Obituary: Martindale Sidwell

MARTINDALE SIDWELL's influence on post-war British choral music can be measured in the fiercely loyal devotion and deep affection felt by the hundreds who sang under his direction over more than 50 years. When in 1996 a service was arranged at St Clement Danes in London to celebrate his 80th birthday, the building burst at the seams with colleagues and choristers eager to express their gratitude for the training received at the hands of one of music's perfectionists.

Sidwell's contribution as organist and music director both at St Clement Danes (1957-92) and Hampstead Parish Church (1946-92) amounted to an astonishing combined total of over 80 years' service. Add to this his work in founding and conducting the London Bach Orchestra (1967-81), the Hampstead Choral Society (1946-81) and the Martindale Sidwell Singers (1956-92), recording and broadcasting commitments, teaching the organ at Trinity College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music (1963-84), not to mention fulfilling duties as a Professor at the Royal School of Church Music (1958-66), and it becomes clear why "Martin" became a legend.

He was born in Warwickshire in 1916 and christened John William Martindale, a combination of his father's Christian names and his mother's maiden name. John William senior was an enthusiastic amateur musician, and at the age of seven the young Martindale won a place as a chorister (and pupil in the choir school) at Wells Cathedral. By the time his voice broke he was already a talented organist, having studied at the cathedral with Conrad Eden. At just 16, in 1932, he was appointed cathedral sub-organist.

As with so many of his generation, the Second World War interrupted plans and ambitions. He served with the Royal Engineers, working on south coast defences but was also involved in many risky expeditions across the Channel. In 1944 he married the pianist and harpischordist Barbara Hill, a noted performer herself, later to become Professor of Piano at the Royal College of Music.

Somehow Sidwell managed to maintain a strong wartime connection to music- making in the Midlands, becoming respectively director of music at Warwick School, organist of Holy Trinity Church, Leamington Spa and conductor of the Leamington Spa Choral Society.

These proved the springboard for his achievements at Hampstead Parish Church after the war, when he came to London for organ studies under the highly regarded C.H. Trevor at the Royal Academy of Music. He was appointed to Hampstead in 1946, at a time when its strong musical tradition had been decimated as a by-product of the hostilities.

In a remarkably short period he established the choir of men and boys as one of the finest in the country, not excluding cathedrals. In the 1950s it made broadcasts and recordings (with conductors of the stature of Otto Klemperer) and appeared at the Royal Festival Hall and the Wigmore Hall, as well as touring in Europe. Some of these trips were made in connection with the Oecumenical Fellowship of Boys' Choirs in Worship, on whose committee Sidwell sat for a time. The fellowship fostered contacts between boys' choirs all over Europe.

St Clement Danes at the Aldwych reopened in 1958 after the repair of its massive wartime damage, and was designated the church of the RAF. Again, Sidwell was called in to restore a wounded musical tradition. Thus began a Sunday routine which saw him direct the music for matins alternately at Hampstead and St Clement Danes, then take in early evensong at St Clement Danes, before the rush to Hampstead for evensong - preceded by choir practice.

At St Clement Danes, Sidwell received approval for the establishment of a nucleus of eight professional singers - expanded as needed - to cope with a round of duties which included all manner of special RAF occasions, from memorial services and statue unveilings to weddings with an aviation connection. Among his singers were the countertenors James Bowman and Paul Esswood. The BBC regularly broadcast mid-week choral evensongs.

Sidwell's trademark, which has left an indelible impression on all who sang for him, was an iron discipline in the quest for perfection, however elusive that might be. He knew what he wanted, and woe betide the BBC producer who dared to query a point or two shortly before the green light went on. But Sidwell also had a sense of humour which ran to an inexhaustible supply of limericks, not all of which could be repeated in church.

To fill any time left in mid-week, Sidwell founded variously the Hampstead Choral Society (1946), which provided a platform for a host of British oratorio soloists, the smaller-scale Martindale Sidwell Choir (1956) and the London Bach Orchestra (1967), which staged regular concerts under his direction at the Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall. While he had a love of English and French music, Bach was perhaps closest to his heart. Sidwell's readings of his music were lighter and faster than audiences were used to in the 1950s, but they anticipated the style of early music performance that has since become familiar.

St Clement Danes acquired its own music society in the 1960s under Sidwell's leadership, its concerts being guaranteed sell-outs. A Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, Sidwell continued to give recitals, and was appointed Professor of Organ at his Alma Mater, the Royal Academy, in 1963.

While RAF chaplains at St Clement Danes came and went, it seemed Martindale Sidwell would go on forever. He was still juggling duties at his two churches until 1992. When he retired, at the age of 76, he found pleasure in taking a seat in both sets of pews Sunday by Sunday, followed in the case of St Clement Danes with, as ever, lunch and a drink or two with his friends in the pub across the road.

John William Martindale Sidwell, organist, choirmaster and conductor: born Little Packington, Warwickshire 23 February 1916; Organist and Choirmaster, Hampstead Parish Church 1945-92; Organist and Director of Music, St Clement Danes 1957-92; married 1944 Barbara Hill (two sons); died London 20 February 1998.

Suggested Topics
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 special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness