A SHINING EXAMPLE
BASIL RAMSEY pays an 83rd birthday tribute to
My longest musical friendship started when I was a proof reader for the
London music publisher Novello. It was not long after the war, and my period
of National Service was close at hand. The composer Desmond Ratcliffe had
just been demobbed by the army, and I was about to spend two years in the
Royal Air Force. Desmond started proof reading alongside Walter Emery (of
Bach research fame), and I joined the team when I was demobbed.
For Novello as a leading music publisher it was evident that one of the
post-war priorities was pruning and overhauling the enormous pre-war catalogue.
Above all, it required new blood. A post-war renaissance in the arts was
gathering momentum, and we music editors worked on the Novello rejunevation
with enthusiasm. There were promising young British composers in the making,
and it was our intention to attract some of them to the Novello fold.
Desmond's accuracy as a proof reader was already evident (and has
since become legendary), and other composers as well as the company were
slightly in awe of his general music ability, which unerringly discovered
error where others (including me) had passed it over.
Desmond's true vocation was as a composer, and his remarkable skill
lay in miniatures rather than anything long and grandiose. He was in his
element associated with a publisher whose catalogue had always provided
in some variety for choral societies, churches, and for the needs of young
I also could see how Novello and Desmond Ratcliffe needed each other,
so one of my goals was gently to assist this operation. It was a fruitful
time for both, and the outcome in published music undoubtedly gave an impetus
Desmond, 83 this day (December 8), continues to work as a freelance music
editor, and lives with his wife Shirley (also a musician and writer) close
to the Norfolk coast, a delicious if sometimes squally part of the UK.
Desmond's musical activity (even to amazing arrangements of popular
works such as the Fauré Requiem and Vivaldi Gloria for SSA) will
long be remembered and used for the innate musicality and the skill with
which the music is rearranged so that even the composers could not complain
of the slightest musical impropriety.
It is sad that the natural musical talent of those who choose not to
compose on a large scale becomes diminished if they deploy their gifts to
provide for amateur music-making. Desmond Ratcliffe is one shining example
of great natural talent that has served, and continues to serve through
music still in print, the needs of many musical amateurs the world over.
Should you be a reader with responsibilities for amateur music-making
and unaware of Desmond Ratcliffe's contribution to this vital area
of music, please contact me.
Happy birthday, Desmond, from all your fans!
Copyright © 8 December 2000
Basil Ramsey, Eastwood, Essex, UK
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