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Genial John has died and, with him, a gentle era

John Amis died last night in hospital, aged 91.

He was one of the last people you could talk to about music just before and after the Second World War. A jack of many trades – administrator, critic, broadcaster, quiz panellist – John worked for Thomas Beecham for a while, then for William Glock at Dartington and around Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh. His jobs never ended well.

He sang a bit and appeared on stage. His greatest skill was as a conversationalist, entertainer and educationalist. He would pop up on all sorts of radio game shows. He was always game for a laugh.

In style and deportment, he cultivated the bygone manner of a gentleman of leisure. It’s sad to see him go.

john amis



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  1. One of my favourite John stories involves the appearance of his memoirs, _Amiscellany_. He gave an inscribed copy to Felix Aprahamian, who had been instrumental in getting John one of his first jobs in music, with the LPO, in the 1940s. Of course, the first thing Felix does is look up ‘Aprahamian’ in the index — where he finds that John has written “Hello, Felix!” in the margin.

  2. Very sad news. I hadn’t seen him in years and didn’t know him well, but your description fits the bill perfectly. RIP. I remember an occasion on which he was discussing Alan Bush and his early friendship with Michael Tippett and quoting Tippett saying with great pride and enthusiasm about a passage in his (I think) Second Sring Quartet “oh, I got that from Alan!”.


  3. Peter Metrinko says:

    I remember him fondly from My Music. RIP.

  4. Jens Rossel says:

    John Amis and his friend Donald Swann met Danish composer Gunnar Berg (1909-1989) in Salzburg May 1950 taking part in “The Salzburg Seminar in American Studies” on “American Music and Art” at Schloss Leopoldskron, where I found interesting papers in the archive and a list of the participants, among these Boris Blacher, Marius Constant and Noel Lee.
    Gunnar Berg writes very enthusiastic in a June1 letter from Salzburg to his sister in Copenhagen about the Salzburg-seminar – he had been at the Salzburg festival in 1932 and 1935. And in Berg’s things left behind is a copy of his piano composition “Variations sur une daina lithuanienne” (1946) bearing Berg’s handwritten dedication to John Amis thanking him for his successful performance of Berg’s “Le Chemin de Fer”.
    With the kind assistance of Barbara Bunn (Putney Music) I got in contact with John in the hope that he would share with me his memories of this Month of May in Salzburg and his meetings with Berg, who was sent to Salzburg from Paris by Darius Milhaud. I was quite surprised that John claimed to know nothing about Gunnar Berg at all – since I could prove that both of them were in Salzburg 1950 (not in 1952, which John remember wrong in “Amiscellany”). Berg was a very serious musician and maybe he and John simply couldn’t go along with each other at the end of the day. Any information on Salzburg 1950 will be much appreciated.

  5. sad news….always a wise wit and genuine enthusiast …I shall treasure his many gentle words of encouragement throughout my career. RIP dear John.

  6. One of GEORGE ENESCU’s great admirers has gone… “At one of Enescu’s visits to the Bryanston summer music-school in Devon in the late 1940s, John Amis found that his teaching method reflected his gentleness of spirit…” (Martin Anderson on Enescu Piano Music Double CD, Luiza Borac piano)

  7. John’s last years were brightened by the presence of a new girlfriend — one with a bit of money, apparently. ‘It’s a marvellous arrangement’, he told me: ‘I pay the taxi fares and she pays the air fares!’

    • Classic Amis, that! Many thanks. Our paths crossed but rarely but always pleasurably; indeed, it would be hard to imagine anyone else acquainted with him saying otherwise.

  8. james oxley says:

    I once visited the Kremlin with John. We then had a look at Lenin’s tomb which was roped off and there were guards marching up and down. John, of course, stepped over the rope and sauntered up towards the door. While the guard remonstrated with him and tried to shove him back down the path, John called out to make sure I had got a picture of the incident. A great showman and enormously kind with it.

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