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Thomas (Sir) Beecham

1879-1961
Conductor

He was the son of Sir Joseph Beecham, a man of great wealth derived from the manufacture of the once-famous Beecham pills.  He attended Rossall School on the Lancashire coast and later went to Wadham College, Oxford.  He did not initially have any formal music schooling.   Musically he was self taught.  Later on he studied composition in London with Charles Wood and in Paris with Muszkowski.

He was the son of Sir Joseph Beecham, a man of great wealth derived from the manufacture of the once-famous Beecham pills.  He attended Rossall School on the Lancashire coast and later went to Wadham College, Oxford.  He did not initially have any formal music schooling.   Musically he was self-taught.  Later on he studied composition in London with Charles Wood and in Paris with Muszkowski.

In 1899 Thomas Beecham organised, mainly for his own delectation, an amateur ensemble, the St. Helen's Orchestral Society. Also in 1899 he conducted a performance with the prestigious Hallé Orchestra in Manchester. In 1902 he became conductor of K. Trueman's travelling opera company, which gave him valuable practical experience with theatre music. He led this ensemble until 1904. In 1905 he gave his first professional symphonic concert in London, with members of the Queen's Hall Orchestra. In 1906 he became conductor of the New Symphony Orchestra, which he led until 1908. He then formed a group in his own name, the Beecham Symphony Orchestra, which presented its first concert in London in February 1909.

He was knighted in 1916 and on the death of his father; he succeeded to the title of baronet.  In 1929 he organised and conducted the Delius Festival in London, to which Delius himself, racked by tertiary syphilitic affliction, paralysed and blind, was brought from his residence in France to attend Beecham's musical homage to him. From 1932 to 1939 he conducted again at Covent Garden. In 1932 he organised the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which also played at Covent Garden. Contemptuous of general distaste for the Nazi regime in Germany, he took the London Philharmonic Orchestra to Berlin in 1936 for a concert, which was attended by the Führer in person. As the war situation deteriorated on the Continent, Beecham went to the USA in May 1940, and also toured Canada and Australia. In 1941 he was engaged as conductor of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, retaining this post until 1943; he also filled guest engagements at the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1942 to 1944. In America he was not exempt from sharp criticism, which he haughtily dismissed as philistine complaints. On his part, he was outspoken in his snobbish disdain for the cultural inferiority of England's wartime allies, often spicing his comments with mild obscenities, usually of a scatological nature.

In 1950 he made an extraordinarily successful North American tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He continued to conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra until ill health led him to nominate Rudolf Kempe as his successor in 1960. In 1957 Queen Elizabeth II made him a Companion of Honour.

He was conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.  One of his comments from the podium in the Phil was “In all my years of conducting in many cities I have never known the printed programme to be entirely correct.   But never till tonight I have ever conducted a concert at which one item to be played was completely missing from the printed programme”.

RA