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

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

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Principal Engineer – Biomass

£45000 - £55000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil