Heartfelt laments for Sir Stephen Cleobury

Heartfelt laments for Sir Stephen Cleobury


norman lebrecht

November 24, 2019

Tributes are being posted online for the recently retired director of music at Kings College Cambridge, who died on Friday at the age of 70.

Never outwardly an emotional man, Stephen concealed behind an unfailing politeness a deep sense of feeling for his fellow-humans. It was impossible to come away from him, in my experience, without renewed respect.

Here’s a sampling of the tributes:

The composer Judith Bingham: Is it too early for anecdotes about Stephen Cleobury? His super-preparedness: first rehearsal as chief conductor of the BBC Singers. He talks us through the piece we’re about to sing. I put my hand up. ‘Yes, Judith, it’s an A natural,’ he said, before I’d even asked the question. And he had guessed right. I shall miss him, miss hearing that much impersonated voice again. His behaviour over the last year or so has been extraordinarily brave, altruistic and dutiful, an example I won’t ever forget.

The conductor David Hill:

The composer Gabriel Jackson: He was a devoted custodian of the English choral tradition at its finest, a musician of rare integrity, a meticulous, conscientious interpreter and always a pleasure to work with. What he gave to music is without price.

Glen Dempsey, organist at King’s Ely: I’m sure everyone’s thoughts are with Emma and Stephen’s young family. It’s difficult to imagine that many people have given more dedicated service to church music and music generally. At King’s alone he must have seen through around 400 choristers, choral scholars and organ scholars, many of whom have gone on to carry the torch for choral music to hundreds of others themselves. I believe that during his first term at King’s he was concurrently DoM at Westminster Cathedral – in fact the more I’ve thought about it, the more it seems that he must have had twice the hours in a day compared to the rest of us! I think all his successors as organ scholars at St John’s have at least once thought about Stephen’s amazing organ-playing – I know for joint services I’ve thought, ‘I’d better make sure this is good, because it would have been perfect in the late 60s!’ Given his lifelong dedication to his work, it seems so unjust that he was unable to enjoy a well-deserved retirement. After a long period of ill health, he is at least now at peace.

Anastasia Micklethwaite‎: Stephen you were such a generous man and a wonderful musician. It was a pleasure to be conducted by you, back in my student days and to be able to square the circle and bring many of my own pupils to hear King’s College choir sing in Cambridge and sit in on rehearsals and services. Thank you Stephen for your kindness of heart and for all that you gave us. Requiem in Pace

The pianist Richard Gowers:

Alex Eadon: Not unexpected, but very sad news nevertheless. I owe this man an incredible amount. Rest in peace, Sir Stephen.

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heav’n: to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitation of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.



  • Mark Wakelam says:

    I never had the privilege of meeting him but his legacy is truly a great one.Requiescat in pace.

  • Peter Britton says:

    Chorus angelorum te suscipiat

  • Colin Dunn says:

    How unnecessary on the one hand, and ignorant on the other.

  • Jon H says:

    All I can say is best of luck to Daniel Hyde, on Christmas Eve especially. Big shoes to fill, but then – you’ve seen how it’s done from the organ bench at King’s.

    • Brook Eggleston says:

      Of course, Sir Stephen was once in the same position! I’m sure he will be there, providing support from above!!