A happy and celebratory New Year as we remember Beethoven’s 250th anniversary. Born in Bonn in December 1770, he was the second son of court musician Johann and his wife Maria Magdalena.
Somewhat harsh and severe, Johann was Ludwig’s first teacher. The composer’s mother was a quiet and serious person and Beethoven was very fond of her. He spoke affectionately about her: “She was a good mother to me and indeed my best friend.”
I hope to return to Beethoven as the year progresses but now I want to mention two highly-respected choral conductors who died within a few days of each other in November. Colin Mawby and Stephen Cleobury were English and while the latter spent his life in his native country, Colin Mawby worked and lived in Ireland for nearly 40 years. His funeral Mass took place in Dublin’s Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church on November 30.
Born in Portsmouth in 1936, Colin Mawby was educated at Westminster Cathedral’s choir school. From the age of 12 he acted as assistant to the master of music, George Malcolm. In 1961, Mawby assumed the master’s role having also studied at London’s Royal College of Music. While still holding his cathedral position, Mawby conducted the Belgian Radio Choir and BBC Singers.
Leaving Westminster in 1978, Mawby came to RTÉ being appointed its choral director in 1983. Under the guidance of head of music John Kinsella, he revitalised the music department’s choral section, establishing its Philharmonic Choir, Chamber Choir and Cór na nÓg.
Following his retirement from RTÉ, Colin Mawby became artistic director of the National Chamber Choir (now Chamber Choir Ireland) and vacating that position was appointed the ensemble’s artistic director emeritus.
A prolific composer with worldwide performances, Mawby wrote over 50 Masses, five song cycles and a plethora of other religious and secular choral settings. In recognition of his services to church music, Pope Benedict XVI awarded him a Knighthood of St Gregory in 2004.
Commenting on Mawby’s work, Evonne Ferguson of the Contemporary Music Centre said: “His beautifully crafted music for the human voice never ceased to inspire through the many decades of his career as a successful composer and conductor. Colin will be sadly missed by the music community in Ireland.”
Twelve years Mawby’s junior, Stephen Cleobury received most of his music education at Worcester Cathedral under the eminent Douglas Guest. He later became organ scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge.
In 1974, Cleobury was appointed sub-organist at Westminster Abbey later becoming, like Colin Mawby, master of music at Westminster Cathedral – the first Anglican to hold that position. He remained at the Cathedral until 1979 and three years later returned to Cambridge but to King’s College and its internationally famous choir.
Renowned for the standard of its music making, King’s annual Christmas celebration of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast and televised across the globe.
Cleobury extended the choir’s repertoire to include a broad spectrum of contemporary works. Diagnosed with cancer, he directed his last Evensong in July 2019. May the souls of Stephen Cleobury and Colin Mawby rest in peace.