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Ogden, John

Category: Musician or composer

 

John Andrew Howard Ogdon (27 January 1937 – 1 August 1989) was an English pianist and composer.

Ogdon studied at the Royal Northern College of Music between 1953 and 1957.

He won first prize at the London Liszt Competition in 1961 and consolidated his growing international reputation by winning another first prize at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1962, jointly with Vladimir Ashkenazy. And from there his career took off.

As a pianist he “revealed deep musical sensibilities, always buttressed by a colossal technique.” He also had perfect perception recall committing a huge range of pieces to 'memory'/perceptions. He was also able to play most pieces by sight. His recording output as a pianist was prolific – about half of the complete piano works of Sergei Rachmaninoff, all ten Scriabin sonatas, the works of Alkan and Busoni, plus many others.

His own compositions number more than 200, and include 4 operas, 2 large works for orchestra, 3 cantatas, songs, chamber music, a substantial amount of music for solo piano, and 2 piano concertos, the first of which he recorded. The majority of his music was composed for the piano, but he also wrote sonatas for violin, flute and cello, all unaccompanied. A planned symphony based on the works of Herman Melville, and a comic opera, were left unfinished. The original manuscripts of many of John Ogdon's compositions now reside at the Royal Northern College of Music Library Catalogue.

He also transferred and arranged the works of numerous composers for the piano, at least 50 transcriptions exist of works by composers as diverse as Stravinsky, Palestrina, Mozart, Satie and Wagner. He also made piano arrangements of songs by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin. Ogdon and Diana McVeigh also developed a performing version of Edward Elgar's Concert Allegro, Op. 46 from Elgar's manuscript, which was full of corrections, crossings out and additions.

Ogden with his wife Brenda

Where did he get his inspiration?

Ogdon's health was theoretically described as 'good', and his physical constitution was 'strong', as his wife often recalled in her biography.

Regarded as a "gentle giant", known and loved for his kindness and generosity, he had tremendous energy.

But any everyday argument seemed to upset him more than expected.  And then suddenly in 1973 he experienced a severe nervous breakdown.

His illness was initially diagnosed as possibly schizophrenia, but doctors then changed the diagnosis to manic depression. Neither seems appropriate. He had a nervous breakdown caused by stress. It may also have been a delayed reaction to early psychological trauma.

 

From Daily Mail - Violent, paranoid... and Britain's most sublime pianist. New book lays bare the life of John Ogdon - By David Leafe Published: 01:28, 28 March 2014 
Born in Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire, in January 1937, the youngest of five children, he was only 18 months old when his mother Dorothy was almost hacked to death by his father Howard, a schizophrenic English teacher who tried to attack her with an axe. He might have succeeded, but for their eldest son blocking his path.  With her husband committed to an asylum, Dorothy Ogdon threw herself into nurturing the extraordinary musical talent of John, her youngest child, who was sight-reading Chopin by the age of three.

 

Ogdon spent some time in the Maudsley Hospital in London, and in general needed more nursing than it was possible to provide while touring.

Nevertheless, he was reported to maintain three hours' practice a day on the hospital's piano.  Ogden was heavily medicated, and from this medication, he never really recovered. 

The treatment he was given, and the lack of support, simply exacerbated his problems.

From Daily Mail - Mad maestro who attacked his wife in front of the Queen: Violent, paranoid... and Britain's most sublime pianist. New book lays bare the life of John Ogdon - By David Leafe Published: 01:28, 28 March 2014
Ogdon was invited to teach at Indiana University….This arrangement eventually ended in 1979 because he was so often absent, still giving concerts around the world at his wife’s behest. Even when he was on campus, he displayed increasingly erratic behaviour, once turning up for a formal meeting with the Dean in a pair of skimpy purple shorts.  By then, the strong anti-psychotic drugs he was taking were giving him difficulty co-ordinating his hand movements. Despite his wife reducing the dosage before each concert audiences began walking out. Both his British and American agents gave up on him. …. Ogdon, meanwhile, was living between various hostels and B&Bs and, at one point, received a handout from the Musicians Benevolent Fund.  A friend, somewhat misguidedly, suggested that, since Ogdon wouldn’t know what to do with the money, they should give it to his wife to look after. She went straight out to Harrods and bought herself a fur coat. ‘What could I have done with £250 when we owe £30,000?’ she argued.

John Ogdon and Brenda Lucas in Moscow, late 1960's. Vladimir Ashkenazy,
Nikita Khrushchev, John Ogdon & Boris Gutnikov, 1962

He still played the piano brilliantly, but his behaviour became totally eccentric and erratic.

From Daily Mail - Violent, paranoid... and Britain's most sublime pianist. New book lays bare the life of John Ogdon - By David Leafe Published: 01:28, 28 March 2014
…..that February evening in 1981, he was attempting a comeback, with a rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 30, a challenging piece requiring mastery of the entire breadth of the keyboard.  After he had been squeezed into his tails, and had a comb run through the tufts of his nicotine-stained white hair, his agent did a last check for anything untoward. This was wise, for it was said that Ogdon had once appeared in front of the ultra-snobbish audience at New York’s Carnegie Hall with half a pork pie poking out of his pocket.  With everything looking vaguely in order, it was down to Ogdon to play his best. And he did not disappoint. As he attacked the keys with a brilliance and ferocity that seemed to blur the division between him and the concert grand, it was as though he was some kind of musical centaur, half man and half piano.

In 1983, after emerging from hospital, he played at the opening of the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. In 1988 he released a five-disc recording of an interpretation of Sorabji's Opus clavicembalisticum, shortly before he died in August 1989 of pneumonia, ...........exacerbated by undiagnosed diabetes.  

References

Piano Man: A Life Of John Ogdon by Charles Beauclerk

There is also an article about John in the Daily Mail which uses extracts from the book
Read more: LINK
 

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