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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral