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)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital