Ward's Book of Days.

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MARCH 8th  

On this day in history in 1961, died Thomas Beecham

Beecham was a conductor and impresario who founded several orchestras and was the dominant influence in Twentieth Century British music.  

Beecham was born in 1879, at St Helens, the son of a wealthy pharmaceutical manufacturer, who himself was the son of the founder of Beecham’s Pills.  After taking a degree at Wadham College, Oxford, Beecham made his debut as a conductor in 1905. In 1906, using his vast fortune, inherited from his pill-producing grandfather, Beecham founded the New Symphony Orchestra and in 1909, he founded the Beecham Symphony Orchestra. He used these ensembles as vehicles to pioneer innovative works at Covent Garden and Drury Lane.  He introduced the London audiences to operas by Straus, Delius and numerous Russian composers. In 1915, he founded the Beecham Opera Company and invested huge amounts in subsidising performances. 

Beecham’s, being both conductor and proprietor of his orchestras, arranged his own repertoire. He would conduct anything from the period of Handel to the contemporary, with particular emphasis on Delius and Sibelius. Although he tended to re-orchestrate and eliminate certain sections from performances, his advocacy of Delius rescued the composer from obscurity. 

Beecham was noted for his witticisms. Here is a selection:

“Here are two golden rules for an orchestra. Start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a dam about what goes on in between.”  

“Beethoven’s last quartets were written by a deaf man and should only be listened to by a deaf man.”  

To a lady cellist. “Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands, and all you can do is scratch it!”  

On a harpsichord. “Like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof.”  

“I have just been all round the world and formed a very poor opinion of it.” 

Beecham died in 1961. He is buried in St Peter’s churchyard, Limpsfield, near to the tomb of Delius. [St Peter’s Church, High Street, Limpsfield, Oxted, Surrey RH8 0DT]

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