Richard Marlow

These pages pay tribute to a remarkable and much-loved man. Richard Marlow was Director of Music at Trinity for 38 years, between 1968 and 2006.

Richard Marlow

Born in Banstead, Surrey, on 26 July 1939, Richard was educated at St Olave’s and St Saviour’s Grammar School. From 1958 to 1961 he held the Organ Scholarship at Selwyn College, Cambridge. (He turned down the Organ Scholarship at King’s because he wanted to be at a College where he would run the choir, not act as an assistant.)

The former Southwark Cathedral choirboy who had sung at the Queen’s coronation in 1953 might have found the musical life of Selwyn Chapel less than inspiring: David Harrison, who sang in the choir in the early 1950s, was reluctant to dignify it as a choir of tenors and basses, preferring to describe it simply as a choir of male broken voices. The role of the choir then was to lead the congregational singing, and not to get ideas above its station. However, its quality started to improve from 1956 onwards when the College was able to offer one Choral Exhibition a year. Two of the earliest Exhibitioners remember Richard the Organ Scholar with great warmth and admiration: already an FRCO, his gown added to his natural authority, and he conducted rehearsals with confidence and good humour.

Richard’s second year as Organ Scholar, when he was in sole charge, coincided with the admission of the College’s first tenor Choral Exhibitioner, and – in the same year – the recruitment of some fine tenor volunteers. For his choir of tenors, baritones and basses Richard made arrangements of anthems and wrote compositions of his own. The contribution of the choir was bolstered by ‘the hearty accompaniment of an army of young aspiring priests’ – the Selwyn undergraduates. Richard’s sensitive accompanying of the psalms – a skill that he retained throughout his life -is still remembered.

There were plentiful opportunities for a gifted Organ Scholar outside the Chapel – indeed he was expected to play a leading role in the wider musical life of the College. In this respect Richard was well supported by his peers. His predecessor, Gerald Brindley, was still in residence, and Brindley’s predecessor, Gerald Hendrie, had recently begun his PhD. All three men were very active in concerts promoted by the Selwyn College Music Society. Also active was the College’s Director of Studies in Music, Bob Thurston Dart (Fellow of Jesus College), whose annual performances of J S Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ Variations for SCMS are remembered not only for the brilliant harpsichord playing but also for the performer’s profuse perspiring and his gradual disrobing. Dart had encouraged his friend Allen Percival to return to Cambridge as Director of Music at Homerton College, a post that he held from 1951 to 1962. Thanks to this link, Selwyn and Homerton pooled their musical resources, and Percival conducted the combined forces from time to time – for example, in a concert performance on 22 November 1959 of Vaughan Williams’s Pilgrim’s Progress, with John Noble singing Pilgrim (he was the composer’s favourite interpreter of the role) and Richard Marlow as one of the pianists.

Richard was heard frequently throughout his undergraduate and graduate years, as organist, pianist, and harpsichordist. Three examples must suffice: he accompanied the baritone Ben Lewers in Lieder by Schubert, performed Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos in D major (K 448) with Gerald Hendrie, and played harpsichord continuo in Handel’s ‘Chandos’ anthem no. 6 and J S Bach’s Magnificat. In the Lent Term of his final undergraduate year (5 March 1961) he conducted Mozart’s Requiem and Brahms’s Song of Destiny, and at the May Week Concert in that year (5 June 1961) he conducted the ‘Toy’ Symphony by Andreas Romberg, in which members of the Selwyn Fellowship played the toy instruments. Notwithstanding such distractions, Richard graduated with a First in Part II of the Music Tripos.

After graduation, Richard embarked on a PhD devoted to Giles Farnaby (c.1563-1640), one of the most important of English virginalists. (Richard and Annette named their first son after him.) His supervisor was Thurston Dart, whom Richard held in the highest regard, and who was undoubtedly the most important influence on Richard’s development as a musician. Arising out of his research, Richard edited the complete keyboard music of Giles Farnaby and of his son Richard (c.1594-1623) for Musica Britannica (volume 24, 1965; revised 1974). He held a Research Fellowship at Selwyn (1963-1965), and was appointed to a Lectureship in the Music Department of Southampton University in 1965. On 19 September 1964 Richard married Annette Bateman in St Thomas’s Church, Southborough, Kent; Canon Edward Bonhote officiated.

Richard returned to Cambridge in 1968, succeeding Raymond Leppard as Fellow, Organist, and Director of Music at Trinity College, and as a University Lecturer in Music. Richard had a strong sense of tradition, but in the case of the Trinity College Choir that tradition had been changing over the centuries. The choral foundation established by Mary Tudor in 1553 (ten choristers and six lay clerks) ended at the turn of the twentieth century when the College’s choir school was closed. Thereafter, boy trebles were drawn from a local grammar school, and the Choir was completed by undergraduates and lay clerks, some of the latter shared with King’s and St John’s. Under Raymond Leppard, the Choir was reduced to tenors and basses. Thus Richard had a choice of traditions to follow. In the years following the admission of women at Trinity (in 1978), he resolutely adhered to the Leppard tradition, maintaining a choir of tenors and basses. (However fond Richard’s memories of the Selwyn Chapel Choir might have been, they probably did not influence this decision.) Eventually Richard’s desire to explore the full richness of liturgical music overcame his devotion to tradition. Having decided to create a full mixed-voice Choir by October 1982, he sprang into overdrive, generating an enormous number of female (as well as male) applicants for Choral Scholarships at Trinity, and appointing a full quota of excellent singers. The newly formed Choir immediately established itself as one of the finest in Cambridge. (As a poignant footnote, one of the most distinguished members of the 1982 Choir, Catherine King, related that Richard died on the day of her first Ring cycle: she sang Flosshilde in Das Rheingold for Longborough Festival Opera.)

Cathedral and chapel choirs are nowadays judged more often by their performance on CD than by their live contribution to the liturgy: ‘supremely polished and elegantly shaped’, for example, as Jonathan Freeman-Attwood described Trinity Choir’s perfomance of Sweelinck’s Cantiones Sacrae in a review in Gramophone magazine. There is no doubt that for Richard it was the weekly routine of rehearsals and services, rather than the more glamorous aspects of the job – the recordings and the international tours – that he valued. He enjoyed being able to create the choral sound that the wanted through the close and regular collaboration that is possible in a collegiate chapel. Richard’s great gift was to instil his own high standards into the memebrs of his Choir, and to inspire in them both the determination to give of their best, and a sense of pride in their achievement. Former members of the Choir have very precise and specific recollections of Richard’s training: his insistence on sensitive phrasing (often with the help of the famous ‘Marlovian comma’), carefully controlled dynamics (never overblown fortissimo), and clarity of words, with consonants in exactly the right place in every voice. Never one for over-statement, his highest praise was ‘not wholly incompetent’. It was a tribute to the esteem in which Richard was held that around 90% of the original 1982 Choir attended the 30th-anniversary Evensong and Annual Gathering Feast at Trinity in July 2012.

Familiar to many will be the annual Singing on the River, which takes place on the last Sunday of the academic year: Trinity Choir performs madrigals and part-songs (including Richard’s brilliant arrangement of John Brown’s body) from five punts tied together in front of the Wren Library. The final piece is always Wilbye’s Draw on, sweet night, sung as dusk gives way to darkness, and the Choir is punted out of sight. Only once did the punts sink, and, to quote the Daily Telegraph obituary, ‘in true Titanic style, Marlow and the Choir sang on.’

One striking feature of the more than 40 CDs that Richard made with Trinity College Choir is their remarkable diversity and the enterprising choice of music. Among them there are, of course, the inevitable anthologies of favourite works, including hymns and Christmas carols, but Richard also ventured into less familiar territory. Such repertoire, which he preferred to record as complete sets rather than anthologies, includes Victoria’s Lamentations and Responsories, theCantiones Sacrae of Peter Philips, Sweelinck’s two books of Cantiones Sacrae, Schütz’s Psalms of David, Masses and Vespers by Johann Michael Haydn (newly edited by Richard), sacred choral music by Mendelssohn, the complete motets of Brahms, choral music by Elgar, Parry and Stanford, and – an imaginative couplilng – Stravinsky’s Mass and Gesualdo’s Responsories.

The move to Trinity did not dim Richard’s affectionate loyalty to his alma mater. For many years he was the Vice-President of the Selwyn College Music Society; he attended concerts (and even AGMs) whenever he could, and he co-examined the Williamson Prize for Musical Performance on a number of occasions. His keen interest in Cambridge Handel Opera was displayed not only by his attendance at performances but also by the generous financial support that Trinity regularly gave to the company – support that would not have been forthcoming without a quiet word from Richard in the Senior Bursar’s ear. In later years Richard and Annette greatly valued the continuing friendship and support of Owen Chadwick, the Master and Dean of Chapel of Selwyn since 1956, and his wife Ruth.

The other choir with which Richard was associated was the Cambridge University Chamber Choir, which he founded in 1969, and led to a position of distinction within the University and further afield. Britten invited the choir to perform the J S Bach Passions at the Aldeburgh Festival; Peter Pears sang the Evangelist. Richard disbanded the choir in 1989, in order to devote all his energies to Trinity College Choir.

As a University Lecturer for twenty-eight years in the Cambridge Music Faculty, Richard could probably have claimed (though he was too modest to do so) that he was one of the most versatile musicians on the staff. His chief musicological activity was as an editor: in addition to the important Musica Britannica volume, he was the honorary general editor of the Church Music Society for many years, and edited several works himself, including three anthems by Maurice Greene, six motets by Mendelssohn, as well as his own composition, the exquisite and skilfully craftedVeni, Creator Spiritus. In addition he contributed articles to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and to the Dictionary of National Biography. Had he so wished, he could have had a career as a professional organist and harpsichordist: he gave recitals throughout the world, but possibly derived the greatest satisfaction from the series devoted to the complete organ works of J S Bach, which he performed on the Metzler organ in Trinity Chapel that he had commissioned. In the Music Faculty, his principal contribution was in the technical and practial aspects of the Tripos, but he gave courses also on nineteenth-century Italian opera (a passion of his) and J S Bach’s St Matthew Passion (the latter invariably over-subscribed). He enjoyed supervising, and in particular helping those who struggled. Former pupils speak warmly of his dedication, patience and encouragement. According to different reports, the glass of chilled Tio Pepe might have been a pre-prandial apéritif at the final supervision of the day or a consolation for the agonies of triple invertible counterpoint.

Friends, colleagues, former pupils, and everone who has enjoyed the singing of the Trinity College Choir will have fond memories of Richard Marlow: a consummate musician, a wonderful teacher, and a loyal friend.

Richard is survived by his wife, Annette, their sons Giles and Andrew, and four grandchildren.

Adapted from the obituary by Dr A.V. Jones, published in the Selwyn College Calendar, 2012-2013, and reproduced with AVJ’s kind permission. Acknowledgment is also made to David Harrison, Roger Williams, David Hindley, Catherine King, Oliver Hunt and Elizabeth Stratton.