David Cairns (writer)

David Adam Cairns CBE (born 8 June 1926, Loughton, Essex) is a British journalist, non-fiction writer and musician. He is a leading authority on the life of Berlioz.[1]


He is the son of the distinguished neurosurgeon, Sir Hugh Cairns. From 1967-1972 he worked for the London division of Phonogram. His work in journalism has spanned a number of high-profile newspapers and magazines. He was chief music critic of the Sunday Times from 1983 to 1992, having earlier been music critic and arts editor of The Spectator. Other publications for which he has been a music critic include the Evening Standard, Financial Times and New Statesman.[1] Before becoming a music journalist, he worked in the House of Commons Library.

Cairns is known for his two-volume biography of Berlioz: Berlioz: The Making of an Artist 1803–1832 and Berlioz: Servitude and Greatness 1832-1869.[2] Reviewing the second volume for Opera magazine, Michael Kennedy described it as "one of the finest of all biographies of a composer" going on to praise his depiction "of Berlioz's lifelong struggle against the philistinism of Parisian musical life", and proclaims that "he has given Berlioz the literary memorial he deserves".[3] The books won a number of major awards, including:

Cairns also translated Berlioz's autobiography, published by Gollancz in the United Kingdom in 1969.

In 1991, the French government named him an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for his work in promoting Hector Berlioz as a key French composer. In 2013, he was elevated to the position of Commandeur. He was appointed CBE in the 1997 New Year Honours.

In Mozart and his Operas (University of California Press, 2006) Cairns stated part of his music's appeal was its simultaneous embodiment of both "the perfection our souls long for and the sensation of our longing".

A co-founder of the Chelsea Opera Group, he also founded and conducted the Thorington Players,[1] a London-based orchestra that played regularly in St Mary's Church, Putney and St. John's, Smith Square.


  1. Grove, Cairns, David (Adam)
  2. Allen Lane - The Penguin Press, London, 1989 / 1999.
  3. Kennedy, M. Berlioz's literary memorial - Michael Kennedy on the Cairns biography. Opera, January 2000, Vol 51 No 1, p45-47.


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