Peter Cropper

* 19-11-1945     29-05-2015

Obituaries & biographies, 69 Years

Violinist dubbed 'the Mick Jagger of the string quartet’ who played like a man possessed and led the Lindsay Quartet for almost 40 years

Peter Cropper, the violinist, who has died aged 69, was the founder and, for almost 40 years, the leader of the Lindsay Quartet, one of the most recognisable of British ensembles; such was his exuberant passion for music-making that Gramophone magazine once called him “the Mick Jagger of the string quartet – not from exhibitionism but from the urge to let himself go”.

Although the quartet was based around the universities of Keele, Sheffield and Manchester – they were, noted the commentator Richard Morrison, “the heart and soul of chamber music in the north of England” – the quality of their ensemble and the breadth of their repertoire soon brought them to the attention of metropolitan and international audiences.
The Lindsays (as they preferred to be known, reflecting their informal approach) made their name with sublime accounts of Haydn’s chamber music, going on to carve a niche with the quartets of Michael Tippett, whom they met when he was artistic director of the Bath Festival in 1971.

“At 80 he was still behaving like a 10-year-old,” Cropper recalled. “We thought, if he’s this energetic then his music must be really good.” The composer wrote his fourth and fifth quartets for the Lindsays (in 1979 and 1993 respectively) and they spent many hours working with him perfecting the works.

The music of Beethoven and Bartók also ranked highly, a pairing that won them several awards. And when, in 1996, the Lindsays brought their Beethoven cycle to the Wigmore Hall in London there was not a spare ticket to be had, such was the affection in which they and their playing were held.

“From an uneasy beginning, the players began to find their own rhythm as well as that of the music,” the critic Hilary Finch wrote of their account of Beethoven’s Op 132 Quartet, adding: “After a wonderfully fearless recitative from Peter Cropper’s leading violin, the firmly paced finale had all the momentum of total command.”

Cropper was a fearless risk-taker, both in repertoire and in interpretation. One writer described the Lindsays as being “the nearest thing in the classical music world to extreme sports, fronted by a violinist who played like a man possessed”.

Cropper would probably have agreed. “I don’t say it was always immaculate,” he told Chamberstudio magazine, of the quartet’s performing style. “Who wants perfection? Perfection is sterile. We’re human beings.”

This meant, in the view of some, that the finished product was at times unpolished, and there was a tendency among the more high-minded critics to stereotype the rough-and-ready Northerners. But perseverance and the wisdom to take just the right amount of risk usually paid off, leading the writer James Jolly to remark that “their performances had an edge-of-the-seat, almost improvisatory quality”.

Cropper, who was once described as having “a different facial expression for every harmony”, was a man of big gestures. In the 1990s the Lindsays presented a festival called 999 Years of Music, in which chamber music friends – Nicholas Daniel, oboe; Kathryn Stott, piano – joined them to play music from the past millennium, though the programme was largely skewed towards the last quarter of it.

Developing new ways of communicating was Cropper’s great passion. “Isn’t that what life is all about?” he asked the journalist Ariane Todes. “If you bake a cake, you don’t want to stuff your face with the whole lot, you want to share it.” The same, he believed, applied to music: if you make it, you want to share it.
Peter John Cropper was born at Southport in Lancashire on November 19 1945. His grandfather was leader of the Liverpool Philharmonic; an uncle was principal viola of the BBC Philharmonic for 35 years. Peter was 13 when he won a music scholarship to Uppingham; he later joined the National Youth Orchestra.

The original group – Cropper, Michael Adamson, Roger Bigley and Bernard Gregor-Smith – came together as the Cropper Quartet at the Royal Academy of Music (where Cropper studied with David Martin, his future father-in-law). In 40 years there would only be two personnel changes: Ronald Birks replaced Adamson as second violin in 1972 and Robin Ireland replaced Bigley on viola in 1985.

They were coached by Sidney Griller, of the Griller Quartet, and at Dartington Summer School by members of the Hungarian Quartet. The change of name came in recognition of Lord Lindsay, who was vice-chancellor of Keele University, where they were appointed quartet in residence in 1967.

The group’s distinctive and informal personality was soon showing. By 1970 there were “Music and Ale” concerts at the Vic Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent. “One person grumbled about my having a Fanta bottle by my music stand,” Cropper reminisced in 2006.

Performances in the round, notably at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, became a calling card. The traditional black tie was replaced with T-shirts bearing portraits of Beethoven, and the players chatted with the audience between works, at the interval and in the bar after the concert.

They had moved to Sheffield University as quartet in residence in 1972 – replacing at short notice a Czech group who had been unable to obtain exit visas – and it was here that their families put down roots. In 1984 they founded the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival, which later evolved into Music in the Round, of which Cropper was artistic director. They later worked at Manchester University, including with David Fanning, the pianist, and Ian Kemp, the Tippett expert.

Overseas audiences likewise found the Lindsays’ informal approach refreshing, and the group found themselves giving tours around Europe and the US – even taking their Beethoven cycle to Tokyo in 1998, as well as to Paris and Sydney.
There were also more than 50 recordings, largely for the ASV label, of, among others, Mozart, Schubert and all Tippett’s quartets. Their honours included the Gramophone’s special achievement award in 2005.

While Cropper’s name is synonymous with the Lindsays’ legacy (“It is utterly time-consuming,” he once said of the quartet’s work), his achievements as a solo violinist, though fewer in quantity, were equal in musicianship.

He was a passionate teacher and, after the quartet ended in 2005, he recorded Beethoven’s violin sonatas accompanied by the pianist Martin Roscoe, with whom he also played piano trios with the cellist Murray Welsh. Retirement gave him the opportunity to play string trios with James Boyd (viola) and Paul Watkins (cello).

Cropper spent 25 years renovating a 17th-century farmhouse in a corner of the Peak District. “It’s a bit embarrassing when you turn up to rehearsals with cement on your hands,” he noted. He would tell anyone who inquired that his main interests were fine food and finer wine.

He met his wife Nina Martin, a renowned violin teacher, while they were both in the National Youth Orchestra, and they married in 1972. She survives him, as do a son and a daughter, both of whom are musicians.

Peter Cropper, born November 19 1945, died May 29 2015

Source: The Telegraph

Published on: 02-06-2015