Obituary: David Hartigan

Peter F. Hullah
Monday 10 February 2014 16:32

David Hartigan was a member of the keyboard staff of Chetham's School of Music, in Manchester, for over 25 years and his musical gifts flourished most strongly through his contact with pupils. It is likely that he could have developed a career as a piano soloist; however he found more fulfilment in the music room and the drawing-room than on the concert-hall platform.

Born in Stockport in 1946, the son of an amateur violinist father, Hartigan first discovered his love of music while at Stockport School. Moving to the Royal Manchester College of Music, he gained inspiration from the pianists Derek Wyndham and Ryszard Bakst, who detected a highly unusual musical talent beginning to emerge. Hartigan always had broad horizons, and enjoyed the company of a wide circle of friends. He went on to study with Walter Klein in Salzburg and this not only introduced him to different styles of music-making but also opened his eyes to literature and culture.

As a teacher at Chetham's from 1971 he was a mentor, encouraging his pupils to achieve both technical excellence and depth of meaning, while playing as soloists or as chamber musicians. His hallmark was his respect and admiration for the discoveries in meaning which pupils made for themselves. Through experience he learned the art of when to intervene and correct and when to stand back and allow talent to flourish in its own individual direction. Never possessive of his students, he sought opportunities for them to study with other great teachers and was constantly in search of funds to enable young people to travel abroad, for masterclasses and concerts.

Hartigan himself appreciated all that was best in the performance of music. He rarely missed a production at Covent Garden. He was excited at the possibilities which now exist in Manchester with the opening of the Bridgewater Hall and was keen to encourage all musicians to attend recitals and concerts. He would willingly travel with them and many pupils will remember his company and his conversations on these journeys.

Hartigan's great skills as a teacher were put to best effect with those pupils whom many found difficult to teach. He often championed the cause of the young talented musicians who were least certain of their own talents or the direction of their lives. His work was inspired by a passionate caring that talent should not be wasted.

Following his death a fund has been set up at Chetham's for "The David Hartigan Memorial Piano Award", primarily designed to assist young pianists in their education.

With his broad, robust build, tall frame and rugged good looks one might have guessed that David Hartigan was a handsome Northern hill farmer rather than a sensitive and inspiring music teacher, writes Derek Granger. But Hartigan had always vigorously engaged in any number of demanding athletic pursuits. As an exceptionally powerful swimmer he had taken part in several marathon swims for charity. He was also a keen energetic cyclist, a strong long-distance swimmer and a regular weightlifter and body- builder.

What his friends will chiefly recall, however, is the abounding and undeviating good nature that was the true mark of his personality and which not only made him the most painstaking, caring and patient of teachers but also the most warm-hearted, convivial and companionable of friends.

Hartigan was totally without pretension and always remained close to his Northern roots. Although tempted from time to time by offers of work elsewhere he remained deeply loyal to Chetham's famous school of music, which he loved, and he chose to remain in Manchester, making that city the centre of his life and work. Manchester duly rewarded his gregarious appetite for social life by providing him with a broad circle of friends. At home in the leafy Stockport suburb of Heaton Moor (where he was also an enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener) he generously entertained his friends and relished cooking dinner for his guests, drawn from a wide range of Manchester's professional and artistic worlds and often playing the piano for them afterwards.

But the instantly appealing qualities of Hartigan's character, a natural openness and good-heartedness combined with a ready wit and distinct social flair, gave him also a natural entree into a wider world of cosmopolitan artistic and Bohemian life. He had been the guest of Somerset Maugham at his villa, La Mauresque, near Cap Ferrat, where he became a close friend of Maugham's secretary, Alan Searle. He had stayed in Hollywood with the great American-Hungarian film-maker George Cukor, veteran director of Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn. In Salzburg, where he was a frequent visitor for the annual Mozart festival, he had been entertained by the great Philadelphian art collector Henry McIlhenny. On the weekend before his death Hartigan had been staying in Oxfordshire with his old friend Sir Hardy Amies, where he had helped to arrange the Christmas concert at the village church of Langford. (In 1989 Hartigan had also arranged the London concert in celebration of Amies's 80th birthday.)

In 1973 Hartigan provided the music for a Granada Television drama Poor Girl, adapted from a ghost story by the novelist Elizabeth Taylor. He had chosen the incidental music from the piano compositions of Schumann, one of his favourite composers, which he performed himself with his own delicate and masterly touch.

David Hartigan, pianist and music teacher: born 15 July 1946; teacher of piano, Chetham's School of Music 1971-96, assistant head of keyboard 1996; died Oakmere, Cheshire 31 December 1996.

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