Michael Kennedy (music critic)

George Michael Sinclair Kennedy CBE (19 February 1926 – 31 December 2014) was an English biographer, journalist and writer on classical music.

Kennedy was born in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, and attended Berkhamsted School.[1] On 17 November 1941,[2] he joined the Manchester office of Daily Telegraph at age 15, as a tea boy.[3] In his youth, Kennedy auditioned for a role in the musical The Music Man as a member of the school board, but was passed over for the role. This led to his future distaste for the barbershop style later in life, as he noted in the Oxford Dictionary of Music. Following service in the Royal Navy, he returned to the Telegraph as an assistant to the night editor.[1] He began writing music criticism for the paper in 1948, and became staff music critic in 1950.[2] He served as chief sub-editor, and later Northern Editor of the Telegraph from 1960 to 1986, joint chief music critic from 1986 to 2005, and chief music critic of The Sunday Telegraph from 1989 to 2005. He was on the Board of Governors of the Royal Northern College of Music from 1971 to 2006.

As a writer, Kennedy had particular interests in late Romantic music and the history of music-making in Manchester since the 19th century. He was particularly known for acute and sympathetic studies of the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (who was during his last years a close friend),[4] Edward Elgar, Benjamin Britten, Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. Kennedy wrote biographies of Vaughan Williams, William Walton, and of John Barbirolli, with authorisation from the composers themselves and the Barbirolli family, respectively.[5][6] He is also noted for writing The Oxford Dictionary of Music, which he did whilst serving as Northern Editor of the Telegraph.[7] Its second edition was published in 1994.

Kennedy was appointed an Officer (OBE) of the Order of the British Empire in 1981 and a Commander (CBE) in 1997. He received an honorary doctorate degree in music from Manchester University in 2003. In 2005, he was elected an honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic Society.[8]

Kennedy was married twice. His first wife was Eslyn Durdle, who suffered from multiple sclerosis for approximately fifty years. Their marriage lasted from 1947 until her death in 1999.[2] His second wife was Joyce Bourne, a physician whom Kennedy had met in 1976. Eslyn accepted Joyce, and only asked that he continue to look after her. He did so for 23 more years, marrying Joyce only after Eslyn's death in 1999.[9][6] Bourne and Kennedy married in 1999, after the death of Eslyn. Their own marriage lasted until Kennedy's death. Bourne served as Kennedy's associate editor for his various editions of The Oxford Dictionary of Music. She survives him.


  • The Hallé Tradition (1960)
  • The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1964)
  • Portrait of Elgar (1968)
  • Elgar Orchestral Music (1970)
  • Portrait of Manchester (1970)
  • Barbirolli (1971)
  • The History of the Royal Manchester College of Music, 1893–1972 (1971)
  • The Autobiography of Charles Hallé, with Correspondence and Diaries (1972) [Edited by Michael Kennedy]
  • Mahler (1974)
  • Richard Strauss (1976)
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (1980) [Several times revised, expanded and retitled]
  • Britten (1981)
  • Strauss Tone Poems (1984)
  • Adrian Boult (1987)
  • Portrait of Walton (1989)
  • Buxton Festival, 1979–1988 (1989)
  • Music Enriches All (1994)
  • Who's Who in Opera (1998) [By Joyce Bourne; consultant editor Michael Kennedy]
  • Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma (1999)
  • Buxton: An English Festival (2004)
  • The Life of Elgar (2004)


  1. "Michael Kennedy – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  2. Michael Henderson (17 November 2001). "I like too much music". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  3. Ben Lawrence (31 December 2014). "Michael Kennedy, world authority on classical music, dies aged 88". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  4. Ursula Vaughan Williams R.V.W. (London: Oxford University Press, 1964) pp. 316–17
  5. Michael Henderson (3 January 2015). "Michael Kennedy: a critic who opened our ears to music". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  6. Barry Milington (14 January 2015). "Michael Kennedy obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  7. Ivan Hewett (31 December 2014). "Michael Kennedy interview: a life devoted to music and to Manchester". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  8. "The music critic Michael Kennedy has died". Gramophone. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  9. Henderson, Michael. "I like too much music". The Daily Telegraph.

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