John Lanchbery was born in London and took violin lessons from the age of eight, when he started composing. A scholarship took him to the Royal Academy of Music. This was interrupted by the Second World War. He returned to studies and took part-time work with a music publisher. They suggested that he audition for the post of conductor with the Metropolitan Ballet. He made his debut with them at Edinburgh in 1948. Two years later the orchestra collapsed for lack of funds but by then he had learned his craft. Many composers do re-orchestrations but it takes a special skill made it danceable. Arguably Don Quixote was not a satisfactory ballet score until Lanchbery re-arranged it. Working with choreographer Celia Fanca, he wrote The Eve of St Agnes, one of the first commissioned ballets to be shown on BBC.
He was taken on by Sadler's Wells company. The first professional ballet choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan was Somnambulism in 1953, orchestrated by Lanchbery. They also did House of Birds in 1955. With Frederick Ashton he did La Fille Mal Gardée for the Royal Ballet in 1960. This work includes the famous Clog Dance used for many years as a theme tune on radio. Other conductors earn revenues for recordings but for Lanchbery this option barely existed. Instead his income was supplemented by the copyright he earned from his orchestral arrangements, used by ballet companies all over the world. He effectively re-wrote Don Quixote for Rudolf Nureyev in 1966. He did the same for Natalia Makarova in La Bayadere for the American Ballet Theatre in 1980. Boldest of all was Macmillan's Mayerling (1978) where Lanchbery took more than 30 pieces by Franz Liszt and made them into epic tragedy.
Lanchbery was the first to convert operas into ballets (Tales of Hoffman, The Merry Widow, Die Fledermaus, Le Papillon). He received honours from Russia and Sweden and was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1991. He married Sadler's Wells principal Elaine Fifield in 1951. He became an Australian citizen in 2002, making his home in Melbourne where he died on February 27, 2003.
The demand for ballets is much greater than the amount of first-class music designed for the art form. The result is that some of the most popular ballets are arrangements of works written for a different purpose. Perhaps the best-known is Alexander Grechaninov's arrangement of Chopin's piano music into the ballet Les Sylphides. Another famous example is La Boutique Fantasque, an arrangement of Gioacchino Rossini's music, by Ottorino Respighi in 1919. However the most prolific arranger of music for ballet was John Lanchbery.
JohnLanchbery, who helped upgrade music for ballet in a 55-year career of conducting, arranging and recomposing scores for many of the world's great companies, died of cancer Wednesday in Melbourne, Australia.
John Arthur Lanchbery was born in London, and at age 8 he started music lessons, studying the violin.
Lanchbery became renowned for being able to fashion persuasive ballet scores by stitching together a patchwork of pre-existing musical sources -- with adaptations from grand opera and operetta among his specialties.
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