The Gramophone obituary by David Bicknell
In the May 1961 issue of Gramophone, David Bicknell – who would retire as Manager of EMI’s International Artists Department in 1971 after 44 years with the company – paid tribute to Sir Thomas Beecham who had died on March 8, 1961. To illustrate his unique style and personality, we include a clip of Sir Thomas rehearsing and talking about the art of the conductor...
With the death of Sir Thomas Beecham, England has lost her greatest executive musician, possibly the greatest that she has ever produced.
Sir Thomas was not only a musician – he was famous as a wit, controversialist, orator, was an accomplished writer, was deeply read, had travelled widely and was a man armed at all points. It is unlikely that we will be entertained by his like again because he was a product of his age, and the age has ended. Only by the union of genius and inherited wealth operating in an age of privilege could such an artist be produced. Possibly the genius will be forthcoming, but the wealth and the privilege have been swept away. No doubt a man endowed with such outstanding gifts will make his mark in any society and in any age but certainly he cannot make the same kind of career and travel by the road that was chosen by Sir Thomas. Often his methods were extravagant and infuriating to others but the results were usually of the finest, and those who had obeyed the rules and plodded along the orthodox highway rarely scaled the heights that were his by virtue of his natural talent and irregular development.
As a child I was frequently taken to hear him conduct, as a young man I slipped into his rehearsals uninvited. I met him over 30 years ago but it was only after the war that I began to work with him regularly. From 1946 until his death, few weeks passed without some meeting or communication. Our meetings took place in many countries, in widely differing surroundings, at all hours of the day and night, and on occasions gay and sad. There were milestones such as the luncheon given by His Master's Voice on his 70th birthday and attended by many famous people and the small dinner party given by himself on the evening of his 80th birthday to a small group of intimate friends of which I was privileged to form a part. On all these occasions – large or small – Sir Thomas dominated the proceedings and rarely failed to entertain.