OBITUARIES: Christopher Palmer

Christopher Francis Palmer, writer, orchestrator and arranger: born 9 September 1946; died 22 January 1995.

Christopher Palmer was a highly original critic and a multi- talented musician active and expert in many fields.

There was Palmer the skilful "arranger" - a dimension of music he raised to new levels of accomplishment. It was wholly characteristic of him that, even in hospital struggling against the onslaught of Aids, he was excited by the idea of a possible arrangement that might be made of the children's music (boys' voices) from Part II of Mahler's huge Eighth Symphony, the setting of the final scene from Goethe's Faust. Only he could have come up with such a magnificently improbable idea.

Then there were two receptacles into which his gifts bubbled over: the film studio and the recording studio. His work for the movie industry, where his skills as an orchestrator, added to his vast knowledge of the cinema and its idiosyncratic technical requirements, made him in constant demand, often amounted to a creative collaboration with the composer whose music, against the clock, he was scoring. He worked with and for some of the most celebrated Hollywood composers of the day; Elmer Ber nstein wasa long-standing friend and admirer of his musicianship, as was Mikls Rsza.

Palmer was equally at home in the recording studio. One of his last recording projects was A Shakespeare Scenario, a compilation of incidental music by Walton, a composer he much admired. This was a series of records which brought into play Palmer's gifts as producer and arranger - quarrying from a mass of incidental music a host of viable sequences and suites, music much too enjoyable to be left buried.

He was particularly good at these rescue operations. Good too at managing a recording. I worked with him on a couple of projects, an anthology of Britten's Blues, from the Thirties, and a complete recording of Britten's last opera, Death in Venice, made for a television film directed by Tony Palmer. I was impressed by the excellence and experience of Christopher Palmer's ear but, above all, by the sympathetic relationship he created, whether with orchestra or singer. He was always encouraging, kind and patient, but never satisfied until he had got what he wanted out of the performers.

It is difficult to define his taste in music. He loved composers who were prolific and whose techniques - especially in their orchestral or operatic works - were of a high order of sophistication and subtlety. Hence his enthusiasm for Prokofiev, Ravel, Britten, to whose music he brought special insights. The Britten Companion he edited in 1984 contains some remarkable examples of his writings on music, informed by an unusual wealth of references, literary and musical, sympathy with the composer's aims,and an ability to come up with challenging ideas that had occurred to no one else.

There is no doubt that his criticism reflects the breadth of his interests and the pattern of his education. After attending Norwich School, he took up a place at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in the first instance to read modern languages, but in midstream he switched to music. In 1973 he published Impressionism in Music, a substantial and carefully researched and edited monograph, and perhaps the most "scholarly" - though he would not have much cared for the term - of his many publications.

It was not only the established and successful composer who fascinated him and about whom he wrote. Palmer was a champion of composers, especially English composers, whom he thought undervalued, George Dyson and Herbert Howells among them; and in the literary field, too, he put together a remarkable anthology of the prose of Arthur Machen.

So diverse a professional life, inevitably, was not easily organised and Palmer always needed a support team. He was never able to master the art of proof-reading. The errors he did not notice and allowed into print reached legendary status. It is good news that a new edition of his Howells study, first published as Herbert Howells: a centenary celebration (1993), is on the way, though with its endearing Palmeresque blemishes removed.

Palmer's last piece of work was completed when his illness had remorselessly reduced his capacity to write. But his courage and determination enabled him to turn in a lengthy introduction to Cradles of the New, a new book of mine which I may be excused mentioning because it offers us a marvellous self-portrait of Christopher Palmer, his ideals, beliefs and idiosyncrasies, and, not least, his gift for friendship.

I first came across him when he was a schoolboy, and he wrote to me seeking information about Mahler. Later, when he was an undergraduate at Cambridge, he came to see me, to ask my advice about pursuing a career as a writer on music. He was a handsome, imposingly tall man, always strikingly dressed; there was something genuinely glamorous about his appearance. At the very end of his illness, when it seemed that he was almost transparent and weightless, it was as if his youth had returned to him: the schoolboy I had never met in the 1960s.

Donald Mitchell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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 People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant - Immediate Start - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant - Immediate ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders