Skip to Main Content
Charles Mackerras

Charles Mackerras

Nigel Simeone
John Tyrrell
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Charles Mackerras
    Book Description:

    By the time of his death in 2010 at the age of 84, Sir Charles Mackerras had achieved widespread recognition, recorded extensively and developed into a conductor of major international significance. In addition to areas in which he already had forged a distinctive and definitive profile (Janacek, Mozart, Handel, Sullivan) he revisited - and rethought - much of the standard repertoire. The last thirty years were particularly momentous in the coming to fruition of so many cherished projects: not only the Janacek operas but the Gilbert and Sullivan series, the Mozart operas, the two Beethoven cycles, other projects with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Schumann and Brahms at Edinburgh; the outstanding late Mozart) and at the Royal Opera House and the Met. Unspoilt by fame, and undeterred by personal tragedies and increasing physical frailty, he remained productive and inventive: for him music-making, whether with world-class professionals or with students, was a kind of joyous oxygen that kept him going right to the end. A detailed narrative account of his life by Nigel Simeone is complemented by chapters written by performers and scholars who worked closely with him: Alfred Brendel, Dame Janet Baker, David Lloyd-Jones, Dame Anne Evans, Sir Antonio Pappano, Sir Nicholas Hytner, John Tyrrell and Jiri Zahradka. There are also chapters based on interviews with his family. The book is illustrated with photographs, both informal and professional, and is supplemented by an up-to-date discography, by listings of all the performances of Janacek operas Sir Charles conducted and of all his concerts in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. While Sir Charles' whole life is considered, emphasis is given to his final quarter century in which so many important projects were realized. This book celebrates and epitomizes an exceptional life. NIGEL SIMEONE has published books on Janacek, Messiaen and Bernstein. JOHN TYRRELL has published books on Janacek and Czech opera and, with Sir Charles Mackerras, edited two Janacek operas. Contributors: Janet Baker, Alfred Brendel, Ales Brezina, Rosenna East, Anne Evans, Nicholas Hytner, Simon Keenlyside, David Lloyd-Jones, David Mackie, Chi-chi Nwanoku, Antonio Pappano, Nigel Simeone, John Stein, Heinz Stolba, Patrick Summers, John Tyrrell, Malcolm Walker, David Whelton, Jiri Zahradka

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-474-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiii)
    Nigel Simeone and John Tyrrell
  6. About the Contributors
    (pp. xiv-xvii)
  7. Charles Mackerras: A Chronology
    (pp. xviii-xxii)
  8. Prologue: A Eulogy for Charles
    (pp. 1-2)
    Janet Baker

    It is always a touching thing, when we lose someone, to see how we gather together, close ranks and share our grief; so, this morning, we are here to support Judy and the family and each other.

    A human being is a mystery; none of us knows another person completely but, when they leave us, we have the opportunity to celebrate the life they have lived and to remember. When we lose someone we also lose a part of ourselves; the link we form with another is unique; when it is broken, that particular relationship is irreplaceable.

    Some of us...

  9. 1 An Immense Stylist Evolves: 1947–87
    (pp. 3-38)
    Nigel Simeone

    Charles Mackerras was was born on 17 November 1925 at Schenactady, New York, where his father Alan, an electrical engineer, was doing postgraduate work with General Electric. The family returned to Sydney – via London – in 1927, and Charles grew up under the benevolent eye of his immensely cultured mother, Catherine, joined in time by six siblings: Alastair (1928–99), Neil (1930–87), Joan (b. 1934), Elizabeth (b. 1937), Malcolm and Colin (twins, b. 1939). The young Charles grew up in a very musical family, and it was at home that he got to know Gilbert and Sullivan: ‘I...

  10. 2 A Personal Portrait of Charles Mackerras
    (pp. 39-44)
    David Lloyd-Jones

    No other colleagues worked more closely with Charles for over forty years than I did, so much so that we also became great family friends. It was thanks to him that at least three important steps in my career took place. I first remember him when I was a schoolboy in London, regularly attending opera performances at Sadler’s Wells in the early 1950s: after a performance, this strikingly gaunt, pale, hollow-eyed and red-haired young maestro would come on for the curtain calls. I met him next at auditions for Cedric Messina’s 1965 BBC studio production ofLa Bohème, for which...

  11. 3 Mackerras and Janáček
    (pp. 45-60)
    John Tyrrell

    ‘If I’ll be remembered for anything,’ Charles Mackerras once said, ‘it will be for Janáček.’ Readers of this book will be aware that Mackerras is remembered for much more, but in a sense he was right: other composers on which he particularly left his imprint, such as Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, were well known long before Charles Mackerras came along. He simply found new ways of presenting them, making them sound different and thus contributing to a new perception of how music from the Baroque to the late Romantic period might be played to contemporary audiences. But for Janáček...

  12. 4 Goat’s Milk in Vienna: Three Memorable Meetings
    (pp. 61-66)
    Heinz Stolba

    Once upon a time, in the early 1990s, a young music editor was asked by his employer, Universal Edition Vienna, the most important publishing house for twentieth-century music and the original publisher of the works of Leoš Janáček, to go to London at short notice to meet Sir Charles Mackerras. It was said that the world-renowned conductor was keen to discuss two Janáček topics: the finalisation of new performance material for the operaKáťa Kabanová(which he had edited) and the preparation of the ‘Brno 1908’ edition of the operaJenůfa. For a young music editor to be sent to...

  13. 5 The Lion: Charles Mackerras
    (pp. 67-86)
    Patrick Summers

    That Sir Charles Mackerras was one of the great renaissance men of classical music is now, thankfully, well known. Charles had a rare gift in an art that tends towards narcissism: one inevitably left a Mackerras performance feeling ‘what a great opera or symphony’, rather than ‘what a great conductor’. This was how he purposefully and precisely lived his life and tirelessly shaped his career.Musicand everything that moulded it was his total focus. His curiosity and industry never diminished, even when age forced him to conserve his physical resources. He was a lion whose winter was uniquely rich:...

  14. 6 ‘The Musical Values of Opera’: WNO, 1987–92
    (pp. 87-106)
    Nigel Simeone and John Stein

    I first got to know Charles well when he came to Welsh National Opera to do Martinů’sGreek Passionin 1981, though I’d played for him before when I was in the orchestra at Covent Garden – I remember playingToscawith him there. Once we knew Richard Armstrong was going to resign, Brian McMaster came to the orchestra with various suggestions for his successor, and withThe Greek PassionI had immediately been impressed by the chemistry Charles had with the orchestra, right from the start. We had lunch together duringDon Giovannirehearsals in 1984. Brian McMaster had...

  15. Plates
    (pp. None)
  16. 7 Triumphs and Tribulations: Opera, 1993–2001
    (pp. 107-125)
    Nigel Simeone and Anne Evans

    In the autumn of 1969 the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company was on tour at the Empire Theatre, Liverpool. On arrival I took the lift up to the company’s office to check in. A man with freckly eyes and red wavy hair slipped into the lift as the gate was closing. He looked me up and down. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘Cheeky chap,’ I thought, summoning up all thehauteurof a junior principal who had joined the company only a year earlier, straight out of the Geneva Conservatoire, and was earning no less than £30 a week. ‘I’m Anne...

  17. 8 Rethinking Old Favourites: Opera, 2002–10
    (pp. 126-148)
    Nigel Simeone, Antonio Pappano, Simon Keenlyside and Nicholas Hytner

    What’s very interesting about Charlie is that there were two sides to his conducting. On the one hand, the philological side: his interest in authentic practices, the deep knowledge that he had of Handel and Mozart, and the specialised Janáček repertoire. But on the other hand, when you look at his entire repertoire, he conductedeverything– fromSersetoCavalleriatoLuciato theRingtoFrom House of the Dead to Katerina Ismailova, and so on. This curiosity about different styles and about different types of theatre was always there. When he was a music director, he had...

  18. 9 The Last Great ‘Czech’ Conductor
    (pp. 149-159)
    Jiří Zahrádka

    Sir Charles Mackerras’s warm relationship with the Czech lands and their musical culture began with his year of study in Prague (described in detail in Chapter 3). He had the great good luck to arrive in Czechoslovakia in September 1947, at a time when the country was still free, and to live only marginally through the period after the Communist coup of February 1948. He was still able to communicate with people whose activities were later proscribed, in particular the conductor Václav Talich, whose political problems began at the end of the war, when he was unjustly accused of collaboration....

  19. 10 Reminiscences of a Friend and Colleague
    (pp. 160-164)
    Jiří Zahrádka

    It was in 1995 that I first met Sir Charles Mackerras. As a new student of musicology at Masaryk University I attended rehearsals of the Brno State Philharmonic, where Sir Charles was rehearsing Janáček’sGlagolitic Mass. I loved Janáček’s music and admired Mackerras as a conductor; I had all his recordings of Janáček and Martinů. In the small space of the Besední dům, where once upon a time Janáček himself had also conducted concerts, I preferred to hide myself away on the balcony. I followed the very intense rehearsal when the organist had problems with the new Wingfield version of...

  20. 11 Reconstructing a Better Version of The Greek Passion
    (pp. 165-168)
    Aleš Březina

    Next to Dvořák and Janáček among Charles Mackerras’s great passions for Czech music was Bohuslav Martinů. Knowledge of this fact gave me the courage in March 1995 to visit Sir Charles in the hotel Radisson Blu in Basle and present him with a copy of my recently published catalogue of the Martinů autographs in the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basle.¹ Astonishingly, he received me, though he didn’t know me from Adam (and furthermore I had unwittingly awoken him from his afternoon rest before the concert). In the catalogue he was immediately taken by the fact that it contained several unknown...

  21. 12 Reconstructing Sullivan’s Cello Concerto
    (pp. 169-174)
    David Mackie

    Charles Mackerras first came to prominence in 1951 with the balletPineapple Poll, which was based on a story by W. S. Gilbert; the music was arranged by Mackerras from the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, whose music copyright had expired at the end of 1950. Long an admirer of Sullivan’s music, Mackerras then turned his attention to the virtually forgotten Cello Concerto. His 1953 performance, in a BBC Third Programme concert with William Pleeth as soloist and the Goldsborough Orchestra, was the first for over forty years. If little was known of Sullivan’s non-G&S music in 1975 (D’Oyly Carte’s centenary...

  22. 13 Three Orchestras
    (pp. 175-193)
    Nigel Simeone, Chi-chi Nwanoku, Rosenna East, Alfred Brendel and David Whelton

    In the later years of his career, Charles Mackerras formed particularly close associations with three orchestras: the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonia Orchestra. He continued to appear as a regular guest with other British orchestras, especially the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the BBC Philharmonic and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and in the last few years of his life his career blossomed in Europe. As well as conducting regular concerts with the Czech Philharmonic (Principal Guest Conductor 1997–2003) and other leading orchestras in the Czech Republic (see Chapter 9), he made...

  23. 14 Coda
    (pp. 194-204)
    Nigel Simeone

    In his obituary inOpera(September 2010), Lord Harewood wrote that ‘The word “polymath” might have been coined to describe Charles’s activities as a musician. I think he was the best conductor of Mozart of my time in the theatre, and undoubtedly the best at Handel [whose] operas never sounded so good without him. I emphasise these virtues, but of course we all think of him as the man who unlocked the secrets of Janáček and his operas.’ He ended by saying that he was ‘probably the most complete opera conductor of his generation’. This was no exaggeration, and to...

  24. Appendix 1 Mackerras in Performance
    (pp. 205-231)
  25. Appendix 2 Desert Island Lists
    (pp. 232-234)
    Nigel Simeone
  26. Discography
    (pp. 235-275)
    Malcolm Walker
  27. Bibliography
    (pp. 276-277)
  28. Editions and Arrangements by Charles Mackerras
    (pp. 278-279)
  29. Index
    (pp. 280-298)
  30. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-299)