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Obituary: Raymond Monelle

Raymond Monelle, composer, music lecturer, author, conductor and critic. Born: 19 August, 1937, in Bristol. Died: 12 March, 2010, in Edinburgh, aged 72.

RAYMOND Monelle was one of Edinburgh's most prominent and respected musicians and academics. As well as being a composer and conductor, he was an author, critic and lecturer.

He was one of the pillars of the music faculty at Edinburgh University for more than 30 years, before retiring in 2002. He achieved an honorary professorship in recognition of his work and maintained his passion for the subject right up until his death.

Raymond Monelle was born in Bristol in 1937 and educated at the city's grammar school. In 1948, his family moved to Hull, where he went to Hymer's College, before going on to spend two years in the RAF doing National Service.

After this, he read history at Pembroke College, Oxford, later becoming a teacher at Ottershaw School. It was at this point in his life that he realised he wanted to forge a career in music. His achievements included a BMus from the Royal College of Music in London.

He was also awarded a PhD later in life for a thesis he wrote on the 16th-century style of opera music known as opera seria. In 1969, Monelle came to Edinburgh University, where he quickly became a popular lecturer.

Outside the classroom, he was conductor of the opera club and university society choir and inspired many of his students to move on to a full time career in music themselves, either as performers or academics.

During the 1970s, he conducted performances including Handel's Judas Maccabaeus and Stravinsky's The Wedding, as well as a number of opera club productions, such as Weber's Oberon, Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld and Boieldieu's La Dame Blanche.

His greatest love, however, was in the area of the semiotics of music; it was a field in which he was internationally recognised and respected. He wrote three books on this subject: Linguistics and Semiotics in Music (1992), The Sense of Music (2000) and The Musical Topic: Hunt, Military and Pastoral (2006).

This may make him sound dry and joyless, but he was anything but. He was seen as something of a maverick, and had a lifelong love of jazz and performed with his own trio.

He was an accomplished and inventive jazz pianist and once played his way from Southampton to Cape Town at the head of a jazz group which entertained passengers sailing with the Union Castle shipping line.

Along with his family, music was his life. He was heavily involved in Edinburgh University's Wagner Week, for which he will always be remembered by former students. He was also a consummate nurturer of up-and-coming talent: he once directed a production of Gluck's Alceste, which was conducted by a then-novice called James MacMillan.

He lectured all round the world, travelling as far as Rome and Mexico to share his experiences and knowledge. He also gave vent to his strongly-held opinions as a reviewer of music for The Scotsman and later for Opera Magazine and The Independent.

His pieces, which were intelligent, witty and often controversial, said as much about Monelle's character as they did about his knowledge and love of his subject.

His reputation sometimes spread in the unlikeliest of ways. He was the subject of a song, Keep In Sight of Raymond Monelle, by the Toronto-based cult pop band Barcelona Pavilion. He was also a composer of some renown.

Monelle finally retired from Edinburgh University in 2002, though he did continue to teach some classes, supervised postgraduates and undertook some work at Napier University.

In retirement, he hardly seemed to slow down. He wrote a novel, Bird in the Apple Tree, about the adolescence of the composer Alban Berg. It has yet to be published, but those who have read it describe it as a fine and atmospheric work.

Monelle was never happier than when he was seated behind a piano, preferably with his family around him. His strongly held opinions could sometimes infuriate even those who loved him deeply, though they were always delivered with thought and gentleness.

There was another side to Monelle: he had a deep Christian faith and for many years until his death was a parishioner at Old St Paul's Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh. Talking to him at coffee after mass was often a lively and thought-provoking experience.

He met his second wife, Mhairead, in 2001. They married last year, and the service incorporated one of his own organ pieces, performed by the church's renowned organist, Dr John Kitchen.

He spent his last weeks in St Columba's Hospice, supported by his family and his love of poetry, particularly that of AE Housman. He was able to make a powerful and significant contribution to his own funeral: his Requiem at Old St Paul's featured a mass setting he had written.

He is survived by his wife Mhairead, his sister Suzy and his daughters, Cathy and Julia.

 
 
 

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