the period to allow a fair comparison of the recent and the historical data. John lectured about this approach to the Centre for the Philosophy of Science in Bergen in a seminar on ‘HIP in Music and Ecology’.

When one looks back at Chris’s life and achievements, his musical breadth is amazing, ranging from Music from the Gothic Era with David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London to Martinu and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. We were very fortunate to have known Chris for over 40 years. He was a loyal, generous, and supportive friend, a complete musician, an amazing scholar, and truly delightful person. Besides our many memories of him and the AAM, he has left a wonderful legacy of recordings, books, editions, articles, interviews, Gresham College lectures, and on-line videos that we will continue to enjoy and treasure. Many of his recordings are well known, others are less well known but are equally wonderful, like his ‘Secret’ clavichord series of Bach, Handel, and Mozart; a video about Haydn at Esterháza introduced by Chris, Melvin Bragg, and HC Robbins Landon; LPs of Music for Petworth, Seventeenth Century Italian Music (Chris’s London Early Music Ensemble with Michael Laird), and Music at Court to accompany his Folio Society book of the same title; the CD of Boyce symphonies; and the LPs and CDs of Couperin’s Trois Leçons de ténèbres with Judith Nelson, Emma Kirkby, and Jane Ryan, Venice Preserv’d, and Haydn’s Music for England.

Richard Abram, writing in to The Spectator, recalls:

The late Christopher Hogwood was not only an early musician but also an early activist against piped music. Dining one day at Midsummer House, Cambridge, Hogwood asked if the inevitable Vivaldi might at least be turned down. As the waiter went off to attend to the request, a fellow diner at the next table leant over and murmured sympathetically, "We’re not musical either."

Recollections such as these show definitively that while Christopher may be gone, his legacy — and memory — endures.

Christopher Hogwood CBE

10 September 1941 — 24 September 2014