Lionel Salter
(8 September 1914 - 1 March 2000)


Andrew Lamb writes ...

Lionel Salter did as much as anyone to further the cause of zarzuela in Britain, whether through reviews in Gramophone, CD liner notes (EMI's Domingo recital, for instance) or radio. In particular, in 1980, he presented a Radio 3 programme of zarzuela excerpts with Janet Coster as soloist. The programme included the overture to El Tambor de Granaderos, Socorro's Romance from El Barquillero, the overture and waltz from Agua, azucarillos y aguardiente, the Carceleras from Las hijas del Zebedeo, the Intermedio from Bohemios, La Tempranica's Aria from La Tempranica, and the Intermedio from La Boda de Luis Alonso. He not only introduced the programme with typical clarity and insight but also conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra, having incidentally had to overcome considerable obstacles to obtain performing material.

This, though, merely hinted at the breadth of Lionel's talents, of which his specialist knowledge of zarzuela in particular and Spanish and Latin-American music in general was but one facet. He had been a child-prodigy pianist, was later educated at the Royal College of Music, and studied conducting under Malcolm Sargent and Constant Lambert. After graduating from Cambridge, he worked on films at Denham Studios, orchestrating the music of Richard Addinsell and others, and dubbing the piano-playing and organ-playing of actors. He became staff accompanist for the infant BBC Television, and in 1943-44 was chief guest conductor of Radio France Symphony Orchestra in Algiers. He was then conductor of the BBC Theatre Orchestra, performed and recorded as harpsichordist with the London Baroque Ensemble and Vienna Capella Academica, accompanied Pablo Casals at the Prades Festival, acted as musical director of a West End revue, and was organist at many London concerts. Within the BBC he rose to be Head of Music for television and Head of Opera for both radio and television. He reviewed for Gramophone for over 50 years, and wrote many opera translations and innumerable LP sleeve notes and CD liner notes. He was also for many years an editor and examiner for the Associated Examining Board of Music.

Lionel, indeed, seemed to have done everything and known everyone. Yet he was never - repeat NEVER -one to brag about it. He wore his astounding knowledge and experience with the utmost lightness. As adjudicator he once judged the efforts of one of my own children. That the pronouncement was not altogether complimentary was secondary to the manifest fairness and authority of his judgement and the kindliness with which it was delivered. He was noted as a stickler for detail and never one to suffer fools gladly; but he picked up errors in the kindest of ways. Indeed, when he once picked up in print an error in one of my own CD liner notes, it seemed like an honour. Such was his encyclopaedic knowledge, though, that I felt even more privileged when I lent him the vocal score of de Falla's sainete lírico Los amores de la Inés (1902), with which he was unfamiliar. He didn't think too much of the piece, incidentally.

Nobody should feel short-changed by living to the age of four score years and five, and working to the very end. Inevitably, though, such a full life leaves an enormous gap for those left behind. Lionel was altogether one of the nicest of men - never too busy for old-fashioned curtesies, unfailingly polite, and always ready with a welcoming smile. I feel enormously honoured to have considered myself a friend of his, and I am deeply saddened by his passing.

Andrew Lamb, 2000


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