Professor Ian Spink: Scholar and musicologist


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The Independent Online

Throughout a long and varied professional career, Ian Spink enriched the world of music in a wide variety of ways.

Lecturer, writer, scholar, organist, teacher, examiner, conductor, editor and enthusiast, while helping mould the careers of many of Britain's finest practitioners, he was also one of the finest musicologists of his generation.

He was an active devotee of 17th-century English music, particularly that of Henry Purcell, and such music could not have wished for a more inspiring advocate

The eldest son of a north London butcher, Ian Spink was educated at the Mercers' school. From there his prodigious musical talents won him a place at Trinity College of Music. Following National Service with the Royal Artillery, in 1955, as the holder of the prestigious GD Cunningham scholarship, he undertook postgraduate studies with Professor Anthony Lewis at the University of Birmingham.

From 1958 onwards, acting as an overseas examiner for Trinity College of Music, Spink travelled extensively throughout Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A brief sojourn teaching music at Westlain Grammar School, Brighton, was followed, in 1962 by a return to Australia. Appointed a lecturer in music at the University of Sydney, New South Wales, three years later he became senior lecturer.

Spink returned to the UK in 1969 when he was appointed head of the music department at Royal Holloway College, University of London; he was elevated to the chair of music five years later, a position he filled with great distinction. There he created a noted centre of excellence in music education, and also began playing a pivotal role in the artistic life of the wider cultural community.

As a scholar, he always relished seeing the fruits of his research enjoyed through practical performance. This outlook lay at the heart of all his editorial work, whether for the Purcell Society, his many editions of English Lute Songs, or his authoritative 1971 collection of English Song 1625-1660, published by Stainer and Bell as part of their Musica Britannica series. Occupying a much more rarefied musical landscape was a further volume in the same series, Thomas Arne's early masque The Judgement of Paris.

Always precise, literate and stylish, Spink proved to be an equally fine writer. Amid many significant contributions to specialist periodicals, more extended examples of his art can be found in The New Oxford History of Music, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and the specially commissioned volume of Purcell Studies, published in 1995 to commemorate the tercentenary of the composer's death.

Spink's first book, An Historical Approach to Musical Form, appeared in 1967. Later he distilled his extensive knowledge into what has become a seminal text, English Song: Dowland to Purcell. Equally impressive was a study of Restoration Church Music: 1660-1714, while on a less expansive canvas are a number of distinctive monographs embracing everything from a survey of Australian composers to studies of Henry Lawes and Thomas Tudway.

During the 1970s, while engaged as a general editor by the Athlone Press, Spink was tasked with finding a worthy successor to Ernest Walker's epic volume, A History of Music in England. His solution was an ambitious series of six large historical studies which would, for the first time, place music firmly at the heart of both the social and cultural life of its period. Spink himself contributed the third volume to what eventually became known as The Blackwell History of Music.

If music was his craft, then food became his purpose. He was a marvellous host and the annual garden party in the grounds of his elegant Surrey home became an unmissable event for students and staff. Popular also was another of Spink's delightful innovations, the college's Saint Cecilia Day Feast.

During almost three decades at what later became Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, Spink also served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Dean of the Faculty of Music and as a member of the University Senate. Here, as always, unceasing in his demand for academic excellence, he was valued not just for the depth of his knowledge but for the soundness of his judgement.

Ian Walter Alfred Spink, musician and scholar: born London 29 March 1932; Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Sydney University 1962–69; Senior Lecturer 1969–72, Reader 1972–74, Professor 1974-97 (Emeritus), Royal Holloway College, then Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London University; married 1960 Margaret Walton (three sons, four daughters); died Woking, Surrey 29 October 2011.