I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Cranking it Out

Cranking it Out

Mark Fitzgerald
John S Beckett: The Man and the Music, by Charles Gannon, Lilliput Press, 547 pp, €40, ISBN: 978-1843516651 I can still recall the first time I heard a recording of Musica Reservata. I was already familiar with many highly refined recordings of early music by polite Oxbridge performers, but the raucous earthy sound of the ensemble and its favoured singer, Jantina Noorman, came as quite a shock to the system. I had somehow acquired the knowledge that the conductor John Beckett was Irish but did not realise that the co-founder, Michael Morrow, was also Irish. I was completely unaware that Beckett had also packed into his life several other careers, as harpsichordist, as composer (most notably of incidental music for plays by his cousin Samuel Beckett), as radio producer for the BBC and as a conductor who introduced the cantatas of his favourite composer, JS Bach, to Irish audiences through a series of concerts spread over ten years in St Anne’s Church, Dawson Street. For a generation that was introduced to early music by Beckett in one or other of his roles he remains an inspirational figure but for people too young to have encountered him he is probably a completely unknown figure. Performers’ reputations are ephemeral unless recordings survive to perpetuate their musical ideas and bring them to new audiences. In this respect Beckett has been unfortunate. Despite the fact that he made many recordings, particularly with Musica Reservata, very few have been reissued on CD and his approach to Bach is only preserved in a Claddagh recording of arias sung by Bernadette Greevy. This book by Charles Gannon, whose father’s career as harpsichord-maker was encouraged by Beckett, is therefore welcome in bringing attention to a figure who played a key role in the development of the international early music movement and who had an enormous impact on music-making in Dublin during the relatively short time he worked there. Born in 1927, Beckett was the son of the county medical officer for Wicklow. Gannon depicts the Greystones in which Beckett grew up as a community of affluent Protestants who tried to remain aloof from the surrounding “Shinners”. However, it was not just Catholics who were not welcome: Beckett’s father resigned from the Croney Golf Club after the committee refused to allow a man to join on the grounds that he was Jewish. An early turning point came in 1940 when…

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