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Home | Archive | Winter 2001 | In memoriam

Ernest Warburton 1937–2001

Scholarship and the media can often make for inimical bedfellows, but Ernest Warburton combined the one with little detriment to the other. For most of his career he was an executive with BBC Radio; but he was also a musicologist of distinction, with a passionate devotion to a composer — J. C. Bach — whom many would consider marginal.

Early in his career, at BBC North, he revived many an operatic dodo, not a few of which benefited from the new lease of life, notably Puccini’s Le Villi and Edgar, Wagner’s Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi, Musorgsky’s Khovanschina, Strauss’s Friedenstag and Nielsen’s Maskerade.

After nearly ten years in Manchester, Warburton moved to London, as Head of Music Programmes BBC Radio from 1977 to 1982, and as Editor of Music, BBC Radio 3 from 1982 to 1986. Conditions in London, however, proved less conducive to his singular modus operandi and he transferred to the World Service, where he rose resourcefully to the challenge of bringing classical music to a putatively indifferent global audience, wrestled heroically with computerisation, but wryly conceded defeat in his efforts to commission a suitable reorchestration of the network’s signature tune ‘Lilliburlero’.

Concurrently with his day job, Warburton pursued his study of ‘The London Bach’. The research began with an Oxford DPhil thesis entitled A study of JC Bach’s operas and climaxed in a collected edition, painstakingly assembled over a near lifetime and incorporating music, including several symphonies concertantes and a violin concerto, presumed lost. This magnum opus, published by the American firm Garland, runs to forty-eight sturdy volumes. Mixing facsimiles of the manuscript sources, reprints of early editions and hitherto unpublished material drawn in Warburton’s own elegant calligraphy, it is not a fully critical edition as generally understood; but complemented by a 22-CD collection for the enterprising German label cpo of the entire orchestral music, played by The Hanover Band, it none the less fills a vital gap in a shadowy period of music history.

Ernest Warburton: born 10 June 1937, Irlam; died 7 August 2001, London.

© 2000–2002 The Musical Times Publications Ltd