Christopher Raeburn: Record producer who formed close and productive associations with the greatest opera singers of his day

Christopher Raeburn was a legendary record producer, specialising in opera, who worked for the Decca Record Company for his whole career and was responsible for a vast repertoire of pioneering recorded productions with the leading singers of the day.

Born in London in 1928, Raeburn was the second of seven high-achieving children from a large musical middle-class Hampstead family of German-Jewish extraction. His paternal grandfather had come from Frankfurt in 1882. His father, who was a QC, had changed the family name from Regensburg to Raeburn during the First World War. He was educated at Charterhouse and, from 1948-51, at Worcester College, Oxford. Before Oxford he did his national service – in the army – serving in Palestine at the end of the British mandate. He entered Oxford with a choral scholarship, but read history.

When Raeburn was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Gramophone magazine in 2007, his acceptance speech vividly outlined how he had first encountered music: "It was as a teenager that I discovered Gramophone. The school library subscribed and at the end of each month each copy was sold off for a penny and I was able to start my collection of Gramophones. In wartime it was a very slim magazine but I remember the excitement of reading about the new Dido with Joan Hammond and the wonderful recording of The Planets with Boult and the BBC. It was this Planets set which really got me hooked on recording and at home I rigged up a console with two turntables and was able to play the automatic couplings without a break."

At Oxford he spent much time in theatrical activities, and afterwards became an Assistant Stage Manager at Bernard Miles's Mermaid Theatre. Switching to music, he joined the Decca Record Company as a musical assistant, but left when he was awarded a Leverhulme Scholarship to study Mozart operas in Vienna. He spent three years living in Vienna, engaged in musicological research and constantly attending the best performances musical Vienna had to offer.

Thus, soaking himself in Viennese orchestral and operatic traditions, he heard all the great artists of the day. Later, in 1969, when writing about recording Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, he reminisced about how he attended George Szell's rehearsals and performance of this score in Salzburg in 1949, where it made its first real impact on him. His Mozart researches allowed him to contribute hundreds of unpublished documents to Otto Erich Deutsch's Mozart: a documentary biography (1965) and in the same year he edited a revised and illustrated edition of W. J. Turner's Mozart: the man and his works (originally published in 1938).

While in Vienna he was engaged by the celebrated Decca producer John Culshaw to assist with the recording of Richard Strauss's Arabella, one of the first stereo opera recordings, in which he had to supervise the stage movement of artists who were then accustomed to working to a specific microphone. He continued to work on and off for Culshaw in Vienna, including on Franz Léhar's little-known operetta Giuditta and Wagner's Die Walküre.

In January 1958, he rejoined Decca in the Classical Artists Department. He was already a recognised Mozart authority; his session work reinforced his experience and he became a producer in the now legendary team headed by Culshaw. Culshaw wrote about him: "He ... must have assisted in more operatic recordings than anyone in the world. Some people thought he generated too much intensity, but if he did it was a fault on the right side. He was popular with the artists, and an exceptionally hard worker; his knowledge of opera in particular was vast, although, interestingly, I don't think he cared much for Wagner." Already in 1958 he was part of the Decca team recording in Rome, getting through five operas that year.

Working for Decca, he was soon promoted to senior producer, and in 1975 he became Director of Opera Productions. In 1980 he was designated Director Artists and Repertoire (Opera), and formally retired on his 63rd birthday in 1991, though he continued to work as a freelance.

After 1980 he shared an office with Paul Myers, who was his opposite number looking after the non-operatic repertoire. Myers described him as wonderful company, full of anecdotes and with a huge sense of humour. With his concerns for theatre he would work with his casts during sessions, articulating meaning and expression. At the end of the day he would slip notes under famous singers' doors giving them points to note for retakes on the following day. He worked to the artists' strengths and tried to bolster insecurities – he called it "musical midwifery" – and his singers adored him, his younger singers later in his career seeing him as a father figure. The mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli would not work with anyone else. She was among the later singers he brought to Decca when young, and it was her programme of music associated with one of the stars of the early 19th century, Maria Malibran, that was his last production.

As a Culshaw protégé he was punctilious about sound effects in opera recordings, and spent a great deal of time getting the detail right. He regarded "the recording as an end in itself and not a mere aural reproduction of a good performance in the theatre, but at the same time to maintain the sense of drama and even enhance it".

Perhaps his most high-profile job as far as the wider public was concerned was the original Three Tenors Concert in Rome, and such legendary recordings as the Sutherland/Pavarotti/Caballé Turandot, Karajan's Madama Butterfly, Solti's Die Frau ohne Schatten and, later, Arabella with Kiri te Kanawa. He worked with a wide conspectus of singers – all the most celebrated Decca vocal artists of his time were produced by him, and many became close personal friends, from Teresa Berganza to Placido Domingo, Mirella Freni, Nicolai Ghiuarov, Birgit Nilsson, Joan Sutherland, Renata Tebaldi and Angelika Kirchshlager.

The tenor, the late Luciano Pavarotti, remarked: "Christopher was always like a beautiful wise old man, even when he was very young! He is a hero on the other side of the recording process. We have to be able to put all of our trust in the producer. CR had a very serious musical intelligence, he understands the particular language of the voice, the interpretation and he is someone I could always trust and rely on. He had an incredible personality and sensitivity."

Raeburn also worked with a roster of famous instrumentalists and conductors including András Schiff, Zubin Mehta, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Kyung-Wha Chung. He produced Vladimir Ashkenazy's cycles of the complete piano concertos of Mozart and Beethoven. His recordings received many industry prizes and awards, but he was possibly proudest of the Franz Schalk Medaille, given by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra – an honour usually reserved for conductors. In 2002 the musicians' organisation Midem gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2007 Gramophone magazine did the same.

His role demanded fluent German and Italian – he tended to speak Italian for pleasure and German for business. Indeed a colleague described his loud and declamatory German as having an Oxford accent. "In an earlier age" his Decca colleague John Dunkerley remarked, "with his declamatory style he would have been an actor-manager".

His eldest daughter, Alexandra, describes him as a devoted father who constantly took his children to leading musical events, so that they were brought up thinking it normal to visit Glyndebourne and Salzburg in the best seats, attend rehearsals, and have leading operatic stars calling as family friends. Indeed his three daughters had as godparents Leontyne Price, Tom Krause and Marilyn Horne. A friend of his early days in Vienna was Lilli Skauge, but they lost touch, only meeting again in the late 1970s, long after his divorce. They took up their relationship again, the ensuing marriage lasting over 20 years.

He was someone who enjoyed good health, so his final illness when it came was unexpected, and from diagnosis last November until his passing, was swift – he did not want invasive medical intervention and he died peacefully in his sleep, his family around him. His longstanding friend Anthony Pollard, of Gramophone magazine, said he was "a man of whom I never ever heard anyone speak ill".

It is unlikely any recording organisation will again work at such a supreme level of artistic and technical achievement in so long-standing and systematic a way. Christopher Raeburn's death marks the final passing of a glorious musical age in which the leading record companies, but especially the Decca team, recorded opera in Vienna, Rome and across Europe.

Lewis Foreman

Christopher Walter Raeburn, record producer: born London 31 July 1928; married 1964 Pamela St Clair (marriage dissolved 1970, three daughters), 1980 Lilli Skauge (marriage dissolved 2001, one stepson); died Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire 18 February 2009.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor