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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor