OBITUARY: Brian Brockless

Richard Williams
Thursday 28 December 1995 00:02 GMT

A fine choral and orchestral conductor, gifted technically in his ability to convey by gesture alone a clarity of performance purpose, Brian Brockless will be remembered for his work with many orchestras in Britain and abroad and for his long tenure, from 1961 to 1971 and from 1979 until his death, as Director of Music at St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, in London. Mark Brown of Pro Cantione Antiqua calls him "a leading light in the renaissance of Renaissance music".

The nephew of George Brockless (Head of Music at Battersea Polytechnic), he was educated at the Stationers' Company School and the Royal College of Music. There, the great influence was his composition teacher, Herbert Howells, seen at its strongest in his English Elegy for String Orchestra, dedicated to Howells and originally the slow movement of the quartet written for his BMus examination. Although his own compositions show many more influences, the principal lesson that he learnt from Howells was "how to live".

He studied organ with John Dykes Bower and accompaniment with Hubert Dawkes. He pursued composition studies with Mtys Seiber. He openly acknowledged his debt to his conducting mentor, Sergiu Celibadache, with whom he studied at the Accademia Musicale in Siena from 1960 to 1963, and later in Bologna, winning the 1963 conducting prize. As his assistant he worked with Celibadache throughout Europe and appeared as guest conductor in Romania, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Venezuela. His own career included concerts with the English Chamber Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Northern Sinfonia, and the musical directorship of the London Schubert Orchestra. He made many broadcasts and pioneered the presentation of choral music on the then new ITV with the series A Date with Music.

Brockless was well grounded in the repertoire from an early appointment as Organist of St Mary, Aldermary, in London, and as deputy at the Savoy Chapel. His understanding of choral music came from his own skills as a singer. He deployed his counter-tenor voice as a soloist with his sister Pauline in Wigmore Hall recitals, as a choir member of the Savoy Chapel, of Henry Washington's Schola Polyphonica and the Elizabethan Singers. He directed the choir and orchestra at Goldsmiths' College and founded the Priory Festival Choir. In addition to his choir at Smithfield, he founded the St Bartholomew Singers (now the Pro Cantione Antiqua).

A superb teacher, Brockless was Professor of Harmony and Orchestration at the Royal Academy of Music for two decades and ran a conducting class at Morley College. From the 1950s he worked with his uncle at Battersea Polytechnic; when it became the University of Surrey in 1967 he became its first Musical Director. His greatest achievement in education, as Senior Lecturer, was the design of the university's music degree course, innovative and influential in being the first to acknowledge the importance of the recording industry by the inclusion of the Tonmeister course.

He left a small but fine legacy of compositions. A technically demanding Introduction, Passacaglia and Coda was written for Francis Jackson for the 900th anniversary celebrations of Westminster Abbey in 1966. Few recordings exist of his music, though he himself recorded this work in a 1983 collection of English church music with his own church choir. Other recently reissued organ compositions include Prelude, Toccatand Chaconne, the Fantasia, Adagio and Fugue written for the 1969 Cheltenham Festival, a Toccatina, and Toccata for an Occasion commissioned for the Peterborough Organ Weeks.

Brian Brockless, conductor, composer, organist and educator: born 21 January 1926; married 1950 Muriel Jones (one son; marriage dissolved), 1976 Jennifer Wright (one son); died Ripley 18 December 1995.

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