45 Facts About John Barbirolli


Sir John Barbirolli was a British conductor and cellist.

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John Barbirolli is remembered above all as conductor of the Halle Orchestra in Manchester, which he helped save from dissolution in 1943 and conducted for the rest of his life.

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John Barbirolli was chief conductor of the Houston Symphony from 1961 to 1967, and was a guest conductor of many other orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic, with all of which he made recordings.

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Giovanni Battista John Barbirolli was born on 2 December 1899 in Southampton Row, Holborn, London, the second child and eldest son of an Italian father and a French mother.

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John Barbirolli was a British national from birth, and as Southampton Row is within the sound of Bow Bells, Barbirolli always regarded himself as a Cockney.

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John Barbirolli's father, Lorenzo Barbirolli, was a Venetian violinist who had settled in London with his wife, Louise Marie, nee Ribeyrol .

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Young John Barbirolli began to play the violin when he was four, but soon changed to the cello.

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John Barbirolli later said that this was at the instigation of his grandfather who, exasperated at the child's habit of wandering around while practising the violin, bought him a small cello to stop him from "getting in everybody's way".

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John Barbirolli was keenly interested in modern music, and he and three colleagues secretly rehearsed Ravel's String Quartet in the privacy of a men's lavatory in the Academy.

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From 1916 to 1918 John Barbirolli was a freelance cellist in London.

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John Barbirolli was the soloist at another performance of the concerto just over a year later.

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John Barbirolli joined two newly founded string quartets as cellist: the Kutcher Quartet, led by his former fellow student at Trinity, Samuel Kutcher, and the Music Society Quartet led by Andre Mangeot.

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John Barbirolli was the prime mover in establishing the Guild of Singers and Players Chamber Orchestra in 1924, and in 1926 he was invited to conduct a new ensemble at the Chenil Gallery in Chelsea, initially called the "Chenil Chamber Orchestra" but later renamed "John Barbirolli's Chamber Orchestra".

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John Barbirolli's concerts impressed Frederic Austin, director of the British National Opera Company, who in the same year invited him to conduct some performances with the company.

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John Barbirolli had never conducted a chorus or a large orchestra, but had the confidence to accept.

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John Barbirolli made his operatic debut directing Gounod's Romeo et Juliette at Newcastle, followed within days by performances of Aida and Madama Butterfly.

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John Barbirolli conducted the BNOC frequently over the next two years, and made his debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with Madama Butterfly in 1928.

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In later tours with the company John Barbirolli had the chance to conduct more of the German opera repertory, including Der Rosenkavalier, Tristan und Isolde, and Die Walkure.

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John Barbirolli won warm praise from Pablo Casals, whom he had accompanied in Haydn's D major cello concerto at the same concert.

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John Barbirolli conducted a Royal Philharmonic Society concert at which Ralph Vaughan Williams was presented with the society's Gold Medal, and another RPS concert at which Gustav Mahler's music, rarely heard at that time, was given – Kindertotenlieder, with Elena Gerhardt as soloist.

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John Barbirolli's programmes included works by composers as diverse as Purcell, Delius, Mozart and Franck.

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In June 1932, John Barbirolli married the singer Marjorie Parry, a member of the BNOC.

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John Barbirolli remained with the Scottish Orchestra for three seasons, "rejuvenating the playing and programmes and winning most favourable opinions".

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Notwithstanding his growing reputation in Britain, John Barbirolli's name was little known internationally, and most of the musical world was taken by surprise in 1936 when he was invited to conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in succession to Arturo Toscanini.

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John Barbirolli was allotted the first ten weeks of the season, comprising 26 concerts.

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John Barbirolli was followed by the composer-conductors Igor Stravinsky, Georges Enescu and Carlos Chavez, each conducting for two weeks, and finally by Artur Rodzinski of the Cleveland Orchestra, for eight weeks.

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John Barbirolli's marriage had not lasted; within four years he and Marjorie Barbirolli had been living apart.

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John Barbirolli gave the world premieres of Walton's second Facade Suite, and Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem and Violin Concerto; he introduced pieces by Jacques Ibert, Eugene Goossens, and Arthur Bliss and by many American composers including Samuel Barber, Deems Taylor and Daniel Gregory Mason.

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John Barbirolli had to cope with what The Gramophone described as "a rough press campaign in New York from interested parties who wished to evict him from his post".

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John Barbirolli returned to New York to complete his contractual obligations to the Philharmonic.

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In 1943 John Barbirolli made another Atlantic crossing, avoiding death by a fluke: he changed flights from Lisbon with the actor Leslie Howard when the latter wished to postpone his own flight for a few days.

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John Barbirolli refused invitations to take up more prestigious and lucrative conductorships.

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John Barbirolli is not manacled or chivied in his choice of programmes.

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John Barbirolli appeared at the Vienna State Opera, and Rome Opera House, where he conducted Aida in 1969.

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Increasingly, John Barbirolli concentrated on his core repertory of the standard symphonic classics, the works of English composers, and late-romantic music, particularly that of Mahler.

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In 1968, after 25 years with the Halle, John Barbirolli retired from the principal conductorship; no successor was appointed in his lifetime.

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John Barbirolli reduced the number of his appearances with the Halle, but nevertheless took it on another European tour in 1968, this time to Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

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John Barbirolli produced "inspired" renderings of Elgar's Symphony No 1 and Sea Pictures.

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John Barbirolli was awarded the title of Doctor of Music honoris causa from the National University of Ireland in 1952.

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In 1972 the John Barbirolli Society was set up with the principal aim of promoting the continued release of John Barbirolli's recorded performances.

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John Barbirolli is remembered as an interpreter of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Mahler, as well as Schubert, Beethoven, Sibelius, Verdi and Puccini, and as a staunch supporter of new works by British composers.

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John Barbirolli's repertoire was not as wide as that of many of his colleagues because he insisted on exhaustive preparation for any work he conducted.

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John Barbirolli's approach was illustrated by the care he took with Mahler's symphonies.

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From almost the start of his career John Barbirolli was a frequent recording artist.

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John Barbirolli made three operatic sets for HMV: Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with Victoria de los Angeles, Verdi's Otello with James McCracken, Gwyneth Jones and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and a set of Madama Butterfly with Renata Scotto, Carlo Bergonzi and Rome Opera forces that has remained in the catalogues since its first issue in 1967.

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