Raymond Leppard (1927–2019)

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Faber Music is saddened to report the death of the celebrated conductor and harpsichordist Raymond Leppard. Leppard, who died on 22 October aged 92, was a musician of great generosity and spirit, and Faber is proud to have published his pioneering performing editions of early opera which did so much to transform the repertory.

 

Martin Kingsbury - former Managing Director of Faber Music and a founding director of the company - looks back at Leppard's relatioship with Faber Music, whilst Sir Nicholas Kenyon – the Managing Director of the Barbican Centre and former editor of the journal Early Music – reflects on his broader legacy:

 

 

Faber Music’s long and fruitful association with Raymond Leppard goes right back to the company’s foundation.  Its very first catalogue in January 1965 announced the forthcoming publication of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea in Leppard’s new performing edition, recently launched at Glyndebourne.

 

It seems hard to believe now, but at that time this masterpiece of early baroque opera was hardly known to the opera-going public.  It was not even to be found in Kobbé.   At Glyndebourne audiences marvelled at the work in Leppard’s opulent realisation and critics were enthusiastic about it.  ‘My admiration for Raymond Leppard’s edition grows at each hearing,’ wrote one seasoned critic. ‘His continuo-based realisation can alone allow the freedom of declamation which the work needs.’

 

Because Leppard was not only a musicologist but also a superb musician and dramatist, his edition of Poppea was conspicuously successful in making the work speak to contemporary audiences.  Within a few years it had been taken up in opera houses all over the world, from New York to Paris and Berlin, from Copenhagen to Sydney and San Francisco – no mean achievement.  The revenue it brought in was, moreover, crucial to Faber Music in its early years, and encouraged us to pursue further publishing projects with him.

 

They were not slow in coming.  While investigating Monteverdi in the Marciana library in Venice, Leppard had unearthed operas by Francesco Cavalli, Monteverdi’s successor in Venetian musical life, none of whose works had been performed since the 17th century.  He proved to be a natural melodist with real theatrical flair.  Hot on the success of Poppea, Glyndebourne asked Leppard to edit and conduct stagings of his operas L’Ormindo (1967) and La Calisto (1970), and Santa Fé Opera commissioned and premiered editions of L’Egisto (1974) and L’Orione (1983).  All were published by Faber and soon found their way into the operatic repertoire.  La Calisto and L’Ormindo have been particularly successful. In addition, sacred choral works by Cavalli, also unearthed by Leppard, have been welcomed into the choral repertoire. To rehabilitate this master composer of the early Italian baroque was another of Leppard’s notable achievements.

 

Leppard’s fully-scored opera realisations were conceived for mainstream performers in opera houses, not for baroque music specialists, who were a relatively rare species in the 1960s.  In time, however, their number increased, and with the advent of more technically accomplished period instrument groups and ‘historically informed’ performance, Leppard’s type of realisation began to fall out of favour. That said, opera houses, lacking their own specialist players, still found them practical and their audiences still loved them. The Leppard edition of Poppea, for example, continued in Glyndebourne’s repertoire right into the 1980s, even though by then music critics had started sniping at it. 

 

L’Orione proved to be a watershed. Praised by critics in Santa Fé at its premiere in 1983, Leppard’s realisation was reviled by critics in Edinburgh the following year, and much enjoyed by audiences in both cities.  It was clear to us at Faber that much of the adverse criticism in Edinburgh was poorly informed and unduly influenced by received opinion. So in true eighteenth-century pamphleteering style, we decided to issue a combative pamphlet to inform and criticise the critics.  In Defence of L’Orione contained factual material about the opera, its manuscript and Leppard’s intentions in making the realisation plus a vibrant defence of it by the Professor of Music at Edinburgh University.  It was distributed to British music critics and arts editors, including all those present at the Edinburgh performances, and to relevant music institutions.  Understandably it provoked anger from a few critics (the biters did not like being bitten) but also brought some reasoned consideration in the media of the issues involved and support for Leppard’s pioneering work from members of the academic world.

 

The purpose here is not to refight old battles but to reiterate Leppard’s passionately held view that an ‘authentic’ performance is one that makes a work come alive for the audience today. In his words ‘It does not lie with the current fads and fashions of musicology. . .No half-hearted attempt hampered by academic restraint will do.’ As the movement for ‘historically informed’ performance grew, Leppard did not change his view but eventually softened it somewhat. As he told The Times in 1997 ‘Pupils of mine were playing in the newly “authentic” way.  I felt it was their turn – they should now get on with it.’ Anyone who gets involved with performing an early baroque work in an opera house today will (or perhaps should) recognise their debt to Leppard for having opened up this opportunity for them.

 

We salute Raymond Leppard for his multiple achievements and for his defining role in Faber Music’s history.

 

Martin Kingsbury

 

 

 

Raymond Leppard, who has died in America at the age of 92, was an ebullient, charming scholar and conductor who became one of the pioneers of the early music revival in Britain and made a major impact on the repertory. In the days before period instruments and ‘historically informed performance’, Leppard revived the baroque operas of Monteverdi and Cavalli, and did so in his own characterful style. He adapted these masterpieces to the prevailing taste of the times, with fully-scored orchestrations and lavish continuo parts, and thus achieved the feat of making them acceptable to a wide audience, notably at Glyndebourne. Benjamin Britten encouraged him; Leppard and Glyndebourne’s master George Christie overlapped at Trinity College Cambridge, where Leppard became Director of Music. The contact led to Glyndebourne’s visionary decision to mount Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea in 1962 (which was conducted by John Pritchard), followed by Cavalli’s L’Ormindo in 1967 and then Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in 1972 with Janet Baker, who became a close collaborator with Leppard in superb recordings of Handel arias and operas. But exactly that period saw the rise of the original-instrument baroque groups, and Leppard’s editions fell out of favour with critics, much to his irritation. With commendable honesty, Leppard did not hide his disdain for the early music players, who he felt would have had a hard time as mainstream professionals. He vented his fury in his little book Authenticity and Music, published by Faber & Faber.

 

Now however we can better appreciate the pioneering nature of his work. His work with the English Chamber Orchestra, which grew out of the work of Arnold Goldsborough, was decisive in the acceptance of the baroque repertory in the 1960s, and along with Neville Marriner’s Academy of St Martin-on-the-Fields laid the groundwork for so much that was to follow in the revival of early music. Increasingly he broadened his own music-making into the symphonic field, with periods as chief conductor of the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic) in Manchester from 1972 to 1980 and then from 1987 with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, a successful 14-year partnership. He grew disenchanted with England and became an American citizen, guest conducting widely at the Met and elsewhere, often introducing concerts with his persuasive charm. However, he greatly enjoyed his links with the royal family, notably the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, and remained in touch with musicians here. He will be remembered as a great communicator who permanently widened our musical horizons.

Nicholas Kenyon    

 

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