Antony Hopkins Recordings

Antony Hopkins died at 3.00 am GMT on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. We at Divine Art were honoured to be involved with his last major musical project.

Composer, pianist, conductor, broadcaster, author, lecturer and piano-recitalist, his sex precluded him from being described as a ‘maid-of-all-work’ but he sometimes called himself a “sort of musical oddjob man’, since throughout his professional career he claimed to be able to produce what had been asked for – often at short notice.

Owing to ill-health his father, Hugh, had moved to Italy where, after a few months he died, leaving a distraught widow with four small children and a mere £110 in the bank. (Antony was the third.) Despairing, she wrote to Charles Greene (Graham’s father), then headmaster of Berkhamsted School, and he arranged for Major Hopkins, once Hugh’s housemaster, to take Antony, aged 4, on a purely temporary basis while she tried to re-organise her life. It only became a formal adoption when Antony was 13, at which point his name was changed from Reynolds to Hopkins –much to the confusion of the school staff.

An inherited gift for music meant that he went to the Royal College of Music in 1939 where, after a wasted first year, he began to study with Cyril Smith. (He was exempted from call-up owing to a “gammy”knee.) To everyone’s surprise he won two of the top awards –the Chappell Gold Medal for piano and the Cobbett Prize for composition. It was soon found that he had an unusual gift for incidental music and numerous commissions followed for radio, theatre and cinema. (Louis MacNeice’s radio programmes The Golden Ass and Cupid and Psyche, Laurence Olivier’s Oedipus, and many films including Pickwick Papers, and much later, Billy Budd.) His broadcasts, Talking about Music, were spread intermittently over 36 years and were heard worldwide through the BBC Transcription Service. This led to a number of books. These CDs show some of the wide variety of his music, ranging from mere morsels for recorder to more extensive sonatas and songs. They were entirely conceived and organised by John Turner, the noted recorder-player: it was only fair that his virtuosity should be largely featured.

Also included are eight short pieces by other composers, written as tributes to Antony on his 90th birthday in March 2011 – mostly as a response to his influential broadcasts when they were young. Some of the pieces exploit the fact that B natural becomes H in German notation enabling the interval A-H to be used on numerous occasions. The theme from Warlock’s Capriol Suite, (“Pieds en l’air”) was included as one of the tunes he declared he most loved.

The CD also demonstrated Hopkins’ dry and wry sense of humour, including his own recitations of three of his musically-themed poems. He had a deliciously English character in many ways, which is brought out both in those wickedly barbed humorous poems but also in the pastoral nature of his writing, which was always lyrical but never old-fashioned. One of his works, a Pastiche Suite for recorder and piano, was included on the tribute CD; Hopkins provided this reminiscence:

“During the 1940s I was often involved with musical activities at Morley College where Walter Bergmann was the choir’s accompanist. He was a keen recorder player and often asked me (then in my twenties) to write something for him. I must have obliged with this suite, although I have now absolutely no recollection of writing it. Amazingly the manuscript turned up many years later in, of all places, the musical library of Sir Thomas Beecham. Why and how I shall never know!”

One of his constant bugbears (to which he attributed his fading from public awareness) was confusion with the actor Anthony Hopkins – “with an H”. It was a great source of irritation to him.

With the passing of Antony Hopkins (who remarried at the age of 91) the world has lost a figure of immense importance, not just in his own compositions and writings, but because a great many of today’s fine composers from the UK and beyond were inspired by him to love and create music.