Born in 1899, John Barbirolli entered Trinity College of Music as a cello student aged 11. By 13 he’d already made his first recording with his sister Rosa and debuted at the Queen’s Hall. Everyone knows his famous recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Jacqueline du Pré, but it may come as a surprise to learn that Barbirolli played the solo part as early as 1921 under Dan Godfrey in Bournemouth. 

Raymond Holden

His rise as a conductor was sure but steady, from his debut while a member of the British Army to such illustrious posts as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic (1937) and Permanent Conductor of the Hallé in Manchester (1943). Although he had his tempestuous side, his professional progress was done, to quote his old teacher Sir Alexander Mackenzie, “in a modest, quiet way: without – vulgarly speaking – gassing or swank.”

For the 50th anniversary of his death, rather than commission a new biography, The Barbirolli Society asked the Australian-born, British-domiciled authority Raymond Holden to collect together ten essays on various aspects of the conductor’s career, and very interesting they are too. Well-written,...