An English Enthusiast
Respected and loved as few critics are: Michael Kennedy, who has died at the age of 88 (The Daily Telegraph)
About 20 years ago Michael Kennedy, who was then in his late sixties but contrived to look about 40, raised with me the astonishing subject of his obituary. I say astonishing because whatever other thoughts might have been in his head at that time in his life, death should not have been among them: as well as seeming so youthful he also incredibly fit and healthy, and if ever a man should have made 100 it was he. He asked that if I ever wrote an obituary of him he wanted me to say one thing especially. I tried to imagine what it was. This was the man who, in the margins of a great career as a national newspaper journalist, wrote some of the finest books on English music and English musical life that ever will be written—a definitive work on Vaughan Williams, whom he had known well, authoritative biographies of William Walton, Adrian Boult and Elgar, and a "biography" of his beloved Hallé Orchestra. "I want you to say," Michael intoned with a seriousness that was alarming, "that I was the only Englishman who ever really understood Richard Strauss."
It is, therefore, the discharge of a solemn duty that causes me to put that on the record. Michael died in his native Manchester on New Year's Eve, a few weeks before his 89th birthday, with a suddenness that left his beloved wife Joyce, his family and their regiment of friends reeling with disbelief and shock. He had become frail—he had suffered from Parkinson's disease in his old age—but none of us thought this was due. He had suffered no diminution in his intellectual faculties, and nothing could come between him and his devotion to the art of music. On a bitter, damp, grey Monday morning in January several hundred of us packed a crematorium in Manchester to pay our respects to him. I do not say last respects: so long as we read his books and, if we were lucky enough to know him, to recall his wisdom, we shall continue to pay respects until we, too, come to the end. Sir Mark Elder, a great conductor whom Michael admired enormously, delivered a tribute to him distinguished by its spontaneity, its sincerity and its accuracy. Now the obsequies are done, we can reflect properly on his legacy.
Michael joined the Daily Telegraph as a copy-boy in 1941 and, apart from a period in the Navy at the end of the war, worked for or contributed to it for almost all his life. He became Northern Editor in 1960 and held that job until 1986, throughout the period filing notices of concerts in Manchester and the North. He then had an Indian summer as the Sunday Telegraph's opera critic, and contributed to the Daily's reviews of new recordings of classical music. His output was vast; and I cannot ever recall reading anything by him that was not fair, thoughtful and expertly judged.
It had been while in the Far East awaiting demobilisation that he wrote to Vaughan Williams, whom he had never met, to tell him how much his music meant to a young man far from home, and what it said to him about the homeland from which he was estranged. VW—whom Michael recalled as having been just about the nicest man he ever met—wrote back and invited Michael to get in touch on his return. Michael did, and despite a 54-year age gap the two men became firm friends.