Obituary: Joseph Saxby

The world of early music has been dealt a double blow with the deaths of Joseph Saxby and Carl Dolmetsch within just over two weeks. Saxby had been principal harpsichordist at the Haslemere Festival for 60 years and a partner to Carl Dolmetsch in duo recitals which took them all over the world.

Saxby was born in London in 1910, the son of the celebrated Russian violinist Michael Zacharewitsch, who, at the age of 12, had played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the composer conducting. His mother was Joan Saxby, an American, and it was her name that he adopted in order to avoid confusion with his father.

He first appeared on the concert platform as his father's accompanist when he was still in his teens and entered the Royal College of Music in 1927 under Hubert Fryer for piano and composition as his second study. He went on to achieve considerable success as a soloist and accompanist and played for the famous Irish tenor John McCormack on his farewell tour.

It was in 1932 at the Oxford Playhouse that Saxby first met Carl Dolmetsch and his sister Nathalie when they formed a baroque trio to provide incidental music for a Shakespeare production. The experience inspired Saxby to turn to the harpsichord and he subsequently studied with Arnold Dolmetsch, Carl's father and founder of the Haslemere Festival. This was the beginning of a friendship and musical partnership which was to last for over 60 years. "The Dolmetschs are my family," he said.

Dolmetsch and Saxby undertook 49 international tours and gave 42 Wigmore Hall recitals. Saxby first appeared at the Haslemere Festival in 1938 playing the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No 5 and appeared in every subsequent concert until he retired at the age of 80.

Saxby moved to Haslemere after the Second World War and soon became an established local figure. He entered into the life of the town with enthusiasm, playing the piano accompaniment at the annual pantomime, put on by the local amateur dramatic society: he was also available for any charitable cause, which he undertook as if it were an important professional engagement. He was, admittedly, a showman, but always in the best of taste. Each year at the Haslemere Festival, after having played an intricate solo suite with great virtuosity, he would rise, bow, and, with an impish smile, give a sweeping gesture as if to say, "It was nothing."

Saxby was not only a fine musician but a charming, ebullient and lovable man with a wicked twinkle in his eye which captivated all who knew him. His puns were legendary and his sense of humour equally so, but not always complimentary. A story is told about a time when he was chatting to friends in the street and an ambulance screamed past. In a flash, Saxby remarked: "It reminds me of a soprano I once accompanied."

Margaret Campbell

Joseph Michael Zacharewitsch (Joseph Saxby), pianist: born London 3 January 1910; died Haslemere, Surrey 25 June 1997.

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