Donald Mitchell (1925-2017)

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Faber Music is sad to announce the death of Dr Donald Mitchell CBE, our inspirational founder. Mitchell was an extraordinary person whose expertise stretched far and wide, and established him as a world expert in the music of Gustav Mahler and, of course, Benjamin Britten. 

The founding of Faber Music in 1965 was one of Mitchell’s most profound achievements, and the company would not be as it is today without his vision and energy. He was the first Managing Director, then Chairman from 1977 to 1988, after which he assumed the role of President until 1995. Oliver Knussen once said to Mitchell ‘you may not be a composer, but you think like one’, and it was the sheer depth of his musical understanding that set him apart from others in his field. Mitchell was also heavily involved in the work of PRS, becoming chairman in 1990.
Central to Mitchell’s life was an unqualified admiration for Britten’s music. He began writing about the composer in the late 1940s, and never stopped: the immense task of editing the six volumes of Letters from a Life preoccupied him for well over 30 years, although by 2012, when the final volume appeared, he had not been directly involved for some time. Mitchell was the last surviving executor of Britten’s will, becoming director of the Britten-Pears Foundation and chair of the Britten Estate: his tireless advocacy of Britten’s music meant that there was never any posthumous decline in the composer’s reputation. This devotion to Britten was matched by a fascination with the life and music of Mahler, on whom we wrote copiously. Edward Said, in the introduction to Mitchell’s influential study The Language of Modern Music, praised his writing’s ‘passionate unflagging energies, its unshakeable faith in communication and community, its deep love of and concern for music as an aesthetic and social practice’. 
‘As Faber Music’s founder, Mitchell contributed immeasurably to the world of classical contemporary and serious educational music publishing. He was an unfailing champion and supporter of the generations which followed him at the company, including myself. Faber Music’s unique DNA – quality, integrity and a fiercely independent, maverick spirit – is epitomised thWrough the extraordinary list of composers and the single-minded spirit with which he built the business. It is on his shoulders that we now stand, and we owe him a great deal.’
Richard King, CEO of Faber Music
‘I first met Donald in 1965, shortly after he had founded Faber Music. He gave me freelance work – he may have warmed to me because, like him, I didn’t have a music degree, and also I shared his passion for Mahler. Through Donald I met Britten, for whom I worked for four years, and also through Donald I eventually became a Faber Music composer – he encouraged me to write a substantial work that would impress him, and so I wrote my Second Symphony. He became a dear friend and I miss the wonderful talks we had about music. Altogether I think perhaps I owe more to Donald than to any other person in my life. Without him I would not be where I am now.’
David Matthews
‘Beyond the intrepid and courageous step of founding the company, Donald instilled an ethos within Faber Music that remains absolutely unchanged to this day – to serve new music at the highest level of excellence in every possible domain, from the quality of orchestral material to cover design, from exceptional standards of typography to the most energetic and devoted promotion.
Donald loved the arts – and above all music – in every fibre of his being, and that passion lay behind the way he ran the firm. He was also, however, a shrewd businessman and it was the mixture of these two characteristics which gave the company such a tremendous start in the world and which has sustained it now for over a half-century.
But finally Donald was also a very dear friend; I will never be able to describe how much I owe him, nor how much I will miss his presence.’
George Benjamin
‘For someone who had had little formal musical education, Donald’s knowledge of and passion for so many areas of the musical world was remarkable. His devotion to Britten was paralleled by his obsession with Mahler, publishing four studies of the music between 1958 and 2005, a pioneering achievement, begun well before Mahler had reached any kind of general recognition in this country. (‘A very tolerable imitation of a composer’, had been Vaughan Williams’s assessment.)
If one had to find one word to characterise Donald it would be ‘enthusiasm’: whether one agreed or not with his always eloquently expressed opinions, it was impossible not to admire the sharpness of his mind and the generosity of his spirit.’
Colin Matthews
‘As well as his extraordinary powers of will and persuasion, evident in the many ways he devised to disseminate those enthusiasms which truly possessed him, or in the small matter of creating a major music publishing house for his most beloved composer from scratch, I will remember Donald’s gentleness, his touching sensitivity to the music that he loved, the fierceness with which he held his beliefs, and some great personal kindnesses to me over the years. 
I am very proud to have been supported by one of the last of the great music publishers.’
Oliver Knussen