Raymond Leppard (1927-2019)
The British conductor, harpsichordist and composer Raymond Leppard, who was the driving-force behind the revival of Monteverdi’s and Cavalli’s operas in the mid-twentieth century, has died aged 92.
Leppard was born in London on 11th August 1927 and studied music at Trinity College Cambridge (where he was subsequently made a Fellow and Director of Music), initially focusing on the harpsichord and viola and making his first forays into conducting with the Cambridge Philharmonic Society. He made his London debut at Wigmore Hall (conducting his own Leppard Ensemble) in 1952 and went on to form a close relationship with the Goldbrough Orchestra, which would be re-branded as the English Chamber Orchestra in 1960; his many recordings with the group included Handel’s Ariodante (with Janet Baker in the title-role), a Grammy Award-winning collection of baroque trumpet concertos with Wynton Marsalis, and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with the late Jessye Norman. The latter recording (made in 1985) is a fine illustration of Leppard’s full-blooded, almost Romantic approach to seventeenth-century opera, something which he had begun to cultivate in the late 1950s whilst working as a lecturer at Trinity; his imaginative realisations of hitherto neglected operas by Monteverdi and Cavalli did much to revive international interest in the composers, and the first staging of his version of L’incoronazione di Poppea at Glyndebourne in 1962 paved the way for a string of groundbreaking productions and recordings of works including Cavalli’s La Calisto and L’Ormindo (both now available on Australian Eloquence) and Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, which was also staged at Glyndebourne in the early 1970s.
Unlike the proponents of the historically-informed performance movement which began to flourish a decade or so later, Leppard’s lush and unapologetically anachronistic realisations were primarily concerned with drama rather than stylistic authenticity, and though his discography includes many acclaimed recordings of Bach and Handel he was never keen to be pigeonholed as a baroque specialist – he was also active as a composer in his own right, with credits including the score for Peter Brook’s 1963 film Lord of the Flies, and his repertoire at Glyndebourne included the Festival’s first staging of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 1975 and the world premiere of Nicholas Maw’s 1970 opera The Rising of the Moon. An acclaimed series of Arnold Bax’s symphonies on Lyrita and an album of ‘Romantic American Masterpieces’ (including music by Barber, George Chadwick, Gershwin and Hoagy Carmichael) are among the many highlights of his vast discography, which runs to almost two hundred recordings.
Leppard was primarily based in the United States from the mid-1970s onwards, and became a US citizen in 2003; he was appointed Music Director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1987 (a position which he held for fourteen years), and also appeared regularly with the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics. He was made a CBE in 1983, and received honorary degrees from the University of Indianapolis, Butler University and the University of Bath, where he spent much of his childhood.
Leppard died on 22nd October in Indianapolis, where he had lived for the last few decades of his life, and is survived by his husband, Dr. Jack Bloom. His warm, witty contribution to John Bridcut’s recent documentary on Dame Janet Baker (in which he reflects in wonder on her interpretation of ‘Dopo notte’ on their Ariodante recording) was one of his last public appearances.
Raymond Leppard - a selected discography
(sung in English)
Dame Janet Baker (Poppea), Robert Ferguson (Nerone), Anne Collins (Arnalta), Katherine Pring (Ottavia), Clifford Grant (Seneca)
Sadler’s Wells Orchestra & Orchestra, Raymond Leppard London Philharmonic Orchestra, Raymond Leppard
Available Format: 2 CDs
Dame Janet Baker (Ariodante), Edith Mathis (Ginevra), Norma Burrowes (Dalinda), James Bowman (Polinesso), David Rendall (Lurcanio), Samuel Ramey (Il Re di Scozia), Alexander Oliver (Odoardo)
English Chamber Orchestra, London Voices, Raymond Leppard
Available Formats: MP3, FLAC
Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), English Chamber Orchestra, Raymond Leppard
Available Formats: MP3, FLAC