Lawrance Collingwood

Lawrance Arthur Collingwood CBE (14 March 1887 – 19 December 1982) was an English conductor, composer and record producer.

Lawrance Collingwood was born in London and became a choirboy at Westminster Abbey. He studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Exeter College, Oxford (1907–1911). He went to Russia as a young man, took courses at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory with Alexander Glazunov, Wihtol, Maximilian Steinberg and Nikolai Tcherepnin, and worked for some years as assistant conductor to Albert Coates at the St. Petersburg Opera. He also conducted at the Mariinsky Theatre. His two piano sonatas, which show the influence of Alexander Scriabin, were published there.

He returned to England after the Russian Revolution, then acted as an interpreter for Winston Churchill’s expedition in support of White Russian forces in Northern Russia (1918–1919). Back in England he made his mark initially as a composer: his Symphonic Poem was presented by the Royal College of Music and was published. He worked as an operatic conductor at the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells Theatre, becoming principal conductor at Sadler's Wells. His steady hand did much to establish Sadler's Wells as a viable alternative to Covent Garden. He gave early British performances of operas by Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. His opera Macbeth was presented there under his own direction on 12 April 1934. The part of Lady Macbeth was sung by Joan Cross. (Music from the opera had been previously played at the Queen's Hall on 10 November 1927.)

In January 1934, he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a recording of the Triumphal March from Caractacus and the Woodland Interlude by Sir Edward Elgar, supervised by the composer himself by telephone from his sick bed (he was to die a month later).

Collingwood retired from Sadler’s Wells in 1946. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1948. His second opera The Death of Tintagiles, to Alfred Sutro’s translation of Maurice Maeterlinck’s drama, was premiered on 16 April 1950. His other compositions include a Piano Concerto and a Piano Quartet.

He brought many foreign operas to the British stage for the first time. His premieres included:

  • on 30 September 1935 at Sadler’s Wells he conducted the first performance outside Russia of Modest Mussorgsky's original version of Boris Godunov. It was sung in an English translation by M. D. Calvocoressi
  • on 9 April 1946 he conducted the first professional performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' opera Sir John in Love.

Lawrance Collingwood also worked as a record producer from the days of Fred Gaisberg, and was later a colleague of Walter Legge. He was EMI’s producer of Sir Thomas Beecham’s recordings of the music of Frederick Delius from 1946 onwards. He also produced recordings conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, including Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Kindertotenlieder and songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. He produced Vittorio Gui’s recording of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

He recorded for HMV from 1922 until 1971. His recordings include:

  • Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in G minor, with Mischa Elman and the New Philharmonia Orchestra
  • Bach Violin Concertos with Mischa Elman
  • Verdi’s Don Carlos (1954) – the first studio recording of the four-act 1884 version of the opera; singers included Tito Gobbi and Boris Christoff
  • he recorded with some of the most famous singers of the time: Enrico Caruso, Marian Anderson, Beniamino Gigli, Friedrich Schorr, Feodor Chaliapin, Lauritz Melchior, Elisabeth Schumann, John McCormack, Walter Widdop, Joseph Hislop, Elsie Suddaby, Norman Walker, Joan Hammond, Maria Caniglia, Peter Dawson, Florence Austral, Göta Ljungberg, Fernand Ansseau, Sena Jurinac, Rita Gorr, Otakar Kraus, Webster Booth, and Sir Keith Falkner
  • Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 with Edwin Fischer and the London Philharmonic Orchestra
  • 90 Motives from Wagner's Ring Cycle
  • Excerpts from Act III of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde
  • Ernő Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Song, Op. 25, with the London Symphony Orchestra and the composer at the piano
  • light music of Elgar (1964).

Nikolai Medtner dedicated his song The Raven to Lawrance Collingwood. Collingwood died in Killin, Perthshire, Scotland on 19 December 1982, aged 95.