The English soprano Una Barry has allowed us to share her reflections on the death of her much-loved teacher, Anna Reynolds.
Anna never sent Christmas cards from Germany but always made a point of ringing us all up at Christmas, and last Christmas was no exception, and when I promised somehow I would get to see her this year. It was always much nicer and more personal than a card. She was fun and we never failed over the years to had a good laugh with her. The last time I spoke to Anna was towards the end of January before I went to Turkey to tell her that I was going to be singing in Salzburg at the end of May, and had added on a couple of extra days to the flight home from Munich so I could get to see her at last. Alas, it was not meant to be.
Anna taught me a lot when I studied with her in Germany in three or four weekly bursts a year from 2002 to 2004. She made it affordable and worthwhile, and we were able to stay in her huge house as part of the deal – a converted barn! She has got me singing far more opera, albeit too late in life, but still it was a good development and she made me work. It was only the ever changing circumstances at home in London that made it more difficult for me to go to Germany to study singing with her and Jean. It was always fun going over there and on my last trip to see her in July 2009, she generously gave me the treat of going to Bayreuth to see Götterdammerung where I remember our own Andrew Shaw sang everyone off the stage!
Anna met the American tenor, Jean Cox, whilst singing Wagner at Bayreuth. She married Jean and moved permanently to Germany, giving up her career so that she could be there for him and for his career, which she felt by then was far more important and high profile than hers. She kept her little house in Fulham all those years, and so they used to come to London for a few weeks once or twice a year, and always came to us for a meal in Bow when over, driving all the way from South Germany in a four-wheel drive full of stuff! Jean was then diagnosed with Parkinsons. He was very poorly even in 2009 but still at home when I was there visiting them. He died only last June at the age of 90, and she certainly was there for him right up to the end, giving up most of her teaching to care for him with the help of other professional carers coming into the house. He was then admitted to a home for some months, where Anna would visit him daily with the help of friends and neighbours doing the daily 30-mile round trip she too had given up driving by then.
After Jean’s death, Anna started doing a bit of teaching again. Her memory was failing her a bit, which she admitted to herself and which we sort of noticed, but then there was nothing wrong with her ears as a teacher, or her mind in conversation, or her fine piano playing, or her opinion on some of the singers around today, particularly the ‘commercial celebrity singers’! It was also obvious to us that she missed Jean enormously. Many of us used to ring her up more often for a chat from then on, which she loved. It seemed to us that life became difficult living in such an enormous house on her own at the age of 82 or 83, which was somewhat in the middle of nowhere, but was great for so many years when it was full to bursting with students and a place from where they used to run courses and small-scale operas long before I ever met them.
Karl Anton Rickenbacher, the Swiss conductor who studied in Berlin with Herbert von Karajan and made may recordings, died in Montreux yesterday, aged 73.
He held chief conductor posts in Westphalia, Scotland and Belgium, but was best known for outstanding recordings with Bavarian Radio, the London Philharmonic and Budapest Symphony orchestras.
Our sympathies to his family and many friends
Press Release 28 Feb 2014
Swiss conductor Karl Anton Rickenbacher
20 May 1940 (Basel) – 28 Feb 2014 (Montreux)
While sitting at his piano at home this morning studying the score of Mahler Totenfeier,
the celebrated Swiss conductor, Karl Anton Rickenbacher, suffered a heart attack and died
suddenly. Beloved husband of the former ballerina, Gaye Fulton, and devoted step father to
her two sons and three grand children, this energetic, life and soul of the party personality, is
suddenly gone. As a conductor, Karl Anton was part of the continuum of the grand German
tradition; a former student of Karajan and Boulez and assistant to Klemperer, he spent his
life delving and researching in depth into every piece he conducted. It seems ﬁtting that he
passed away surrounded by his scores and books in his study at home, while thinking deeply
about the Mahler score at his piano.
Karl Anton Rickenbacher was born in Basel in 1940 and studied with Herbert
Ahlendorf at the Berlin conservatory and privately with Herbert von Karajan and Pierre
Boulez. He began his career as a répétiteur and staff conductor at the Opernhaus Zürich
(1967–69) and the Städtische Bühnen Freiburg (1969–75), during which time his development
was decisively inﬂuenced by another great conductor, Otto Klemperer, who described him as
‘one of the most talented conductors of the younger generation’. Subsequently he shifted his
activities to the concert hall and was appointed general music director of the Westphalian
Symphony Orchestra in Recklinghausen (1976–85) and principal conductor of the BBC
Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow (1978–80). He famously campaigned to save the
BBCSSO during the time of attempted cut backs to BBC orchestras in 1980. At the same
time, he began appearing regularly in Europe, North America, and Japan as a guest
conductor. In 1987 he was appointed principal guest conductor of the Belgian BRT
His large discography—chieﬂy in collaboration with the Bamberg, Bavarian Radio,
Berlin Radio, London Philharmonic and Budapest Symphony orchestras—includes a number
of ﬁrst recordings of works by Beethoven, Wagner, Bruckner, Liszt, and Mahler, as well as
Humperdinck, Hindemith, Milhaud (awarded the Grand Prix du Disque), Zemlinsky, and
Hartmann (Cannes Classical Award). In 1999 his recording of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme
(with a text by Sir Peter Ustinov) won the German Echo Preis as Best Classical Recording of
the Year. He won an Echo Prize again the following year for his recording of Messiaen’s
oratorio La Transﬁguration, and another in 2001 for a CD in the Unknown Richard Strauss
After Karl Anton Rickenbacher’s American debut in 1989, Musical America wrote:
‘… Rickenbacher has Klemperer’s musical depth and probing insight, Boulez’s eye for
detail, and the zest and energy that have characterised Karajan at his best.’
Olivier Messiaen spoke of Rickenbacher as ‘a great conductor of our time, who discerns
precisely the relevant aesthetics of each work’.
The programme of Richard Strauss, Metamorphosen, Olivier Messiaen, Offrandes
oubliées and Gustav Mahler Mouvement symphonique (Totenfeier) which Karl Anton was to
conduct with the Orchestre de la Haute Ecole de Musique de Genève on the 16th of March
is a quintessential Rickenbacher programme. This concert at the Espace Ville de Genève will
now be dedicated to the memory of Karl Anton Rickenbacher.
(Conductor and step son of Karl Anton Rickenbacher)
A week tomorrow sees the launch of my BBC Radio 3 series, Music and the Jews.
I have written a long essay in today’s Guardian, covering some of the background, and a shorter one in the new Standpoint, dealing with some of the arguments as to what, exactly, might be considered Jewish in music.
Avoiding futile, sectarian debate over ‘Jewish music’, I examine two simple issues: how music shaped Jewish identity, how Jews shaped the world’s music.
Read the Guardian here and Standpoint here.
There are still a few tickets available for my Jewish Book Week session tomorrow, Music and Jews under the Nazis.
The Radio 3 microsite is here. The series goes live on March 9 at 1845 London time.
Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord….