Sir John Barbirolli

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About Sir John Barbirolli

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the conductor John Barbirolli established Manchester’s Hallé as one of England’s leading orchestras, and his passionate recordings of works by Elgar and Mahler transformed public perception of composers previously considered relics. Born in London in 1899, Barbirolli’s first ambition was to be a conductor. He began, though, as a freelance cellist, playing with London’s leading concert, opera, and ballet orchestras under such conductors as Ansermet, Beecham, and the aforementioned Elgar—for whose music he developed a special empathy—before moving into conducting in the ’20s, principally in opera, including with Covent Garden (from 1929). In 1936, he succeeded Toscanini as principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic, then returned to England in 1943 to become the Hallé’s principal conductor, a post he held to the end of his life. The depth of expression and apparent spontaneity of his performances (his 1964 recording of Elgar’s Second Symphony is a striking example) were the result of long and meticulous preparation—he took up to two years to prepare a Mahler symphony even prior to rehearsals. His repertoire was, therefore, narrower than that of colleagues such as Adrian Boult but nonetheless encompassed Schubert, Beethoven, Verdi, Puccini, Sibelius, and Berg; he also premiered several British works, including Britten’s Violin Concerto (in 1940) and Sinfonia da Requiem (1941) and Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica (in 1953) and Symphony No. 8 (1956). He died in the city of his birth in 1970.

London, England
December 2, 1899

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