John Ogdon

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John Andrew Howard Ogdon (27 January 1937 – 1 August 1989) was an English pianist and composer.[1]



Ogdon was born in Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire, and attended the Manchester Grammar School, before studying at the Royal Northern College of Music (formerly The Royal Manchester College of Music) between 1953 and 1957,[1] where his fellow students under Richard Hall included Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Elgar Howarth and Peter Maxwell Davies. Together they formed New Music Manchester, a group dedicated to the performances of serial and other modern works. His tutor there was Claud Biggs. As a boy he had studied with Iso Elinson and after leaving college, he further studied with Gordon Green, Denis Matthews, Dame Myra Hess, and Egon Petri—the last in Basel, Switzerland.

He won first prize at the London Liszt Competition in 1961 and consolidated his growing international reputation by winning another first prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1962, jointly with Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Ogdon was able to play most pieces at sight and had committed a huge range of pieces to memory. He intended to record the complete piano works of Sergei Rachmaninoff, a feat which would constitute about six full-length CDs, but only recorded about half of them.[2] The recordings were released in 2001. He recorded all ten Scriabin sonatas in 1971. Ogdon was also a formidable exponent of the works of Alkan and Busoni. In more familiar repertoire, he revealed deep musical sensibilities, always buttressed by a colossal technique. He also recorded a number of duo-piano works with his wife, Brenda Lucas, also known as Brenda Lucas Ogdon.[3][4]

On 2 February 1969, on British television, he gave the first modern performance of Edward Elgar's Concert Allegro, Op. 46. The piece was never published and the manuscript had long been believed lost, but it came to light in 1968. Ogdon and Diana McVeigh developed a performing version of the piece from Elgar's manuscript, which was full of corrections, deletions and additions. Between 1976 and 1980 Ogdon was Professor of Music (Piano) at Indiana University.[5] He completed four comprehensive tours of Southern Africa to enthusiastic acclaim between 1968 and 1976[6] and dedicated a composition to his tour organizer Hans Adler.[7]

His own compositions number more than 200, and include four operas, two large works for orchestra, three cantatas, songs, chamber music, a substantial amount of music for solo piano, and two piano concertos, the first of which he recorded. The majority of his music was composed for the piano. These include 50 transcriptions of works by composers as diverse as Stravinsky, Palestrina, Mozart, Satie and Wagner. He also made piano arrangements of songs by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin and he wrote unaccompanied sonatas for violin, flute and cello. A planned symphony based on the works of Herman Melville, and a comic opera were left unfinished. The original manuscripts of many of Ogdon's compositions are deposited in the Royal Northern College of Music Library.[8]


Ogdon's health was good, and his physical constitution was strong, as his wife often recalled in her biography. Regarded as a "gentle giant", known and loved for his kindness and generosity, he had tremendous energy. But an everyday business argument seemed to upset him more than expected and then suddenly in 1973 he experienced a severe breakdown. This sometimes changed his personality completely. His illness was initially diagnosed as schizophrenia, but then changed to manic depression (now referred to as bipolar disorder). Either condition may have been inherited from his father, who suffered several psychotic episodes and a mental breakdown.[9] Ogdon spent some time in the Maudsley Hospital in London, and in general needed more nursing than it was possible to provide while touring. Nevertheless, he was reported to maintain three hours' practice a day on the hospital's piano.

In 1983, after emerging from hospital, he played at the opening of the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. In 1988 he released a five-disc recording of an interpretation of Sorabji's Opus clavicembalisticum. He died in August 1989 of pneumonia, brought on by undiagnosed diabetes.


His wife Brenda, along with writer Michael Kerr, wrote a biography of her life with him in 1981, and released a second edition in 1989, shortly before his death.[10] Another biography by Charles Beauclerk was published in March 2014.[9]

In the BBC film about his life, Virtuoso, based on the biography, Ogdon was played by Alfred Molina, who won a Best Actor award from the Royal Television Society for the performance. The production interpreted Ogdon's illness as manic depression rather than schizophrenia, since he had responded much better to treatment for the former condition. Brenda Ogdon also recalled being informed that his obsessive musical work could have been interpreted as a symptom of manic depression.

In June 2014 the hour-long documentary, directed by Zoe Dobson, entitled John Ogdon: Living with Genius, was broadcast on BBC Four, with Ogdon's wife Brenda and her children Richard and Annabel telling his personal story for the first time. The programme featured unique archive and contemporary performance.[11] The programme was followed by John Ogdon: A Musical Tribute featuring piano performances by Peter Donohoe, including Ogdon's own Theme and Variations.[12]

In 1990, Gordon Rumson, another devoted advocate for Sorabji's music, composed the piano piece Threnody for John Ogdon.[13] Organist Kevin Bowyer commissioned and premiered Alistair Hinton's organ work Pansophiae for John Ogdon (Hinton is the curator of the Sorabji Archive and worked with Ogdon on the recording of Sorabji's Opus clavicembalisticum).[14]

Ogdon is survived by his daughter and son, Annabel and Richard Ogdon.[citation needed]


A reasonably comprehensive discography can be found on the website of the John Ogdon Foundation reproduced from The Gramophone Spring 1998 edition as compiled by Michael Glover. However, a small number of other recordings have since come to light:

  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Sir Arthur Bliss
  • Johannes Brahms
  • Percy Grainger
    • Transcription of Lullaby from Tribute to Foster
    • Shepherd's Hey
      • Recorded at the 1966 Aldeburgh Festival[17]
    • Zanzibar Boat Song
  • Alun Hoddinott
  • Franz Liszt
    • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in E major, S.124
      • Recorded in the Colston Hall, Bristol, 20 September 1967[19]
    • Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke), S.514
      • Recorded in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 24 April 1969[19]
    • Grande Fantaisie de bravoure sur La Clochette (La campanella) de Paganini, S.420
      • Recorded in the BBC studios, London, 20 January 1970[19]
    • Grande Etude S.137, No.11 (1837 version of Etude d'exécution transcendente S.139, No. 11 Harmonies du soir)
      • Recorded in the BBC studios, London, 20 January 1970[19]
  • Tilo Medek
    • "Battaglia alla Turca" for two pianos, from Mozart's Rondo alla Turca
      • Recorded live in London in 1974 with John Lill[20]
  • Nikolai Medtner
    • Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 25, No.1 (Fairy Tale)
      • Recorded in 1971 for the BBC[17]
    • Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 25, No.2 (Night Wind)
      • Recorded in 1972?[21]
  • Franz Schubert
    • Piano Sonata in C minor, D.958
      • Recorded in 1972 for the BBC[16]
  • Dmitri Shostakovich
    • Piano Sonata No. 2 in B minor, Op. 61
      • Recorded in 1971 for the BBC[17]
  • Igor Stravinsky
    • Sonata for two pianos (1943/1944)
      • Recorded at the 23rd Cheltenham Festival with Brenda Lucas[18]
    • Concerto for two solo pianos (1935)
      • Recorded at the 23rd Cheltenham Festival with Brenda Lucas[18]



  1. ^ a b "John Ogdon". 5 January 2020. Archived from the original on 5 June 2021. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  2. ^ "The John Ogdon Complete Discography". Archived from the original on 10 April 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  3. ^ "Brenda Lucas Ogdon piano – Recordings". Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  4. ^ Jean-Pierre Thiollet, 88 notes pour piano solo, "Solo de duo", Neva Editions, 2015, p. 97. ISBN 978-2-3505-5192-0
  5. ^ "John Ogdon (Piano) – Short Biography". Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  6. ^ "Celebrated musicians' concert tours of Southern Africa 1953–1978: John Ogdon, British Pianist". 21 June 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  7. ^ "Hans Adler Classical Music Museum Rare and Notable literary "finds"". 9 December 2013. Retrieved 22 July 2020.
  8. ^ "John Ogdon the Composer". Archived from the original on 25 September 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  9. ^ a b Beauclerk, Charles (2014). Piano man. A life of John Ogdon. London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-85720-011-2. OCLC 762990291.
  10. ^ Lucas Ogdon, B. & Kerr, M. (2008). Virtuoso. Bury St Edmunds: Arima Publishing.
  11. ^ "BBC Four – John Ogdon: Living with Genius". BBC. 2014. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  12. ^ "BBC Four – John Ogdon: A Musical Tribute". BBC. 2014. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  13. ^ Rumson, Gordon (1991). Threnody for John Ogdon. Calgary: Sikesdi Press. OCLC 51874505.
  14. ^ Roberge, Marc-André. "Sorabji Resource Site: Biographical Notes". Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  15. ^ a b BBC Legends Disc BBCL 4183-2
  16. ^ a b c BBC Legends Disc BBCL 4142-2
  17. ^ a b c d e BBC Legends Programme on Radio 3 presented by Piers Lane circa 2003
  18. ^ a b c "The John Ogdon Foundation: Items for Sale". Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  19. ^ a b c d BBC Legends Disc BBCL 4089-2
  20. ^ "John Ogdon & John Lill play Tilo Medek 'Battaglia alla turca'". 26 November 2010. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 6 June 2014 – via YouTube.
  21. ^ Information gleaned from The National Sound Archive – recording NP1978R, BBC Radio 3 197251 (1 May 1972?) (found from a search Ogdon AND Medtner).

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