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Malcolm Hamilton (Harpsichord)

Born: December 14, 1932 - Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Died: November 17, 2003 - Laguna Niguel, Orange, California, USA

The Canadian harpsichordist, Malcolm Hamilton, started playing the piano and harpsichord at the age of 12, but trained to be a public school teacher because his father did bot believe he could make a living as a musician. After teaching junior high in Victoria for three years, he became the first recipient of the music fellowship awarded by the American National Defense Scholarship and went to the University of Washington in Seattle, where he was the first student to receive a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Harpsichord. He then moved to Southern California where he studied harpsichord at the University of South California Alice Ehlers and received his doctorate. Alice Ehlers, who died in 1981, had been the first student of world-renowned harpsichordist Wanda Landowska.

Malcolm Hamilton taught piano and harpsichord at the University of South California for 30 years. A stickler for being true to what he believed to be the composers' intent, he played as he taught, with strict attention to ornamentation, and phrasing appropriate to the baroque period. He nevertheless decried lifeless performances offered in the name of "authentic historical performance practice". As he told former Times music writer Daniel Cariaga: "No one has yet been able to document to me that live performances in baroque days were as lifeless as some of those we hear today". No one ever accused the ebullient Hamilton of putting audiences to sleep in his recitals. "Festive" was one of his favorite words which formed the basis of his concert approach. Yet audience attention was not won through gimmickry and certainly not through digital dexterity. Where the gravity of the music demanded, Malcolm would bring to his performances a depth of insight rarely heard from any musician in any field of music. Unique to him is a technique he learned from Wanda Landowska, whereby both hands are playing on the upper manual, while a thumb-stretch to the lower manual brings out a theme, or one important line in the music.

Malcolm Hamilton quickly built a name for himself with local performances, and when the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was being formed in 1969, he received a personal invitation from director Neville Marriner to join them. He played for six years with the orchestra, first under Neville Marriner, then under Gerard Schwarz. When he made his New York debut at Tully Hall in 1974, the New York Times reviewer called it " its way, one of the best this listener has ever heard. ... He came in with a program geared more to easy listening than artistic gravity, played it with great attention to the varieties of color, rhythm and harmony it offered and delivered it all with the poise of a man who knew exactly what he was doing at every momen.... (His) playing had human and entertainment qualities that made the harpsichord completely believable as something other than an instrument of musicological argument."

Over the years, Malcolm Hamilton recorded with RCA, Delos, Canterbury, Oryx, Angel and Nonesuch labels. Among his numerous honours are the following non-academic degrees: Licenciate of the Royal Schools of Music, London; Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto, and Associate of the American Guild of Organists. He retired from the University of South California in 1997 and died 6 years later, when he was 70, of congestive heart failure.

Source: Baroque Music Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (December 2006)

Malcolm Hamilton: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

Artist Biography: Malcolm Hamilton, Harpsichordist Extraordinary (Baroque Music)

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