The violinist Peter Cropper was an inspirational player of enormous integrity who was unafraid to set aside "received practice" in order to plumb the depths of the composer's psyche in search of the meaning behind the information on the printed page. Committed to the music, he played with raw passion, "like a man possessed", as one critic put it, though without affectation.
In an interview in The Strad magazine in 2009, he admitted that "it was Beethoven who first inspired me to try to earn a living from playing music. I wanted to share his vision and his humanity with as many people as possible... I have spent so many hours trying to get inside his mind, to understand each sforzando, each subito piano, even his motivation for writing every piece."
In the same interview he identified Beethoven's "Kreutzer" sonata in particular as "the one in which solving mechanical problems (of which there are plenty) most helps to convey the spirit of the music."
This was not a once-and-for-all activity, even for the same pieces of music. Of the Beethoven string quartets, he wrote: "I played each quartet at least 200 times over 30 years and never tired of them. There was always some new element that was uncovered in each performance. Quartets are a conversation between four players sometimes agreeing and sometimes arguing in the sense that we sometimes play the same tune together but we could equally barge in with another idea."
Peter Cropper was born in Southport, then in Lancashire, in 1945 at the time when his grandfather, Horace Cropper, was deputy leader of the then Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. His uncle, Paul Cropper, led the viola section of the BBC Northern (Symphony) Orchestra and had been a pupil of the great Lionel Tertis.
Peter won a music scholarship to Uppingham School and became a member of the National Youth Orchestra, but had ambitions to be a barrister. "Then it dawned on me that actually performing music was what I loved doing most", he said. "The composers meant so much to me that I wanted to share this passion with other people."
In the National Youth Orchestra he met another violinist, Nina Martin, whom he later married; and when he went on to the Royal Academy of Music in London, he studied with Nina's father, David Martin. In 1965, while still at the Academy, he formed the Cropper String Quartet with violinist Michael Adamson, viola player Roger Bigley and cellist Bernard Gregor-Smith (Ronald Birks took over on second violin in 1971, Robin Ireland on viola in 1985)
Two years later they were appointed Leverhulme Fellows at Keele University, assuming the role of quartet-in-residence, honouring the University and its founder, Lord Lindsay, by adopting the name Lindsay String Quartet. As well as giving recitals – in the Walter Moberly Hall at the university and at the Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent – they taught students and led the string sections of the university orchestra.
In 1974 The Lindsays, as they came to be known ("You know, like The Beatles," said Cropper) left Keele for a similar role at Sheffield University, and in 1979 at Manchester. In 1984 Cropper founded Music in the Round – which he regarded as one of his greatest achievements – designed to promote chamber music in Sheffield, in the Crucible Studio, but now extending throughout the country. In 2009, four years after the quartet had disbanded, its members were granted the Freedom of the City, with Cropper recognised as "a towering presence in Sheffield music".
Casting aside "received practice", as well as getting to the heart of the music, also extended to presentation: informal and colourful clothing and talking with the audience about the works performed. Cropper had a passionate belief in the power of music to change people's lives. He inspired the violinist Benjamin Nabarro, one of Music in the Round's resident professional musicians, who said: "His extraordinary way of communicating through music, and his joy and love for it, and of life, has had a profound effect on me… He has left behind a priceless legacy which we are all now lucky to inherit."
At the same time, the Lindsays sustained an international performing career and made many highly regarded recordings, notably of Haydn, Beethoven and Tippett. The quartet first met Tippett at the Bath Festival when they played his Third Quartet; they subsequently premiered the Fourth and Fifth Quartets, and the latter was dedicated to them.
In 1994 Cropper was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society's Festival Prize for "consistently imaginative programming", in 2000 a "Creative Briton" award and in 2005 the Cobbett Medal from the Worshipful Company of Musicians "for services to chamber music".
When Cropper decided to leave the Lindsays, the remaining members would not contemplate a new leader and after 40 years, in 2005, the quartet retired. But Cropper continued to teach and to perform, joining with the pianist Martin Roscoe and the cellist Moray Welsh to play sonatas and trios. He also taught an MA course in string quartet performance at Sheffield University.
Peter John Cropper, violinist and teacher: born Southport 19 November 1945; married 1972 Nina Martin (one daughter, one son); died 29 May 2015.Reuse content