Obituary: Paul Reade

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The Independent Online
It is perhaps not surprising that it should be the large-scale ballet scores - Hobson's Choice (1989) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1996) - which brought Paul Reade's music to the attention of the wider audience which he deserved, since so many of his shorter works, including cartoon and television scores, had already demonstrated his ability to paint character in a few deft strokes, and to evoke colour and atmosphere with incredible economy. These two collaborations with David Bintley, staged at the Royal Opera House and indeed all over the country, represented in some ways the summary of a creative period which would have been followed by more of the abstract music he planned to write.

Reade studied piano with Alan Richardson at the Royal Academy of Music, and had his first orchestral piece, Overture to a City, performed in 1965 by the Academy Orchestra under Maurice Handford - the first of many of his works broadcast on Radio 3. His natural pianistic ability took him on to the London Opera Centre before becoming a repetiteur with Sadler's Wells Opera in 1966.

Although elements of the job were uncongenial for someone of Reade's quiet temperament, it provided the opportunity to acquire a detailed knowledge of opera, and a technical understanding of how the great composers tackled the stage - which not only helped his development as a composer, but always provided him with the greatest pleasure.

He moved on to BBC TV in the late Sixties, becoming the pianist and songwriter for the children's programme Playschool for several years. Children's television helped him to develop his facility in word-setting and to write fluently and effectively for a small number of instruments, which led in turn to some highly successful cartoon series - Crystal Tipps and Alistair and Ludwig amongst them. Classic serials like A Tale of Two Cities (1980) and Jane Eyre (1983) revealed a television composer of the highest quality. Reade was always a marvellous technician, and he once surprised a BBC sound engineer who was mixing the music for Jane Eyre by telling him that it was too loud ("No composer has ever told me that before!" was the response), but this was not false modesty on his part, just a real understanding of how the medium works best. His title music for The Antiques Roadshow (1990) and The Victorian Kitchen Garden (1987) are typical examples of his fluency.

As a composer who unhesitatingly embraced tonal music, Reade was without any bitterness towards a musical establishment which disregarded such thoroughly enjoyable - and often challenging - music. He was a modest man, but with a confident belief in his music, and a wry self-awareness.

I met Paul Reade in 1975 when I was invited to conduct the first performance of a children's opera he was writing - David and Goliath. This full-length opera is an absolutely marvellous addition to the genre: as I soon learnt to expect from this composer, it was tuneful, rhythmically challenging, great fun and totally unpatronising. I was hooked, and remain so. I was lucky enough to be able to commission several choral works from him, including the imaginative Ballads of Judas Iscariot (1988).

It was a joy to have Reade around when rehearsing his music - a mixed blessing with some composers. Often after the first rehearsal of a new work the telephone would ring and Reade would say, "You know, I don't think I needed to repeat that figure, and those two bars are certainly unnecessary . . ." As rehearsals went by the new work would become shorter and shorter (half-a-bar here, two bars there) but always better and better.

He was always successful in getting what he wanted from performers without ever being anything but helpful. Singers and instrumentalists alike appreciated his technical understanding of the instrument's qualities, and he was happy to learn from the artists. Writing for the soprano Elizabeth Harwood, he was fascinated to discover one of his songs working better for her when transposed into a key he thought would be much too high. The Chants du Roussillon he wrote for her were a result of his first trip to Moura Lympany's Rasigueres Festival in the early Eighties along with members of the Manchester Camerata: the first performance took place in the caves at Rasigueres in 1990.

He formed an excellent bond with the Camerata which resulted in many successful works being premiered in Manchester, including some notable works for children subsequently broadcast on radio, such as Cinderella (1980) and The Midas Touch (1982). The atmosphere in Rasigueres, coupled with a love of French music, led to a beautiful Flute Concerto (1985), commissioned by the Camerata and performed all over the world.

Nine years ago I was able to programme this Flute Concerto in a concert at St John's, Smith Square with the strings of the London Mozart Players, and suggested to Paul Reade that their then principal flautist, Philippa Davies, would be an excellent choice as soloist. The superb performance she gave that night was the beginning of a marvellous partnership with Reade. Their complementary personalities, their respect and support for each other's career and the obvious love they felt for each other warmed all their friends; their recent marriage was a truly joyful occasion. When Reade's illness was diagnosed the dignity with which they both faced it and fought it was remarkable.

Paul Geoffrey Reade, composer: born Liverpool 10 January 1943; married 1965 Mary Clark (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1985), 1997 Philippa Davies; died London 7 June 1997.