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George Malcolm (Harpsichord, Conductor)

Born: February 28, 1917 - London, England
Died: October 10, 1997 - London, England

The esteemed English harpsichordist, pianist, conductor and teacher, George (John) Malcolm, first studied the piano. He was taught for 18 months by a gifted nun in the kindergarten class at the Notre Dame Convent in Clapham, and, deciding he had a special talent, she took him along to play to Hugh Allen at the Royal College of Music. He was accepted, and at the age of seven studied piano with Kathleen McWhitty. There was no Junior department at the College in those days, and for several years he was the only child there. While attending a London day school, he continued at the College and then, having completed his time at Oxford University, he returned to take up his studies with Herbert Fryer. After attending Balliol College, in Oxford from 1934 to 1937, he completed his training at the Royal College of Music in London.

George Malcolm was on the threshold of his career as a professional pianist when the onset of war drastically changed the direction of his life. He was appointed an Royal Air Force bandleader, which involved organising and conducting concerts all over the country. After World War II, he had hoped to resume his intended career. He liked the idea of owning an antique instrument for his own pleasure at home, and he bought his first harpsichord. The instrument was rare then, and very soon George and his harpsichord were in great demand for concerts. His favourite instrument was to be built by Thomas Goff, and was known for its marvellous dynamic qualities, which George used to exciting and dramatic effect, although his brilliant harmonies and ornamentations have always annoyed purists.

George Malcolm had a distinguihed career as a harpsichord virtuoso, chamber music pianist, and conductor. While his concert career was being established, he was appointed director of Music at Westminster Cathedral (1947-1959). He had a deep affinity with Catholic church music and had enjoyed a successful period of time as choir-master in a south London church. He disliked the hooty sound so prevalent in choir-boys at that time, and was to achieve great success in producing the bright "continental" sound, which contrasts with that of Anglican choirs. This sound so impressed Benjamin Britten that he wrote his Missa Brevis especially for the Westminster Cathedral Choir. Malcolm left the Cathedral to enable him to accept the ever increasing demands on him for concert performances. He became conductor of the London Philomusica from 1962 to 1966, and Associate Conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra in Glasgow from 1965 to 1967, as well as continuing to play the large 18th century keyboard repertoire. He was founding patron of Spode Music Week, an annual residential Music school that places particular emphasis on the music of the Roman Catholic liturgy.In 1965 he was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and was ISM Distinguished Musician Award of 1996-1967.

George Malcolm was particularly associated with the Baroque revival. He was a pioneering harpsichordist, introducing many people to this instrument through his records and live performances. Like Wanda Landowska, he favoured rather large harpsichords which now are seen as inauthentic for Baroque music, although the instruments he used were more authentic than hers. However, while aspects of his performances may seem outdated, his influence is gratefully acknowledged by a number of today's musicians, e.g. András Schiff. He seems to have left posterity no sound recordings as a pianist, but he made more impact as an organist, choir-trainer and conductor.


Source: Ian Partridge Website (October 1997); Wikipedia Website; Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (November 2006)

George Malcolm: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




George Enescu


BWV 232

Otto Klemperer


BWV 244

Neville Marriner


BWV 56, BWV 82

Links to other Sites

George Malcolm (Ian Partridge)
George Malcolm (musician) (Wikipedia)

Interview from The Harpsichord Magazine

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Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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