Barbirolli, Sir John (actually, Giovanni Battista)

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Barbirolli, Sir John (actually, Giovanni Battista)

Barbirolli, Sir John (actually, Giovanni Battista), eminent English conductor of Italian-French descent; b. London, Dec. 2, 1899; d. there, July 29, 1970. He studied cello. He received a scholarship to London’s Trinity Coll. of Music in 1910 and another to London’s Royal Academy of Music, graduating in 1916. He made his first appearance as a cellist at the age of 12 on Dec. 16, 1911, at the Queen’s Hall in London. In 1916 he became a member of the Queen’s Hall Orch. In 1923 he joined the International String Quartet and toured with it. In 1924 he organized a chamber orch. in Chelsea, which he conducted for several years. He was a conductor with the British National Opera Co. (1926–29). He gained recognition on Dec. 12, 1927, when he successfully substituted for Beecham at a concert of the London Sym. Orch. In 1928 he was a guest conductor at London’s Covent Garden, and a regular conductor there from 1929 to 1933. In 1933 he was named conductor of the Scottish Orch., Glasgow, and the Leeds Sym. Orch. He made his American debut with the N.Y. Phil. on Nov. 5, 1936, and was engaged as its permanent conductor in 1937. However, he failed to impress the N.Y. critics, and in 1943 he returned to England, where he was named conductor of the Hallé Orch. of Manchester. In 1958 he was appointed its conductor-in-chief. Renewing his American career, he served as conductor of the Houston Sym. Orch. (1961–67), while continuing his tenancy of the Hallé Orch., from which he finally retired in 1968 with the title of Conductor Laureate for Life. He was knighted in 1949 and made a Companion of Honour in 1969. A commemorative postage stamp with his portrait was issued by the Post Office of Great Britain on Sept. 1, 1980. Barbirolli was distinguished primarily in the Romantic repertoire. His interpretations were marked by nobility, expressive power, and brilliance. He had a fine pragmatic sense of shaping the music according to its inward style, without projecting his own personality upon it. However, this very objectivity tempered his success with American audiences, accustomed to charismatic flamboyance. He had a special affinity for English music, and performed many works of Elgar, Delius, and Britten. He conducted the first performances of the 7th and 8th syms. by Vaughan Williams. He also made transcriptions for string orch. and horns of five pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (perf. by him under the title Elizabethan Suite in Los Angeles, Dec. 4, 1941). For his second wife, Lady Evelyn Barbirolli, he composed an Oboe Concerto on themes by Pergolesi.


C. Rigby, J. B. (Altrincham, 1948); M. Kennedy, Hallé Orch. (Manchester, 1968; rev. ed., 1976); idem, B., Conductor Laureate (London, 1971); C. Reid, J. B. (London, 1971); H. Atkins and P. Cotes, The B.s: A Musical Marriage (London, 1983).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Barbirolli, Sir John (actually, Giovanni Battista)

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