Thursday, March 7, 2019

Michael Head

Michael Head

Michael Dewar Head (1900 - 1976)

As well as being a composer, singer and pianist, Michael Head was an examiner for the Associated Board. It was when he came to Ampleforth College to examine the music students that we first met him. We knew his lovely songs, and had recently heard Siciliana for oboe on the BBC. As well as offering hospitality we were definitely hoping to get our hands on this lovely piece!
I drove down to Ampleforth College to bring him up to our house. My son Daniel, aged about 9, was in the car with me.
'Now Mr. Head is quite an old man, and may be a bit deaf. When you speak to him try to speak very clearly,' I told him.
Michael got in the car, and I went back to the music department to get his suitcase. When I returned to the car he was roaring with laughter, and so was Daniel. Apparently Daniel had said, extremely distinctly 'I think you are the oldest man I have ever seen.'
Our relationship was very warm from then on (thank you Daniel!) and we not only acquired his lovely Sicilana, but also a very striking song The World is Mad, for voice, clarinet and piano, and three other works including oboe and bassoon.
Geoffrey asked his advice on adjudicating, as he had his first engagement coming up. Michael said that however awful the playing, it was important always to say something nice - even if it was just to compliment them on the way they walked on to the stage.
That first meeting was on March 10th 1976. In April I sent him the Louis MacNeice poem that eventually became The World is Mad. During the following couple of months several other works arrived. On August 3rd he wrote from Bulawayo, South Africa, where he was not only examining for the AB but also singing his songs at recitals, including The World is Mad - ink still wet on the paper.
You can imagine our shock when, on August 24th, we heard that he had died suddenly in Cape Town. It was peritonitis - he had not reached a hospital soon enough.
June Emerson
Siciliana - oboe & piano
Three Hill Songs - oboe & piano
Three Fantastic Pieces - bassoon & piano
Trio - oboe, bassoon & piano
The World is Mad - mezzo, clarinet & piano

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