John McCabe was born in Liverpool in 1939 and is therefore celebrating his half century this year: 50 not out is no doubt how he would prefer to think of it, considering his immense love of cricket. Musically, he combines the roles of composer, pianist, and Director of the London College of Music with scintillating aplomb.
He studied at Manchester University and the old Royal Manchester College of Music, then in Munich (1964-5). From 1965-7 he was pianist in residence at University College, Cardiff.
He has covered a wide range of compositions and if one selects from amongst these, it is only to give a starting point for listeners to set out from. The four symphonies, the Variations on a Theme of Hartmann, The Chagall Windows, and the orchestral song-cycle Notturni ed Alba are representative of his œuvre and introduce one immediately to the dancing rhythms, sensuous harmony, fine craftmanship in structure and organisation, but above all the complete sense that here is a modern composer with much to say that is eminently well written and totally worth listening to.
McCabe is always busy as a composer and is well commissioned. As a pianist he has given recitals all over the world and demonstrates a wide railge of interests. He has recorded the complete set of Haydn sonatas and the complete piano music of Nielsen. He champions both twentieth century music and the more neglected composers from previous centuries.
As an author, he has written the BBC Music Guide to Bartok’s Orchestral Music and to Haydn’s Piano Sonatas.
In 1985 he was made a Commander of the British Empire.
If I may end on a personal note, what endears me most about John McCabe is his approachability, both as a composer and as a person. He is immensely gifted, yet lucid, direct and clear and I have been profoundly grateful in the past for his willingness to be approached by me and many of my pupils. A critic recently coined the phrase “reluctant glasnost” to describe the (composing) actions of some living composers. John McCabe has no need of glasnost: he is genuinely himself and approachable at the same time.
We have great delight in welcoming both him and his charming wife Monica to take part in our celebrations this evening and offer them both our many thanks.
P. A. Rooke