Obituary: David Cox

Graham Melville-Mason
Friday 04 April 1997 23:02

Anyone who has ever tuned in to hear the news on the BBC World Service over the past 30 years will have become familiar with the lively, foot-tapping arrangement of "Lillibulero" which has so reassuringly introduced the programme on the hour. Its arranger was David Cox, for many years a gentle and most popular figure in the corridors of the BBC.

All his life a man of Kent, he was born in Broadstairs and except for his early years, when the family lived in Australia, and a short time in London after the death of his first wife, he was devoted to his homes first in Dunton Green, then Magpie Bottom and latterly at Pratt's Bottom, all in the Orpington and Sevenoaks area. On returning to England from Australia in 1935 he entered the Royal College of Music, where his composition teachers were Ralph Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells, with another composer, Arthur Benjamin, for piano, from 1937 to 1939. At the same time he was an organ scholar at Worcester College, Oxford, until 1940, serving also as assistant organist at Christ Church Cathedral. His war service was with the RAF from 1941 to 1945, when he also played the clarinet in the RAF Band.

After the war Cox joined the BBC, where he was to remain until his retirement in 1976. His first appointment was as a music producer and with the World Service, where he started with the Latin American services. From there he went to the Third Programme before returning to Bush House in l956 to become music organiser for the overseas services for the rest of his career.

On his retirement his association with the BBC continued until 1989 as a valuable member of the Audition Panel, listening anonymously to would-be young broadcasters, as well as being a member of the larger group of prestigious musicians who gave their time as members of the outside Listening Panel, independently reporting on the standards of first broadcasts of artists. Both of these tasks he took very seriously and reported with perception and fairness.

The music of Peter Warlock was particularly dear to David Cox and gives a clue to his own compositional style. This is heard to its best in his Three Songs from John Donne of 1959 and the Five Songs after John Milton of 1975. In addition to his arrangements and signature tunes, his best known orchestral work is the overture London Calling which he wrote for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the BBC External Sorvices and first performed in 1982, in which he incorporated not only "Lillibulero" but other themes associated with the service.

Choral works also feature in his output, many of them festival commissions. Among these are the Cantata of Beasts (1957), Songs of Earth and Air, on texts of Dryden (1960) and A Greek Cantata (1967). In 1969 his one opera, The Children in the Forest, used his own libretto adapted from the Arthur Ransome story and was written for the Cookham Festival. A number of attractive piano works and music for recorder and piano make up his principal instrumental works.

The Henry Wood Proms (1980) and Debussy Orchestral Music (1974) will remain his main books but his contributions to the study of the music of Warlock should not be forgotten, notably in Peter Warlock: a centenary celebration (1994) which he compiled and edited with John Bishop. He was a regular contributor to musical periodicals and wrote a number of articles for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980).

His particular musical interests were for English music of the 20th century, with French music coming a close second. After his retirement he considered writing a philosophical study on the essence and meaning of music but this never progressed beyond long and fascinating discussions on the topic with his musical friends and colleagues. He also wrote a novel, based in Yugoslavia, which remains unpublished.

David Cox was a good friend in the best sense of the term. His quiet, sincere manner and occasional hesitancy in conversation concealed a sharp, searching and perceptive mind. A fine linguist and fascinating conversationalist, his gently dry humour matched a remarkable patience occasionally disturbed only by some of the more extremes of modern music or the later trends in music broadcasting.

David Vassall Cox, composer: born Broadstairs, Kent 4 February 1916; married 1954 Barbara Butche r (died 1982; one son, two daughters), 1992 Sybil Bell; died Pratt's Bottom 31 January 1997.

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