Geoffrey Crankshaw: Music critic whose writings spanned eight decades

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The Independent Online

Geoffrey Crankshaw was a man of many parts. By profession a distinguished civil servant, he was also a writer of distinction who, for more than 80 years, proved a consummate chronicler of the musical life of this country.

He was born in Woodend Green in Essex two months after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912; both Geoffrey and his elder brother, Edward, were educated at Bishop's Stortford College, Hertfordshire. Here, he proved a talented performer on both organ and piano, having inherited a love of music from his mother, Amy, a fine amateur performer. It was she who, in September 1924, took Geoffrey, then a 12-year-old, to hear the pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch's brilliant exposition of Tchaikovsky's 1st Piano Concerto at the Queen's Hall on Langham Place (later destroyed during the Second World War). For the young Crankshaw, the concert proved pivotal in determining the shape of his future career.

He read history and English at King's College, London, and graduated with a double first, then followed his father into the civil service. Here, for many years until retirement, he first served as Deputy Chief Clerk of the Metropolitan Juvenile Court before moving to become Chief Clerk at Greenwich and Woolwich Magistrates' Court. Before too long, however, in addition to his day job, the evenings would find him amid the capital's many concert halls, happily pursuing his trade as a most industrious concert critic.

His journalistic career began in the 1920s with the appearance of early reviews in the specialist monthly magazine, Musical Opinion. Over the coming years he would also regularly contribute a wealth of finely written and knowledgeable critiques to a wide range of periodicals including Music and Musicians, Records and Recording, Classical Music, Musical Times, The Organ and Classical CD. He also revelled in the time spent chewing over new ideas with musicians he had come to know and respect. For him, this sharing of experiences was unquestionably what the job was all about.

As a music critic, Crankshaw always took great delight in visiting the capital's smaller, more intimate venues, never missing an opportunity to hear emerging young talent. Thus, for more decades than he would care to admit, he happily designated the Wigmore Hall as his second home. Here, as everywhere, artists would unfailingly find his notices set out with a clarity and consideration. He never found fault without substantiating his findings in detail, writing in such a way that strictures offered useful suggestions for improvement. Particularly sensitive to mood, he was quick to appreciate difficulties and even quicker to give help and support.

Having served as an Intelligence Officer in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, a return to civilian life brought both marriage and a young family. At this time, exciting musical challenges came courtesy of the rapidly developing vinyl long-playing record. Here, as a writer of sleeve notes, each meticulously researched, literate, elegant and stylish, his work increasingly graced the catalogues of all the major record labels.

A noted specialist in English music, particularly fine was his distinctive contribution to Sir Georg Solti's epic 1972 recording of Elgar's 1st Symphony. But he wrote, too, with ease and authority on subjects as diverse as the choral music of Heinrich Schütz or the piano quartets of Richard Strauss. In addition, he also proved remarkably adept at providing synopses for filmed operatic productions, such as Rossini's La Gazza Ladra.

A devoted family man, he was increasingly handicapped by blindness in recent years, though he still retained many of his old enthusiasms, most notably gardening. In typical style, his final article, a charming retrospective for Musical Opinion, appeared as recently as April 2005, almost 80 years to the day since his first. Sadly, it now serves as a most poignant and fitting monument, not only to an accomplished and erudite writer but, perhaps more importantly, to a most delightful human being.

Kenneth Shenton

Geoffrey Crankshaw, civil servant, writer and music critic: born Woodend Green, Essex 18 June 1912; married Maud (Phil) Barnes (died 1986; one son deceased and three daughters); died Ruislip, Middlesex 1 February 2009.