John Amis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

John Amis
John Amis at a Critics' Circle luncheon, April 2010
John Amis at a Critics' Circle luncheon, April 2010
BornJohn Preston Amis
(1922-06-17)17 June 1922
Dulwich, London
Died1 August 2013(2013-08-01) (aged 91)
OccupationMusic critic
GenreMusic criticism

John Preston Amis (17 June 1922 – 1 August 2013) was a British broadcaster, classical music critic, music administrator, and writer. He was a frequent contributor for The Guardian and to BBC radio and television music programming.

Life and career[edit]

Born in Dulwich, London to a banking family, and a cousin of the novelist Kingsley Amis, Amis was educated at Dulwich College, where he began a lifelong friendship with his contemporary, Donald Swann. A serious bout of mastoiditis as a child left him deaf in his left ear. He began his career working in a bank for five and a half weeks before leaving to earn a living in music. Amis had a number of roles, including gramophone record salesman, and orchestra manager (at one point turning pages for Dame Myra Hess during the wartime concerts at the National Gallery.[1]), before becoming a music critic, initially with The Scotsman in 1946. He was for several years manager for Sir Thomas Beecham, and also worked for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.[2]

In 1948, William Glock invited Amis to run a summer school for musicians at Bryanston School, Dorset. The summer school moved to Dartington in 1953. Amis remained administrative director until 1981, during which time he brought to the school a long line of international musicians, amongst them Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, and Sir Michael Tippett.

Amis' short career as a tenor began with the role of Ishmael in the 1967 recording of Bernard Herrmann's cantata Moby-Dick. He made his operatic debut in 1990 as the Emperor in Turandot.[3] Amis had started singing in earnest after 1959: in that year he attended Professor Frederick Husler's [1] s singing class at Dartington 'just for fun', and was told not only that he had the makings of a Heldentenor, but that he ought to go to Germany to study.[4]

From the 1950s onwards, Amis became a regular contributor to BBC Radio's music output, and worked on BBC Television from 1961, producing and presenting documentaries, and introducing the BBC2 magazine programme Music Now. As a broadcaster, he is probably best known for his appearances as a team member, from 1974 to 1994, on the BBC Radio 4 panel show, My Music, also appearing in the television version. It was on this show that he disclosed an unexpected talent as a skilled siffleur. His own radio show on Radio 3 interviewed musicians and contemporary witnesses such as Sir Isaiah Berlin.[5] For many years he wrote a column on music in The Tablet, England's best-known Catholic magazine.

His friends in the music industry included Noel Mewton-Wood and Felix Aprahamian, for whom he wrote a tribute following Aprahamian's death in January 2005.[6] He was also closely associated with Gerard Hoffnung and organized many of Hoffnung's concerts until the latter's death in 1959; he performed a comic duet from The Barber of Darmstadt with Owen Brannigan at the 1961 Hoffnung Festival. As a critic, Amis often came across contemporaries including Neville Cardus (Manchester Guardian), Frank Howes (The Times), Scott Goddard (News Chronicle) and Richard Capell (Telegraph).[7]

Amis wrote a number of books, on his own Amiscellany imprint,[8] with titles including My Music in London: 1945-2000. Amis spent much of his time giving talks and one-man shows, after dinner speeches and concert works.[9] Amis was a patron of the Music Libraries Trust[10] and the Tait Memorial Trust,[11] and a vice-president of the Putney Music society.[12]

Personal life[edit]

In June 1948, Amis married the violinist Olive Zorian,[13] founder of the Zorian String Quartet. The marriage was dissolved in 1955 and Zorian died in 1965.[citation needed]

In the later years of his life, Amis took up with his partner, Isla Baring OAM, Chairman of the Tait Memorial Trust of which he was a Patron.[14] He once said that she gave him his "Indian summer".[15]

Death and legacy[edit]

John Amis died on 1 August 2013.[16] He was survived by his partner for his last six years, Isla Baring. His funeral was held on 20 August 2013 at the Musicians' Church, St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in London.[17]

In his memory, the Tait Memorial Trust inaugurated the John Amis Award, a scholarship to support students at the Dartington International Summer School.[18]


  1. ^ Celebration of Dame Myra Hess Archived 1 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine from the National Gallery (London)|National Gallery. Accessed 20 December 2006.
  2. ^ Dennis Barker (2 August 2013). "John Amis obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  3. ^ John Amis biography on Accessed 20 December 2006.
  4. ^ 'The Biter Bit', Radio Times, 6 May 1960, p. 5.
  5. ^ List of Isaiah Berlin interviews from Oxford University. Accessed 20 December 2006.
  6. ^ Amis' obituary for Felix Aprahamian, The Guardian. Accessed 20 December 2006.
  7. ^ John Amis on Music. Critical Pastmasters
  8. ^ Amiscellany details on Accessed 20 December 2006.
  9. ^ "Speaker's Agency page on Amis". Archived from the original on 19 August 2001. Retrieved 20 December 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link), dated 21 January 2001, accessed via Internet Archive 20 December 2006.
  10. ^ Music Libraries Trust list of patrons Archived 23 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 20 December 2006.
  11. ^ Tait Memorial Trust Archived 24 July 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 7 September 2010.
  12. ^ Putney Music society Archived 23 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 20 December 2006.
  13. ^ England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005.
  14. ^ "Tait Memorial Trust". Tait Memorial Trust. 9 August 2013. Archived from the original on 11 August 2013. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  15. ^ "John Amis". The Telegraph. 2 August 2013. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  16. ^ "John Amis obituary". the Guardian. 2 August 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  17. ^ "A Farewell to John Amis". Tait Memorial Trust. 9 August 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  18. ^ "John Amis Award at Dartington International Summer School". Tait Memorial Trust. 21 September 2016. Archived from the original on 25 January 2021. Retrieved 4 January 2022.

External links[edit]