Obituary: Antonio de Almeida

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The Independent Online
Antonio (Tony) de Almeida was one of the most complete musicians of his age. While he will be remembered by many for his distinguished conducting career in the opera house and concert halls of the world and for his many recordings, he would have been equally happy to know that his name would survive him as the author of an as yet unpublished work of musical scholarship on the music of the composer Jacques Offenbach.

Almeida was born in Paris in 1928, the son of Baron Antonio de Almeida Santos, a Portuguese aristocrat, and his American wife Barbara Tapper de Almeida. His godfather was the pianist Artur Rubinstein. As a schoolboy he distinguished himself academically and showed great musical talent. Despite having a period of studying musicology with Alberto Ginastera in Argentina, his talents were so broadly based that, while undecided about a future career, he obtained a full scholarship to study nuclear chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He took this up only briefly before he was encouraged by Rubinstein to pursue his musical interests, and he transferred to Yale University where he studied musical theory under Paul Hindemith and conducting under Serge Koussevitsky and Georg Szell.

After completing his studies, Almeida's first work as a conductor was with Portuguese radio in Lisbon in 1949, and shortly afterwards he gained his first post as musical director with the Oporto Symphony Orchestra. Later he often related a story of a highlight of his time in Oporto. Sir Thomas Beecham was invited as a guest conductor. He was met on arrival by Almeida and informed him of his hopes as to the quality of the orchestra which he would not be able to judge for himself as he was stone deaf after a flight in an unpressurised plane.

There are no reports of the success of the concert, but Almeida made such an impression on the great man that, a year later, he was invited by Beecham to make his debut in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He made the most of this opportunity and others that quickly followed with Leonard Bernstein in New York to establish himself as one of the leading young conductors.

Several positions as musical director and chief conductor followed: Portuguese radio from 1957 to1960, the Stuttgart Philharmonic from 1962 to 1964 and the Paris Opera from 1965 to 1967. He was appointed guest conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1969. During this time he also guested with many of the principal orchestras of Europe and America working regularly in concert and the recording studio with the Philharmonia, the Berlin Philharmonic and the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Despite his Portuguese/ American parentage, Almeida declared his nationality to be French and he remained a citizen of France all his life. He became recognised as one of the leading authorities on French music of the 19th and 20th centuries and did much to promote interest in it around the world. In 1976 he was appointed Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur and later was made a Commandeur of the same order by President Mitterrand. In 1996 he was elected a Commandeur des Arts et Lettres.

While conducting was the work by which Almeida was known to a wide public, he devoted much time and at least as much personal enthusiasm to his musicology. In 1968 he was appointed, together with H.C. Robbins Landon, as artistic director of the Haydn Foundation. He was also working constantly as an editor and writer, preparing a performing edition of the complete Boccherini symphonies and over a period of many years compiling his "life's work", the Thematic Catalogue of the Works of Jacques Offenbach, on whose music he is widely considered to have been the world's leading authority. It is a great sadness to publishers and others involved in this magnum opus that he did not live to see its publication by Oxford University Press later this year.

Throughout his career Almeida made many recordings and won for himself most of the leading prizes of the recording industry. His repertoire on disc ranged from the universally known works of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven to pioneering recordings of lesser known composers: Malipiero, Schmitt, Thomas, Halevy and many others. During the last four years of his life, resulting from his appointment as musical director of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in 1993, he made several of the discs that gave him most satisfaction, premier recordings of the symphonic works of Andre Sauguet and Charles Tournemire, whose music he considered to be unjustly neglected. He completed all but one of the ten discs that this project was to have taken. He died before recording the sixth symphony of Tournemire and it might be considered a cruel irony that the disc that was published this month was Tournemire's eighth symphony entitled "The Triumph of Death".

Like many modern conductors who travel the world, Almeida was a polyglot. Even this he achieved to an astonishing standard for a man whose time was so fully occupied. He spoke six languages with absolute fluency as well as being well versed in Greek and Latin and he was studying Russian at the end of his life.

Antonio de Almeida also found time for a full family and private life. He married Lynn Erdmann in 1953 and had two sons and a daughter who have always played an important part in his life. While his marriage ended in divorce after 35 years, towards the end of his life he took particular pleasure in the projects he was working on with his son "Tony" Jnr, who was recording engineer for his final discs.

While not travelling, he lived between his two homes in New York and Saint Remy de Provence, where he had amassed one of the finest collections of musical scores in existence.

Virgil Pomfret

Antonio Jacques de Almeida, conductor and musicologist: born Paris 20 January 1928; married 1953 Lynn Erdmann (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved) died Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 18 February 1997.

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