An encyclopedia of music has died

An encyclopedia of music has died


norman lebrecht

May 28, 2014

We regret to report the death of Malcolm MacDonald, a polymath of musical knowledge who wrote so copiously that one name was not enough. He also appeared beneath the byline Calum MacDonald.

Malcolm wrote or edited some 15 books and was editor of Tempo magazine. His fields of expertise were legion, embracing Brahms, Schoenberg, Havergal Brian, Panufnik, the Scottish composer John Foulds, Alan Bush, Shostakovich, Bernard Stevens, Roberto Gerhard and Luigi Dallapiccola.

Malcolm had been suffering from cancer. He was 66. Our sympathies to his family; we have lost a veritable storehouse of wisdom and a passionate enthusiast for recondite corners of the art.




  • RichardBratby says:

    Shocked and saddened by this. Incredibly sad – I knew he was ill but Malcolm being Malcolm he never hinted at how bad it was; he was bearing it philosophically. We were exchanging cat books and talking about him coming to hear the Bantock Pagan Symphony in Birmingham in November just last month.

    The greatest living authority on Brahms and Schoenberg, the most passionate and informed champion of every unfashionable cause in British music from Foulds to Sorabji; a lucid and scholarly writer, an understated and engaging pre-concert speaker, and a kind, patient, thoughtful and gentle man. A terribly sad loss.

  • David Starobin says:

    I’m devastated by the news. Just two weeks ago Malc took on another assignment for us here at Bridge Records. I knew it might not happen, but in hindsight, love him for his optimism! For many years he has been our finest annotator- a model of musical discrimination, curiosity and wisdom. He was a dear friend to Becky and me. We will miss him tremendously.

  • Alistair Hinton says:

    I can do no better than wholeheartedly endorse Richard Bratby’s comments above. I had not seen Malcolm for some years and was unaware of his illness but we’d remained in email contact; his last to me, from mid-March last year, began “I’m very well, thanks” – which now turns out to have been far from the case. He leaves an unfillable gap – well, two such, if you count his alter ego Calum; I once said to him that his copious and diligent hard work had prompted me to invent a third one for him, namely “Malcolm MacCallum”, to which he instantly replied that he must be the one who continues to write while the other two are asleep. Now, most sadly, they’re all asleep…


  • Alistair Hinton says:

    I’m unaware that John Foulds – for the restitution of whose reputation Malcolm was almost single-handedly responsible – was a Scottish composer, although the subject of Malcolm’s “Ronald Stevenson: A Musical Biography” certainly is! Another major volume by Malcolm is “Varèse: Astronomer in Sound” and demonstrates once again the sheer range of his interests and knowledge.

    • Keane Southard says:

      “I’m unaware that John Foulds…was a Scottish composer.” It makes sense that you would be unaware of this, because it isn’t true.

  • Robert says:

    Would that I had myself met the man (the men?). As it was, I miss him merely as a reader of his prose. Among his enthusiasms (less famous than his work on Brahms and Schoenberg, but still profound) was Hindemith, whom he intelligently and analytically championed at a time when more fashionable scribes could not have cared less.

    And only 66 years old, hell, that’s no age to be departing this life.

  • Gerard McBurney says:

    This will be very shocking news for Malcolm’s many many friends around the world. Special love and sympathy to Libby.

  • Liudmila Kovnatskaya (St Petersburg, RF) says:

    Most sad loss! Malcolm was a scholarly writer on music, skillful editor-in-chief and faithful friend. I will miss him.

  • Paul Rapoport says:

    How dispiritingly fitting that the last two times I saw him were at the Gothic in Brisbane and the Gothic in London. My friend of 45 years, a devastating loss.

  • Colin Mackie says:

    Malcolm had been ill for quite a long time but had seemed to be coping remarkably with such a serious illness, indeed to the extent that in correspondence we simply ignored it.Malcolm and I became very close friends at school when I was about 14 and he a year younger. We shared a burning passion for Music, J.R.R. Tolkien and Roman and Naval History. My first holiday abroad was as a guest of his mother and father. I spent huge amounts of my free time in his company. Although our paths separated when he went off to Downing College, Cambridge in 1966 we kept in regular touch during term times and saw each other a lot through the vacations. In 1967 Malcolm, Hugh Macdonald and I had a memorable holiday together in Rome. Malcom wrote me a letter every week from Cambridge for the next four years, letters packed with news about his activities and his observations on music, letters always many pages long. I have them all still, bundled together. We saw far too little of each other over the last 40 years but kept in touch by letter and email. I viewed with huge admiration his achievements in writing his marvellous books on Brahms, Schoenberg and, of course, Havergal Brian-on whom he became the leading authority (and whose name he first heard of from me 51 years ago now). He has at least lived to see almost all of the HB symphonies on disc but his three incredibly eloquent volumes on these symphonies represent part, but a major part, of a legacy of writing on music which was revered by other writers. I find it extremely difficult to accept his death (the second of my oldest and dearest friends to die within the last three months). I owe to Malcolm and my own late father so much of my love of music. I deeply mourn his passing.

  • Johan Herrenberg (in Delft, the Netherlands) says:

    I cannot add much to everything that has already been said about the amazing Malcolm MacDonald. Only that in 1977, age 16, in an Amsterdam music library, I stumbled upon the first volume of his Havergal Brian series, while looking for something about Bruckner. I was a budding writer then, with an enormous love of music (of the symphonic and Wagnerian variety). That book changed my life – with the discovery of this, to me, completely unknown composer my self-understanding as a writer was changed and my aesthetics underwent a further crystallisation. Now, 37 years on, Havergal Brian’s style and formal structures, as so brilliantly elucidated by Malcolm MacDonald, have been completely interiorised by me and inform my writing. So, without Malcolm MacDonald, I wouldn’t be who I am today. His loss affects me very deeply.

  • Ian Clark says:

    Sad news. To my shame I knew little of Malcolm’s musical activities, but I remember him as a fellow member of the Downing College University Challenge team in 1968/69, and particularly his saying to me, after I’d cut across him in trying to answer a question, “Never contradict a Scotsman!”

  • Richard Leigh Harris says:

    What a shock! I have only just read the news of Calum’s death. I wrote reviews for him during the many years that he was the fine editor of “Tempo”.
    Our ‘phone chats were few and short, but always friendly. When we last spoke he seemed optimistic but was, no doubt, hiding his real state of health. We only met on one or two occasions, once at the memorable and blazing London premiere of Robert Simpson’s 10th. Symphony and we compared notes, as it were, during the interval.
    A man and musician of great and wide breadth, but also of great humanity and integrity, too; his writings always maintained that balance between enthusiasm and objectivity. A real loss, especially for British music.

  • Michael Graubart says:

    Hearing that Malcolm had died was a shock to me, too, having been out of touch for a while and not knowing even that he was ill. I cannot add anything to what has already been said about the breadth and depth of his scholarship and the quality of his prose; his books and articles speak for themselves. But I can say that, together with David Drew, he taught me to write, sitting with me and my typescript of a long article on Leopold Spinner for a whole afternoon in the TEMPO offices and discussing in the kindest way imaginable (but in hushed tones, for Spinner himself was working in the office above us) every ill-chosen word or misplaced comma. No editorial red pencil, just advice and encouragement. A great scholar and writer and a good and kind man.