Friday May 1 2020

Cellist and last surviving member of the legendry Amadeus String Quartet Martin Lovett has passed away, and Britten Pears Arts joins with many from around the world in paying tribute to him. As a member of the Amadeus he formed a strong and lasting connection with Britten, Pears and the Aldeburgh Festival.

He made Britten’s acquaintance shortly before the Amadeus established themselves as an ensemble, having been asked to play in the orchestra for the premiere production of The Rape of Lucretia in Glyndbourne, 1946. As it happened another talented string player, Peter Schidlof, was also asked to play for the opera. In a 2014 interview for The Red House’s oral history archive Mr Lovett recalled that the initial exchange of words between the two was, he confessed, a slightly heated debate over who should move in order to be able to see conductor Ernest Ansermet. Shortly thereafter both men were to form, with Norbert Brainin and Siegmund Nissel, what was to be a lifelong musical association with one another. The Quartet’s founding owes much to their ‘Godmother,’ another figure connected with Aldeburgh, the composer and musicologist Imogen Holst. She encouraged their working together while she taught at Dartington School and saw their first performances there at the Great Hall. She also supported financially one of their earliest concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall, which took place on the 10 April 1948.

The Amadeus’s link with Aldeburgh was strengthened during the following decade with frequent appearances at the annual Festival. Their first was in 1952 where they were joined by Britten to perform Mozart’s Quartet for piano, violin, viola and cello, K.478 and Haydn’s Quintet in E flat, op. 44. In the following years the composer joined them again on two further occasions (on one of which he played fortepiano). Mr Lovett counted Britten among the most gifted musicians he had ever worked with and one can only imagine what it must have been like to witness these great artists interacting with one another in concert.

The Amadeus played at a total of twelve Festivals throughout Britten’s lifetime, including the first season for the new Snape Maltings Concert Hall in 1967. Mr Lovett regarded Aldeburgh as a type of home-coming, and saw musicians such as Holst and Britten as vital to the Quartet’s origin and growth. Over time Mr Lovett’s first wife, the violinist Suzanne Rozsa, also became integral to the Britten circle as a member of the English Opera Group and English Chamber orchestras.

Further appearances of the Amadeus at the Festival took place either as a Quartet or as performing in chamber ensemble with musicians such as Gervase de Peyer, Aurele Nicolet, Claudio Arrau, Mstislav Rostropovich and Cecil Aronowitz. They performed a programme with Aronowitz of Mozart, Shostakovich and Schubert (‘Death and the Maiden’) in June 1973, when Britten was absent because he was recuperating from heart surgery undergone the previous month.

It was perhaps inevitable that the composer would eventually write a work specifically for his friends, although it was a sign of his busy schedule that he only managed this late in his career, in the final year of his life. His String Quartet No. 3, op. 94, was completed in December 1975. A rehearsal was arranged in September the following year at The Red House Library which Mr Lovett recalled as being an enormous benefit. Each member of the Amadeus gained from Britten’s advice, but was struck by his fragile state of health. At the conclusion of the final play-through Britten turned to Donald Mitchell (‘the Mahler man,’ as Mr Lovett struggled to recall his name in interview), shrugged and quietly said, ‘It works.’

Britten’s former assistant Rosamund Strode said, ‘I have an abiding memory of the day of Britten’s funeral in Aldeburgh some weeks later, when I caught sight of four unmistakeable back views, in dark winter overcoats, seated a little way up the almost empty parish church, quietly waiting. They gave the first performance of the String Quartet at Snape Maltings just over a week later’ (19 December 1976), which Mr Lovett described as ‘a voice from the grave’.

The Amadeus continued its association with Aldeburgh in the years that followed both as performing artists as well as through the work they did with Peter Pears as teachers at the Britten–Pears School for Advanced Musicals Studies (now Britten–Pears Young Artists Programme). With Martin Lovett’s death that connection may now be ended but thankfully there remains a strong historical legacy charting the link through recollection, recording and various other archival material between Aldeburgh and one of the greatest String Quartets.

Image: Peter Pears, Colin Matthews, Imogen Holst and Donald Mitchell follow the score at rehearsal for the first performance of Britten’s String Quartet No. 3. Martin Lovett, facing away from camera, to his right Peter Schidlof, Siegmund Nissel and Norbert Brainin. Photograph Nigel Luckhurst © Britten Pears Arts.