Obituary: Antonia Butler

The cellist Antonia Butler will be remembered as a dedicated and well-loved teacher, having held important appointments at the Royal College of Music, the Birmingham School of Music and the Menuhin School. What is not generally known is that she was a distinguished soloist and chamber music player for many years before deciding that teaching should take pride of place.

She was born in London in 1909 into a musical family and could not recall a time when music was not part of her life. She had her first lessons on the piano at five and went on to the cello with Valentina Orde when she was ten. Her progress was such she was soon able to join in the family music-making. One of her earliest memories was playing at their home with the violinists Jelly and Adila d'Arnyi who were great-nieces of the celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim. As a reward she was given a gold coin which she treasured all her life.

It was through a recommendation from the d'Arnyi sisters that when only 13 she went to Leipzig to study for four years with the great Julius Klengel at the Conservatoire. She considered this a very important period because Klengel taught her to develop her own individual musicality and, in addition, she learned so much of the concerto repertoire, especially the Brahms Double Concerto for cello and violin which she played twice with the Conservatoire Orchestra. She told me that her own interpretation was greatly influenced by her studies with Klengel: "Klengel had heard performances by its dedicatees, Robert Hausmann and Joseph Joachim, and he was able to pass on some very good advice especially on tempi".

Butler went on for a further three years study with Diran Alexanian at the cole Normale in Paris which was important in an entirely different way from Klengel. Alexanian went into minute detail about every aspect of the music and Butler remembered how Pablo Casals and Emanuel Feuermann and many other famous musicians would sit in on the sessions.

Butler made her London debut recital at the Wigmore Hall in 1930 and received encouraging reviews which led to a number of solo engagements. These included playing the Haydn D Major Concerto in the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, deputising at the last moment for the indisposed Thelma Reiss. It was around this time that the great Portuguese cellist Guilhermina Suggia heard her and was very impressed. In 1937, Butler and the violinist Marjorie Hayward and pianist Kathleen Markwell formed a piano trio, the "Kamaran" which soon gained a reputation and broadcast frequently.

One of Butler's indelible memories was of a Prom in August 1940 when she was playing the Brahms Double Concerto with the violinist Arthur Catterall. Halfway through the evening the air-raid siren sounded, and since regulations did not permit anyone to go on the streets during a raid, nobody could leave the hall. The concert continued, but when the planned programme had finished, the musicians decided to band together to provide an extended number of items.

Butler and Harvey Phillips played a two-cello arrangement of the sonata for two violins by Handel, followed by the Schumann Piano Quintet and so on throughout the night. In the early hours of the morning when the "All Clear" signal was given, audience and musicians departed weary but happy. Butler told me: "It was the most exciting and inspiring experience, and symbolic of good triumphing over evil". Later during the war, Butler appeared in many of the lunch-time series of concerts at the National Gallery organised by Myra Hess.

From this time Butler had a continuous stream of engagements both as a soloist and chamber music player, playing with many of the well-known instrumentalists of the day. In 1941, she married the pianist, Norman Greenwood, who unfortunately was called up the day after their wedding. When he was demobilised they appeared frequently in sonata recitals and broadcasts from the BBC and became known for their innately musical interpretation, especially of the work of contemporary British composers. (Their son, Richard Greenwood, is also a pianist.)

The composer Arthur Honegger was a personal friend and Butler played his cello sonata in Paris with Honneger's wife as her partner on the piano; Butler always felt an affinity with this work because Honneger was able to advise them personally.

When her husband died in 1962, Butler gave sonata recitals with a number of pianists including Angus Morrison, but her concert activities were gradually overtaken when she started to teach because she found it increasingly rewarding. Many of the younger generation of cellists who are in the public eye today remember her as being a very understanding and helpful teacher, but not so understanding if the student lacked musical integrity.

The violinist Maria Lidka, a close friend with whom she played many times, told me that she held strong convictions on many issues and was very outspoken when the need arose. As a person she was kind and generous and friendship, for her, meant total loyalty. These qualities came out in her playing which was innately musical with an almost spiritual quality, best illustrated in her performances of the Bach Solo Suites, to which she remained devoted to the end of her life.

Antonia Katharine Margaret Butler, cellist: born London 1 June 1909; married 1941 Norman Greenwood (died 1962; one son); died Farningham, Kent 18 July 1997.

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

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up