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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea