OBITUARY: Robert Marchant

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The Independent Online
In the immediate post-war years several redbrick universities made their first musical appointments, initially to foster music-making on campus or take extra-mural classes. The appointee would usually hope to establish an academic department in music. Robert Marchant pursued this path in Hull, in 1947 joining what was then a University College and remaining in post until his retirement in 1979.

Marchant was born in Mansfield, the son of a gentleman's outfitter, and educated at the local Queen Elizabeth Grammar School. He went up to St John's College, Cambridge, to study Modern Languages but switched to Classics and gained his first degree in that subject. He then took a Bachelorship of Music in 1939 and with the onset of the Second World War immediately entered the Army, first as a motor-cycle despatch rider and subsequently volunteering to assist the code-breaking effort at Bletchley Park, as a translator. During that time he also played as cellist in the string quartet set up by the musician Andre Mangeot.

After the war he returned to Cambridge to begin research into early opera. That project was never completed as he secured the post at Hull and busied himself initiating musical activities.

The move to establish degree courses at Hull was quickly accomplished, the degrees taught being London ones until the college became Hull University in 1954. Marchant's early colleagues included John Joubert and Denis Arnold. Building his department at a time of relative plenty, he enjoyed two accommodation upgrades over a 30-year period, acquired a good stock of instruments and saw the creation of one of the finest of university auditoria - the Middleton Hall.

Marchant saw performance as an indispensible adjunct to the academic study of music and was himself an inspiring conductor. The climax of his career in this capacity was perhaps the first performance in East Yorkshire of the Berlioz Requiem in Beverley Minster. Bach and Beethoven were the other two of his personal Three Bs.

A stimulating teacher, he was appointed Professor of Music in 1976, and saw his graduates move on to high positions in arts administration, at the BBC, the Conservatoires, cathedral organ lofts, the King's Singers and Deutsche Grammophon - to name but a few destinations.

After retirement Marchant returned to his other main interest in life, making a new study of the plays of Euripides. He was for many years president of both the Classical Association of Hull and the Hull Chamber Music Club. He composed songs and instrumental works, displaying a fluent piano technique in their performance. His interest in music education stayed with him long after he left centre stage, as was reflected in his endowment at Hull of the Marchant String Scholarships.

Brian Newbould

Robert Brandwood Marchant, musician: born Mansfield, Nottinghamshire 10 February 1916; Director of Music, Hull University 1947-76, Professor of Music 1976-79; died Hull 4 July 1995.