Richard Marlow: Charismatic and ground-breaking choral conductor

 

Throughout a long and varied career, Richard Marlow enriched the world of music in a wide variety of ways. Lecturer, writer, scholar, organist, composer, teacher, editor and undoubted enthusiast, as one of the defining choral conductors of his generation, he brought the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge to a level of performance that had few, if any, equals.

The son of an electricity-board engineer who grew up in the shadow of Epsom Racecourse, Marlow spent his formative years as a chorister at Southwark Cathedral. Educated at St Olave's Grammar School, in 1953 he sang at the Coronation Service. While still at school he was appointed organist of St Anselm's Church, Kennington. After going on to read music at Cambridge University, in 1958 he was elected Organ Scholar of Selwyn College. There, he not only became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, but also won the highly prestigious Harding Prize. Two years later, he was awarded the John Stewart of Rannoch Scholarship in Sacred Music.

Staying on at Selwyn as a Research Fellow, his doctoral dissertation – completed under the watchful eye of Thurston Dart – was on the music of the 17th-century English keyboard composer Giles Farnaby. It was undoubtedly Dart who instilled in him the academic discipline that so characterised his later career. For three years, between 1965 and 1968, he was a lecturer at the University of Southampton, and also served as organist of St Mary's Church.

On his return to Cambridge in 1968, he was appointed University Lecturer in Music and Fellow, Organist, Director of Music and Lecturer at Trinity College. There, in addition to exercising a most benign influence on countless aspiring students, he also began playing a pivotal role in the cultural life of the wider community. Soon after his arrival he set up the Cambridge University Chamber Choir, quickly honing them into a formidable force.

While intensely proud of Trinity College's long and illustrious all-male chorister tradition, one of the oldest in either Oxford or Cambridge, the admission of female undergraduates gave Marlow the perfect opportunity to mastermind a dramatic choral revolution. Thus, in 1982, he created a mixed voice ensemble that rapidly attracted consistent public and critical acclaim. Perfectly tuned, beautifully blended and able to tackle some challenging repertoire, they sang with vitality and character. Happily, their legacy endures courtesy of a most distinctive discography – some 40 recordings in all.

Nestling neatly alongside more rarefied renaissance and baroque repertoire are popular collections of carols, hymns and liturgical lollipops. Particularly fine was their 1989 recording of the more intimate choral works of Sir William Walton. No less impressive was Marlow's tribute to his distinguished Trinity predecessor, CV Stanford. With the choir again on top form, the critics also noted the moving solo contributions of baritone choral scholar Alexander Armstrong.

Marlow incurred the wrath of many by proposing to dismantle the Harrison organ in the college chapel; however, its continental successor, the first Metzler instrument in England, attracted widespread praise. Constructed according to the strictest of classical principles and placed within the restored main case of 1708, it also incorporated pipework from the earlier Father Smith instrument. Completed in 1976, it provided a most colourful palette for its talented custodian.

As a composer, his love of the liturgy allowed him to write well for voices. His anthems, services, motets, hymns, responses, chants and descants, often written for special occasions, enjoyed worldwide popularity and remain in the repertoire. Two works in particular stand out: the exquisite miniature "O Lord God", affectionately inscribed to his former choristers at St Anselm's, Kennington Green; and the more challenging "Veni, Creator Spiritus", written for solo soprano and double choir. Both are cleverly and precisely imagined, their structures handled with fluency and care.

He proved no less adept at providing special music for particular college occasions – everything from singing on the river to the impressive Epiphany Carol Service. More unusual was his choral setting of Ben Okri's poem "Ode to Newton". Commissioned in 1992 by Sir Michael Atiyah, then Master of Trinity, it was written for a special commemoration feast held to mark the 350th anniversary of the birth of one of the college's most distinguished alumnus, Sir Isaac Newton.

As a scholar, Marlow's reputation was initially forged with the publication in 1965 of Giles Farnaby: Keyboard Music, the 24th volume in Stainer & Bell's landmark series Music Britannica. Equally authoritative was his editorial work on behalf of the Church Music Society, anthems by Maurice Greene, motets by JS Bach and Felix Mendelssohn and Tudor responses by William Smith. In 1997 he produced The Trinity College Chant Book: 150 Anglican Chants, of which 135 were adapted from anthems, motets, canticles, masses and oratorios of the 16th-19th centuries. Completing the volume were 15 original creations.

Precise, literate and stylish, he proved to be an equally fine writer, supplying a wealth of finely written and knowledgeable critiques to a wide range of specialist periodicals, including Music and Letters and The Musical Times. More extended examples of his art can be found in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and The Dictionary of National Biography.

In later years Marlow's scholastic credentials found a ready outlet as a keynote speaker, conductor and performer at summer schools, seminars and workshops worldwide. He held Visiting Professorships at universities in America, Australasia and the Far East. Between 1998 and 2011 he never missed the opportunity to visit Portland, Oregon for the William Byrd Festival, of which he was co-founder.

Counted among that rich tradition of organists who maintained a lifelong passion for steam trains and model railways, Marlow retired as director of music at Trinity College in 2006.

Kenneth Shenton

Richard Kenneth Marlow, musician and scholar: born Banstead, Surrey 26 July 1939; married 1964 Annette Bateman (two sons); died Cambridge 16 June 2013.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
football

Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
Designer Oscar de la Renta takes a bow after showing his Spring 2015 collection in September, his last show before his death
fashionThe passing of the legendary designer has left a vacancy: couturier to America’s royalty, says fashion editor Alexander Fury
Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why