George Malcolm (musician)

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George Malcolm

George John Malcolm CBE KSG (28 February 1917 – 10 October 1997) was an English pianist, organist, composer, harpsichordist, and conductor.

Malcolm's first instrument was the piano, and his first teacher was a nun who recognised his talent and recommended him to the Royal College of Music at the age of seven, where he studied under Herbert Fryer. He attended Wimbledon College, and went on to study at Balliol College, Oxford.[1]

During the Second World War he was a bandleader. After the war, he developed a career as a harpsichordist, although he continued to make occasional appearances as a pianist in chamber music, notably with the Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble. He left few recordings of his piano playing (one interesting example is the first performance of the Gordon Jacob Sextet, written for the group).[citation needed]

In the 1950s he participated in annual concerts featuring four harpsichordists, the three others being Thurston Dart, Denis Vaughan and Eileen Joyce. In 1957 this group also recorded two of Vivaldi's Concertos for Four Harpsichords, one in a Bach arrangement, with the Pro Arte Orchestra under Boris Ord. Malcolm, Dart and Joyce also recorded Bach's Concerto in C for Three Harpsichords. In 1967, he appeared with Eileen Joyce, Geoffrey Parsons and Simon Preston in a 4-harpsichord concert with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner in the Royal Festival Hall.[2]

As well as Baroque works, he played modern harpsichord repertoire including his own compositions "Bach before the Mast" (a humorous set of variations on The Sailor's Hornpipe in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach), and "Variations on a Theme of Mozart". Like Wanda Landowska, he favoured rather large 'revival' harpsichords with pedals, built in a modern style, that now are seen as "unauthentic" for Baroque music.[3] While aspects of his interpretations may seem outdated by the standards of today's historically informed performance practice, his recordings and live performances introduced many people to the harpsichord and influenced a number of today's musicians.[citation needed]

He also pursued a notable career as an organist and choir-trainer: for 12 years (1947–1959), he was Master of Music of Westminster Cathedral, where he developed the choir's forthright, full-throated tone -often, but rather vacuously described as "continental"- which contrasted with that of Anglican choirs at the time. Benjamin Britten praised the choir's 'staggering brilliance and authority', and, hearing that Malcolm was to retire from the Cathedral, proposed to write a piece for them. This resulted in the Missa Brevis (1959). Its first performance was one of Malcolm's last services at Westminster Cathedral.[4] He continued to play the organ, recording the Handel organ concertos for example.[5] Malcolm was founding patron of Spode Music Week, an annual residential music school that places particular emphasis on the music of the Roman Catholic liturgy. Malcolm also composed for voices, a well-known piece being his Palm Sunday introit Ingrediente Domino. His setting of Psalm 51 Miserere mei (composed in 1950, presumed lost but rediscovered in the Cathedral archives in 2011) is reminiscent of Ivor Atkins' 1951 version of Gregorio Allegri's Miserere.

In later life Malcolm developed a career as a conductor, forging long-standing relationships with ensembles such as the English Chamber Orchestra and the Northern Sinfonia orchestra. The pianist András Schiff, who left Hungary in order to study with Malcolm, was a frequent concerto soloist under his baton, and the two recorded Mozart's complete works for piano duet together on the composer's own piano.[1]

A devout Roman Catholic, Malcolm was awarded papal honours for his services as Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral. He is interred in the graveyard at Saintbury Church, Gloucestershire.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Obituary; accessed 22 September 2014.
  2. ^ Eileen Joyce (1908-1991) profile,; accessed 22 September 2014.
  3. ^ Rather than the Pleyel instruments favoured by Landowska, Malcolm preferred a later generation of instruments by makers like Thomas Goff.[1]
  4. ^ J. O'Donnell, George Malcolm CBE KSG (1917-1997) - An Appreciation. Article in: Oremus, The Monthly Bulletin of Westminster Cathedral, December 1997, p. 10-11.
  5. ^ "CLIP AND SAVE: JOHN BARKER'S BEST-OF-HANDEL LIST.(RHYTHM)". The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI). McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. April 2008. Accessed via HighBeam Research. 28 Oct. 2014 (subscription required).
  6. ^ Amis, John. "Obituary from The Independent". Retrieved 31 October 2014. 

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