Michael Gough Matthews, whose death is reported today, was a benign teacher and passionate director of the Royal College of Music. Many men and women owe him their careers in music. His kindly interventions saved countless students from dropout or despair. He joined the College as Registrar in 1973, became director in in 1984 and retired in 1993. He was the driving force behind building its Britten Theatre. In my social encounters with him, he was entirely charming.
There was, however, one issue on which we parted company. In 1990, the Conservative minister Lord Gowrie (later chairman of the Arts Council) put forward a long-discussed reform of London’s music conservatoires. It was generally agreed that there were too many – the Royal Academy, Royal College, Guildhall, Trinity and London College of Music – and that none of the five was functioning at world class.
Sir Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher’s closest advisor, had raised the issue in Cabinet after his daughter chose to study at Juilliard rather than at any UK music college. Why, he demanded, was there no British institution to match Juilliard, Curtis, Cleveland and Indiana for high-grade teaching? Why were we spending so much public money on so many colleges that were non-competitive except with each other.
Gowrie proposed a merger of RAM and RCM. It made perfect sense and kight have created a musical powerhouse with the best teachers and talent from both houses. Both, however, rallied their royal (below) and ancient supporters against the Gowrie reform, none more so than the RCM director Michael Gough Matthews (known as ‘MGM’), who was credited with killing off any chance of a merger.
In doing so, he preserved a status quo that was, and remains, far from satisfactory. May he rest in peace, gentle man that he was.