David Drew: Musicologist and authority on Kurt Weill who transformed the fortunes of Boosey & Hawkes

For half a century David Drew stood at the centre of musical life in Britain, as critic, writer, musicologist, editor and publisher. As Director of Publications at Boosey & Hawkes his astute choices of composer conditioned the contents of concert halls around the globe – and transformed the lives of many of the composers themselves. He was also recognised internationally as the supreme authority on the life and music of Kurt Weill.

David Drew was born in Putney in 1930 and had a taste of travel before his first birthday: four months in Berlin, where his father was working. His parents divorced around his second birthday, and with the marriage of his mother to a Campbeltown solicitor, he moved to Scotland. Education gradually brought him south again: he attended school in Aysgarth in Yorkshire (1938–43), where in 1939 he had his first piano lessons, and Harrow (1944–49), where, to Drew's delight, a disagreement with his piano teacher brought a replacement in the form of Ronald Smith, later known for his championship of Alkan.

While at Harrow Drew also took up the oboe and tried his hand at composition, mostly song-settings, where his choice of poets – Carl Sandburg, Logan Pearsall Smith, Adelaide Crapsey, Edward Thomas – indicated the intellectual curiosity that was later to characterise his writing. In March 1947 the first UK performance of Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, conducted by Ernest Ansermet and broadcast by the BBC, proved a revelation. The direction of his life was being set.

He entered the embrace of National Service in 1949–50 before attending Peterhouse College in Cambridge (1951–53) for a degree in History and English, where his regular contacts with the exiled Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard foreshadowed the huge international network of composers he soon began to build up.

Graduating in May 1953, Drew began six years as a freelance critic and writer, producing sleeve-notes for Decca and EMI, contributing articles to The Score (including the first major article on Messiaen in any language), The Musical Times and Music & Letters, as well as much music journalism in the non-specialist press. He also became a frequent broadcaster, not least on Julian Herbage's and Anna Instone's Sunday morning BBC programme, Music Magazine. A 60-page essay on French music published in 1957 in 20th Century Music, a symposium edited by Howard Hartog, is still quoted 50 years later, a model of style and lucidity.

Drew was by now a familiar figure at modern-music festivals on mainland Europe, at Darmstadt, Baden Baden, Venice and elsewhere. It was at the Berlin Festival in 1957 that he met Kurt Weill's widow, Lotte Lenya, having decided the previous year that Weill's music – then largely known only because of his collaborations with Brecht – merited a full-length study.

Weill was to become the leitmotif that ran through his life. He soon commissioned – by the composer Boris Blacher, for the West Berlin Academy of Arts – to catalogue the manuscripts in the house in upstate New York where Weill lived until his death in 1950. In the years to come Drew produced a collection of Weill's own writings and an anthology of contemporary comment on him, both published in German in 1975, and Kurt Weill: A Handbook (Faber, 1987), an exhaustive catalogue raisonné. But though the long-awaited critical biography occupied Drew for half a century, it was never published. A three-volume life-and-works was nearly complete when it was discontinued in 1976; it remains to be seen whether his papers contain a recasting of the material.

March 1959 saw Drew appointed music-critic of The New Statesman and Nation, a post he held for eight years. In 1960 a brief dalliance with the BBC Music Department – then under the sway of William Glock, an ardent propagandist for new music – proved incompatible with his existing commitments and he turned down a full-time job there. But through Glock he became the head of a landmark contemporary-music recording project funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Drew was now internationally regarded not only as an authority on Weill but as a leading figure in contemporary music in general. He was consulted for stage presentations, festivals and concert series, and was a valued presence on a number of committees, among them the BBC Central Music Advisory Committee, the Music Panel of the Arts Council of Great Britain and its Contemporary Music Network, and the British section of International Society for Contemporary Music. An important development in his life came in spring 1971, with his appointment to the editorship of Tempo, the modern-music quarterly published by Boosey & Hawkes. He immediately stamped his authority on the publication, commissioning 17 prominent composers to write short pieces in memory of Stravinsky, who died just after Drew took up the reins.

The relationship with Boosey & Hawkes was soon to deepen. Tony Fell, named Managing Director in 1974, was appalled to find no strategy for publishing new music and no one responsible; it was, he said, "like running an atomic power station without any physicists". The composer Nicholas Maw recommended Drew, and Fell had found his physicist.

The 17 years Drew was to spend at Boosey & Hawkes, from 1975 to 1992, first as Director of Publications and then Director of New Music, transformed the company. He proved an irresistible recruiting sergeant as, with Fell, he pulled in major composers by the armful. Helen Wallace's recent Boosey & Hawkes: The Publishing Story lists the figures they conscripted: John Adams, Elliott Carter, Berthold Goldschmidt, Henryk Górecki, H.K. Gruber, Robin Holloway, James MacMillan, Steve Reich, Kurt Schwertsik, Michael Torke and York Höller; B&H also represented the entire catalogue of Igor Markevitch and major works of Leonard Bernstein and Roberto Gerhard.

The external success concealed internal frictions. Drew could be almost dauntingly intense: he seemed to tackle life with the furious passion of a hunting shrew, and in conversation you could sometimes sense that his mind was working on several other issues simultaneously. A maverick individualist with his own convictions is always going to sit ill in a corporate structure, and so it proved with Drew at Boosey. His departure resolved tensions on both sides; the miracle is that the relationship lasted so long.

Contact with Drew was energising: after a talk with him you felt you should be doing much more. The American writer Bernard Jacobson, then based in London, found that working with David for five years, first as his deputy, and then alongside him as Director of Promotion, was a stimulation, an education, and an almost unalloyed pleasure. You didn't think lazily around David. He had a mind of Byzantine complexity and unabating originality, and he wrote superbly.

For all his intensity, Drew could be thoughtful and generous in unassuming ways: I can't be the only writer to have received little notes from him (often only one word: "Congratulations" or "Bravo") in response to an article he had enjoyed, usually in Tempo, and long after he had handed the reins over to Malcolm MacDonald, formally in 1974 and finally in 1980. He was withal a deeply private man, devoted to his family.

Freelance once again in 1992, he plunged once more into writing, consultancy (producing a series of CDs for Largo Records) and editing, not least further Weill scores – all activities he was eventually to document in fascinating detail in an autobiographical outline on his website (www.sing- script.plus.com/daviddrewmusic). He kept adding to his huge tally of articles, which covered not only the composers he had promoted at Boosey & Hawkes but also other major figures, such as Boris Blacher, Luigi Dallapiccola and Roger Sessions and as well as less-well-known ones, like Christopher Shaw and Leopold Spinner; he recently contributed a major article on Walter Leigh, a Hindemith student killed near Tobruk in 1942, to a festschrift organised by the Hindemith Institute.

Nicholas Kenyon, former controller of the Proms and now Managing Director of the Barbican Centre, wonders whether Drew's perfectionism proved a hindrance: "David was the most prodigiously knowledgeable and the most intellectually generous writer on music: I learnt a huge amount from him. There was one thing that somehow frustrated his fully expressing all this, and that was his constant struggle to get it all precisely right, to include every sublety. We all wish he had written more."

The Leigh essay, indeed, was intended to form the basis of a monograph on this neglected figure, and becomes one of the numerous projects that David Drew's death leaves unfinished. Although he was almost 80, his mind was still working as fiercely as ever.

Martin Anderson

David Drew, writer, musicologist, editor and publisher; born 19 September 1930; married 1960 Judy Sutherland (one son, two daughters); died 25 July 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before