Obituary: Sir Keith Falkner

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.

KEITH FALKNER, the concert singer and recitalist whose extensive, warmly resonant bass-baritone voice and superb diction were much admired, particularly in the music of Bach, throughout Britain, on the Continent and in North America during the 1930s, was also highly successful as a teacher and administrator, working for the British Council in Italy, becoming Professor of Singing (a new post) at Cornell University, and later Director of the Royal College of Music, in London, where he had himself studied.

Born in Cambridgeshire, Keith Falkner was educated as a chorister at New College School, Oxford, during the period when Hugh Allen was organist at the college and the reputation of its choir was especially high. Falkner later went to Perse School, Cambridge, and on leaving school, as the First World War was still in progress, joined the Royal Naval Air Service. On demobilisation he decided to make music his career, and in 1920 he entered the Royal College of Music, where his old mentor Hugh Allen was now director. Falkner remained at the RCM for six years, while from 1923 to 1927 he was a member of the choir of St Paul's Cathedral. In 1924 he created the role of the Constable (father of Mary, the heroine) in Vaughan Williams's first opera, Hugh the Drover, which was given its premiere at the RCM in July that year.

Falkner also studied privately in London with Harry Plunket Greene, the Irish bass-baritone renowned for his beautiful enunciation of the English language when singing, a skill that he communicated and passed on to his pupil. He studied in Vienna, with Theo Lierhammer, and in Berlin with Grenzebach, gaining equal fluency in the German language.

Embarking on a successful career as a singer in London and all over Britain, Falkner made his first grand concert tour of the United States and Canada in 1931, returning there annually until the beginning of the Second World war. He sang twice (1935 and 1937) at the Cincinnati Music Festival, of which Eugene Goossens had become director in 1931, and several times at the Bach Festival held in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He also gave concerts and recitals in the Netherlands, France, Austria and other European countries.

Though his repertory was wide, Falkner became particularly well known for his interpretation of the part of Christus in Bach's St Matthew Passion and for his singing of the bass arias in Bach's Mass in B Minor. He recorded the Matthew Passion complete under Serge Koussevitsky. Falkner was also a fine singer of early English music and his recording of madrigals by Giles Farnaby, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Morley, John Wilbye and Thomas Weelkes, with Isobel Baillie and other soloists, drew praise from Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor in The Record Guide: 'Keith Falkner in particular can he heard drawing a delightfully firm and delicate bass line.'

During the Second World War he served in the Royal Air Force, then in 1946 became director of the British Council in Rome, where he promoted the cause of British music with great success, while still active as a singer himself. In 1950 he was appointed the first Professor of Singing on the Music Faculty of Cornell University, a position he held for a decade. Returning to Britain in 1960, he succeeded Sir Ernest Bullock as director of the Royal College of Music, a post he held for 14 years.

(Photograph omitted)

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits