John McCabe, pianist and composer dies aged 75

British composer John McCabe, who has died at the age of 75, decided to be a composer at the age of five and a half.

John McCabe

He wrote more than 200 works, including a children’s opera based on CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a ballet called Mary, Queen of Scots and seven symphonies. But he was also a respected pianist having recorded the complete Piano Sonatas by Haydn.

The music world has been paying tribute to his work: 

St John's College Choir, Cambridge tweeted: 

Choral conductor and composer Paul Spicer said:

Fellow composer Sally Beamish wrote:

McCabe was born in Liverpool in 1939 and he trained at Manchester before studying in Munich. He worked as resident pianist at Cardiff’s University College before, in 1959, he wrote the piece which brought him to the attention of the classical world as a composer: his First Violin Concerto.

His Violin Concerto was premiered by the Hallé orchestra, who some years later commissioned the budding composer to write a symphony. The premiere of McCabe’s Symphony No. 1 (Elegy) was conducted by John Barbirolli in 1966.

In 1982 another legendary conductor, Georg Solti, was on the podium for the premiere of McCabe’s Concerto for Orchestra . He was so impressed by the work Solti also performed it with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In the 1970s McCabe turned his talents to writing for the stage with a two-act ballet called Mary, Queen of Scots.

When Stuttgart Ballet asked McCabe to write a ballet for the company, he produced his Edward II, which was premiered in 1995 with choreography by David Bintley. McCabe went on to work with Bintley again when he composed his Arthurian ballets for Birmingham Royal Ballet: Arthur Pendragon (1999) and Mort d’Arthur (2001).

More recently, the London Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned his Symphony on a Pavane , which was first performed in 2006, and the Hallé premiered his cello concerto Songline in 2007.

As a pianist, McCabe has recorded a large variety of music, including works by Brahms, Vaughan Williams, Schubert, Elgar and Mozart – as well as his complete survey of Haydn’s Piano Sonatas. McCabe was awarded a CBE in 1985 and Liverpool University gave him an honorary doctorate in 2006.

Photo: Gareth Arnold