RNCM Remembers Sir Bernard Lovell: 1913 – 2012

We were deeply saddened to hear the news that Sir Bernard Lovell, founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, has died at the age of 98. Sir Bernard was a much-admired Honorary Member and Friend of the RNCM, and last year he spoke to us about his passion for music…

                    Universal Memories of a Musical Scientist

Leading scientist Sir Bernard Lovell talks of his love of music and seeing some of the greatest pianists in history.

There aren’t many who can lay claim to having seen Sergei Rachmaninov, Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Schnabel play the piano, but Sir Bernard Lovell can.

The 97-year-old physicist and radio astronomer, who has been an Honorary Member of the College since 1981 and a Friend since 1991, saw all three in Bristol some decades ago. 

‘To me, Schnabel set the standard for others to follow and I’m afraid to say I’ve yet to hear anyone else play Beethoven’s last sonatas so well,’ he said. ‘As for Horowitz, well, I remember him with astonishment. He was quite incredible and his fingering was extraordinary. And Rachmaninov is one I never met, but remember with fondness because I recently came across some old papers referring to his performance and written on it were my critical notes. I just read them and thought ‘how impertinent of me,’ but that’s youth for you.’ 

Sir Bernard, famous the world over for the Lovell Telescope and Jodrell Bank, is also a respected organist. And although his playing days are long behind him, he states that had his career taken a different route it would almost certainly have been in music.

‘I’d like to think that would have been the case,’ he said. ‘I was a church organist for 40 years and if I remember rightly, I was at the RNCM for the first performance of its organ in 1973. I was sitting by an accomplished organist at the time and I remember he turned to me and said ‘this is alright for Jesus music.’ It was an impressive sound.’

With the current financial crisis posing a threat to the arts, Sir Bernard is also keen to underline the importance of music education and the RNCM.

‘Studying music is very important and it’s something people do for the love of the subject. I’m at an age now where I’ve heard some incredible people and I’ve seen some incredible performances. I’ve also seen Manchester develop as a city, and the music it offers now at venues such as the RNCM is wonderful.’

6 August 2012