Michael Kennedy (1926-2014)

Leading English music expert dies aged 88

Michael Kennedy (1926-2014)

Leading English music expert Michael Kennedy has died aged 88.

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Kennedy’s career as a journalist and author spanned an extraordinary 70 years. At the time of his death, he was still writing regularly and was widely recognised as one of the most authoritative experts on English music of the 20th century.

That authority was gained partly from having enjoyed a close friendship with Ralph Vaughan Williams towards the end of the composer’s life. When Vaughan Williams died in 1958, he stipulated in his will that it should be Kennedy who should assist his wife, Ursula, in writing his biography.

The resulting tome, 1964’s The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams, was just one of a number of acclaimed biographies that Kennedy would write. Others included studies of the conductor Sir John Barbirolli, another close personal friend, plus Elgar, Richard Strauss, Britten, Walton and conductor Sir Adrian Boult. In 1980, Kennedy also edited The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music.

Kennedy first began work as a journalist during the Second World War when he worked as a copyboy at The Daily Telegraph’s Manchester office. After completing his service in the Navy, he went on to forge his career with the newspaper, eventually rising to the position of Northern editor. When the Telegraph closed its Manchester operations down in the 1980s, he turned his attention to the role of chief music critic, firstly with the Telegraph and latterly with the Sunday Telegraph.

Kennedy’s championship of his home city never wavered, and his books included 1960’s The Hallé Tradition, The History of the Royal Manchester College of Music (1971) and Portrait of Manchester (1970). A regular writer for BBC Music Magazine, his recent Composer of the Month portrait of Elgar (March 2014) took a look at the darker side of the composer’s character and music. 

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He was appointed an OBE in 1981 and a CBE in 1997.