Obituary: Sir Keith Falkner

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The Independent Online
Donald Keith Falkner, singer and teacher: born Sawston, Cambridgeshire 1 March 1900; Music Officer for Italy, British Council 1946-50; Professor of Singing, Cornell University 1950-60; Director, Royal College of Music 1960-74, Vice-President 1984- 94; Kt 1967; FRSA 1979; Artistic Director, King's Lynn Festival 1981- 83; Editor, Voice 1983-94; married 1930 Christabel Fullard (died 1990; two daughters); died Ilketshall St Margaret, Suffolk 17 May 1994.

SIR KEITH Falkner was Director of the Royal College of Music from 1960 until 1974, writes Michael Gough Matthews. During his years at Cornell he undoubtedly acquired the skill in dealing with young musicians which was such a notable feature of his directorship. His achievements were remarkable, and they were the result of the kind of man he was rather than a desire to initiate change or adopt new trends in education for their own sake.

In common with many other British institutions, the college had undergone 20 years of hardship, structural damage due to air raids, financial difficulties and austerity of every kind. Understandably, perhaps, austerity had eaten into the soul of the place. Courses were mostly limited to three years' duration, a retirement age for professors was enforced inflexibly, with no regard for musical distinction or their ability to attract gifted students to the institution and, despite the efforts of many, some of us who were students at that time felt that administrative convenience had assumed greater importance than students' needs and the response required to meet rapidly changing conditions for professional musicians.

Keith Falkner's generosity of spirit, his integrity, his humanity and his constant concern for others inspired all who came into contact with him. His loyalty to the college he loved was apparent till the end of his long life, and he took a keen interest in celebrations held last month to mark the centenary of the opening of Blomfield's building in Prince Consort Road.

It is hard now to imagine that one man was directly responsible for so many of the things we take for granted. Masterclasses were given by such distinguished musicians as Nadia Boulanger, Andre Navarra, Luigi Dallapiccola, Daniel Barenboim, and Leopold Stokowski. One of the nation's greatest collections of manuscripts was returned from the British Museum and housed in the restored Parry Library in 1961. He persuaded a supportive Council that a public appeal was necessary in order to construct the 1965 building containing a recital hall, many teaching and practice rooms, the Lending Library and the first Electronic Music Studio in a British music college. The Museum of Instruments to house the famous Donaldson Collection was opened in 1970. A hostel was acquired for students, named after his friend Sir Robert Mayer, and the staff of the college had the benefit of the provision of the Senior Common Room, furnished by another friend, Peter Morrison.

When Falkner was in college his door was never closed to anyone, and as a result of his open regime and excellent relationship with the student body the college escaped the disruptive unrest which blighted so many colleges and universities in the Sixties and Seventies.

Like the founding Director of the Royal College of Music, Sir George Grove, Keith Falkner had wide horizons and he instituted exchange concerts and scholarships both in Europe and elsewhere. He was one of the original founders of the Association of Heads of European Conservatoires, and later its President. His directorship paved the way for the large percentage of overseas students who now choose to study at the college.

No record of Falkner's achievements as Director is complete without reference to his wife's total support and devotion both to him and to the college. Christabel was herself a pianist, and she bestowed quietly and unostentatiously many acts of kindness on staff and students.

The composer Herbert Howells, another close friend, wrote in the RCM Magazine when Falkner retired, 'He was rich in powers of guidance and had rare gifts of sympathy and disciplined equanimity. He took the RCM into Europe, widened its interests, thought of its mission and influence as reaching far beyond the Albert Memorial.'

Nothing would please Keith Falkner more than to know that these views which he strove so successfully to re-establish within the college he loved are still the underlying principle upon which its educational policy is based.

(Photograph omitted)