Obituary: Paul Sacher

WHEN PAUL Sacher conducted the London Mozart Players in December 1993, in London, he was returning to a city in which he had made his debut in 1938 (at a concert of the International Society for Contemporary Music) and he ended his programme with a work he had commissioned in 1940 - Martinu's Double Concerto for strings, piano and percussion.

Born in Basel in 1906, he had formed the Basel Chamber Orchestra at the age of 20 and commissioned his first work - Conrad Beck's Fifth Symphony - 12 years later. Shortly afterwards he founded the Zurich Collegium Musicum and conducted it for over half a century.

His wife, Maja, a sculptress and the widow of one of the founders of the pharmaceuticals company Hoffman-La Roche, was a woman of great wealth, but Sacher himself had no trace of the dilettante in him. He had studied conducting with Felix Weingartner and had been trained as a musicologist by Karl Nef at the University of Basel. He was to appear at Glyndebourne between 1954 and 1963, when he conducted Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, Die Zauberflote and The Rake's Progress, and it was there that I first made his acquaintance. But it was not until 1974 that I became aware of the scale of his musical philanthropy.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra had given a concert in Basel under Pierre Boulez and a group of us had been invited to supper at the Sachers' home, Schonenberg (from which Adrian Boult had once chosen to walk the 12km into Basel late at night). The occasion was informal and at one point Sacher said to me, "Come upstairs. I would like to show you one or two things." One of the things was the manuscript of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, with Pierre Monteux's markings - he was its first conductor; another, two facing pages of the house visitors' book with on one side a watercolour sketch and the signature of Braque, on the other a line of music, an inscription and the signature of Bartok.

Sacher had written to Bartok in June 1936 asking him for a work to celebrate the 10th birthday of the Basel Chamber Orchestra. Bartok had replied immediately and a correspondence developed which demonstrates Sacher's professionalism. He had originally proposed a work for strings, of which he had 30. He was reluctant to engage wind players - for reasons of cost - but he would augment the strings, if necessary, and he would accommodate percussion and keyboards, which Bartok wanted to include. So emerged the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste. It had its world premiere, along with new works by Conrad Beck and Willy Burkhard - both Swiss - on the orchestra's 10th birthday, 21 January 1937.

It was perhaps the most important of all Sacher's commissions but others came thick and fast. A catalogue issued on his 70th birthday lists 88 works, of which the most notable are the Bartok Divertimento (1939), Martinu's Double Concerto (1940), Frank Martin's Petite Symphonie Concertante (1944), Strauss's Metamorphosen (1945), of which the penurious Strauss sent a copy, so that Sacher had to buy the original as well - Stravinsky's Concerto in D (1946), Hindemith's symphony Die Harmonie der Welt (1951), Tippett's Sellinger's Round (1954), Britten's Cantata Academica (1960) and Stravinsky's A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer (1962).

He was very loyal to Swiss composers - Beck, Burkhard and Martin in particular. But he was by no means parochial: Hans Werner Henze received five commissions between 1957 and 1972. Later, Elliott Carter, Witold Lutoslawski and Luciano Berio were commissioned. And he moved with the times, eliciting Endless Parade from Harrison Birtwistle in 1986.

A majority of all these works were performed by the Basel Chamber Orchestra, but Sacher's interests were not confined to contemporary music. In 1933 he had been co-founder of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, an institute for research in and performance of early music. (In 1957, when conducting Die Zauberflote at Glyndebourne, he encouraged the singers to improvise the appropriate grace-notes, a practice unheard of during Fritz Busch's regime.) Early in the Second World War he was appointed conductor of the newly founded Collegium Musicum of Zurich.

In 1973 he set up the Paul Sacher Foundation and later established it in a fine house in the Munsterplatz of Basel. Here are preserved important collections of the manuscripts, scores and books of, among others, Berio, Birtwistle, Boulez, Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Maderna, Martinu, Stravinsky and Webern.

Sacher was a man of extraordinary generosity and I was twice the lucky recipient of it. In the late 1970s I asked him if he would consider supporting the work of the Council for Music in Hospitals, with which I was then associated. He sent a handsome donation. More eye-catching was a party he gave in a Basel hotel after a concert he had conducted, in January 1984. The principal soloist was Mstislav Rostropovich, who appeared to have in tow those dazzling young violinists Anne-Sophie Mutter and Viktoria Mullova. He was in terrific form and insisted upon demonstrating to the assembled company that it was quite possible to get the cork off a bottle of champagne with a sabre (which he happened to have on him). Sacher sat watching, the expression on his face alternating between benign indulgence and horrified concern for Rostropovich's hands.

Maja Sacher, for several of her last years, suffered from a condition which had deprived her of her faculties and during this period Sacher established a relationship with a younger woman. By a tragic irony she died before Maja, but she left Sacher a son in whom he took intense pride and pleasure.

A modest, thoughtful man, Paul Sacher was surely the most bountiful and discriminating patron of music in the 20th century. Honoured in 1988 by a Doctorate from Oxford University, he deserves to be remembered as an accomplished conductor - and not only of contemporary music.

Robert Ponsonby

Paul Sacher, conductor and music patron: born Basel, Switzerland 28 April 1906; married 1934 Maja Hoffman-Stehlin; (one son); died Basel 26 May 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas