Ronald Crichton

Chief music critic at the 'FT'


Ronald Crichton, music critic and writer: born Scarborough, Yorkshire 29 December 1913; music critic, Financial Times 1962-78, chief music critic 1972-78; died Barcelona 15 November 2005.

Ronald Crichton worked on The Financial Times as a music critic for 16 years, first as a freelance, then from 1967 to his retirement in 1978 as an accredited member of the staff.

He had two passions, French music and opera: when those passions coincided, as in French opera from Rameau to Debussy, he was particularly knowledgeable. However, he had wide sympathies, as a critic should have, and he was, above all, fair in his judgements. His standards were high, so, if he really felt that an artist was not giving the best performance of which he or she was capable, he made that absolutely plain; but he never descended into the personal vilification that certain journalists consider, quite wrongly, to be criticism.

Crichton was born in Scarborough in 1913. He was educated at Radley College and then read French at Christ Church, Oxford, where he first discovered opera through the Oxford University Opera Club. His first job was as organising secretary of the Anglo-French Art and Travel Society, for whom he arranged visits from French theatre companies, orchestras and individual artists. From 1940 to 1946 he served in the Army, in the UK and in Greece. On demobilisation he joined the British Council, for whom he worked for 21 years, in Greece, Belgium, West Germany and finally at the London headquarters. It was at this period that I got to know him, when he used to visit the bookshop where I worked.

Crichton first wrote for the FT in 1962, when its Arts Page, especially the music section, headed by Andrew Porter, boasted some of the finest critics of the day. When Porter went to The New Yorker in 1972, Crichton took over as chief music critic. Meanwhile I had been asked to write for the paper in 1970 - strictly as a freelance - and considered it a great honour.

Ronald taught me almost everything I knew about newspaper journalism: for instance to put everything important in a criticism of an opera - the director, conductor, etc, etc - in the first paragraph, then it would not be cut by a scissor-happy sub-editor. We often found ourselves travelling together to operatic events. Once we went by train to Birmingham for a performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. A strike at the university meant that no refreshments, not even a glass of water, were available. Ronald and I had come prepared, and in the station waiting room we laced black tea with whisky and ate smoked salmon sandwiches, while (this was 1977) an innocent-looking party of four young Irish people at the next table was somewhat roughly arrested by the police. Another time, in Brighton, we ordered fish in a steak house, and, on the principle that red plonk is better than white plonk, Ronald ordered a bottle of Beaujolais. "You can't drink red wine with fish," declared the wine waitress. "My dear madam," replied Ronald politely, "we are the customers, so we can drink what we like!"

Ronald Crichton also wrote for Opera magazine and other periodicals. His book on one of his favourite composers Manuel de Falla: descriptive catalogue of his works was published in 1976, and he wrote the BBC Music Guide Falla (1982).

After he left the FT at the age of 65, he continued to act as a freelance critic. He contributed to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and the New Grove Dictionary of Opera and in 1987 edited a version of the Memoirs of Dame Ethel Smyth, whose operas he considered under-valued. Finally he retired to Eastbourne with his great friend Juan Soriano. Later they moved to Barcelona, Soriano's native city.

Elizabeth Forbes

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