Bill Colleran: Leading music publisher

Bill Colleran was a prominent music publisher. For many years he was a director of Universal Edition, the British branch of the Viennese firm of the same name, one of the most distinguished and innovative music publishers of the 20th century. In particular, UE championed, promoted and established, in a wide-ranging catalogue of modern and classical composers, the music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern (the "Second Viennese School"), which dominated the musical avant-garde from about 1906 until after 1970, when general interest in modernism began to decline under the return of conservative populist regimes and thinking, and the gradual removal of the arts from education.

Colleran was well known to many people, not only as a music publisher and a sociable and popular personality, but for his wide interest in things, people and culture generally, particularly modern painting. He was, nevertheless, something of a mystery man, who never talked about his origins, youth or education. Born in Epsom, Surrey in 1929, he went to school in Hillingdon, and although he spent some time at Cambridge, he never had a formal university education. He was adopted by a step-father – who also gave him a half-sister by the same mother, a toy-maker by trade. He was always uncertain of his real parentage, but believed it to be largely German and Irish.

He earned his spurs at UE during the late 1950s, under Dr Alfred Kalmus, who had founded the London branch of the publishing firm in 1936. Colleran became responsible for sales and was later a director of the firm. He made it his special task to develop a list of British composers, most of whom had previously had much difficulty in achieving performance, let alone publication, as most music publishers concentrated on established repertory and works of more obvious popular appeal.

This required much lobbying in the UE Viennese headquarters, which still thought of Britain as largely "Das Land ohne Musik", a country inclined only to accept the big European names. Without Colleran's efforts, not only to overcome resistance, but to achieve British performances for his stable of new composers and to get them known in the music departments of universities and music colleges, many might well have given up or emigrated. They included Harrison Birtwistle, David Bedford, Nigel Osborne, Cornelius Cardew, James MacMillan, Dominic Muldowney, Simon Holt, Wilfred Mellers, Bernard Rands, Vic Hoyland, Paul Patterson and others, including some Americans such as Morton Feldman. His composers were not only clients, but also good friends.

Largely through Mellers, Bill Colleran had long had a connection with York University, famous for the breadth and depth of its interest in contemporary music, and when he retired from UE in 1994 – a retirement that was painful and unwanted, and came about because of pressures arising from the changing economic and cultural climate – York enabled him to set up a University Music Press to publish British composers. Together with John Paynter, he had previously established York University's Music in Action Summer School, which brought together many of the composers he had published to teach music, dance and drama to other teachers.

He also chaired the board of NMC, a charitable company created to record new British music, which since its foundation in 1988 (by the Society for the Promotion of New Music) has already issued over 140 recordings. His chairmanship is remembered as inspirational and effective.

At the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music in 2002, Bill Colleran received the Leslie Boosey Award for lifetime achievement, given by the Performing Right Society and the Royal Philharmonic Society to an individual who has "made an outstanding contribution to the furtherance of contemporary music". He had previously received the Royal Society of Arts Radcliffe Award for Excellence in Graphics and Music Publishing, and earlier this year he was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Department of Music at York University.

He was married three times and had one son, Marcus, who went into the bookselling trade. His last wife, Elizabeth Kim, looked after him devotedly during his last illness, pancreatic cancer, which he endured courageously while trying to lead as normal a life as possible. He was particularly pleased to have been at the Royal Opera in April this year for the success of The Minotaur by Birtwistle, now perhaps the outstanding British composer, whom Colleran had long championed.

Colleran will be remembered by musical colleagues and his many friends from all walks of life, who appreciated his charm, wit, insouciance and elegance, as well as by the many music shops where he was a regular caller to promote and sell the publications of UE. Many composers owe as much to his commitment as to their talent, and his long-term influence will be considerable.

John Calder

William Martin Colleran, music publisher: born Epsom, Surrey 25 November 1929; staff, Universal Edition 1958-94, director 1970-94; chairman, NMC Recordings 1993-2004; three times married (one son); died Munstead, Surrey 6 July 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us