Obituary of Peter Tranchell, The Daily Telegraph, 18 September 1993

Tags: obituary, biography

The Daily Telegraph London, p19, September 18, 1993

Obituary: PETER TRANCHELL, the musician and teacher who has died aged 71, was a resourceful and versatile composer.
His most ambitious project was an opera, The Mayor of Casterbridge, adapted from Thomas Hardy's novel. It was originally produced at the Cambridge Arts Theatre in 1951, as part of the Festival of Britain, and revived there in 1959.
The opera was rather patronisingly received, and never attracted further attention from professional companies. Disappointment did not embitter Tranchell. It did, however, cause him to concentrate his energies on teaching.
Peter Andrew Tranchell was born at Cuddalore, India, on July 14, 1922, and educated at Clifton and King's College, Cambridge.
After serving in the Army during the Second World War he resumed his Cambridge studies, and then took up a teaching post at Eastbourne College.
From 1950 to 1989 he was a lecturer in music at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge; and from 1960 to 1989 Fellow and director of music at the college.
Tranchell wrote several ballets, including Falstaff (1950), Fate's Revenge, performed by Ballet Rambert at the Lyric, Hammersmith, in 1951, and Images of Love, which was produced at Covent Garden in 1964 with choreography by Kenneth MacMillan. Between 1952 and 1961 he composed nine ballets for the Theatre Royal, Windsor.
He also wrote six musical comedies, including Zuleika, an adaptation of Max Beerbohm's Oxford novel Zuleika Dobson, which was first produced at Cambridge in 1954.
Three years later, after reorchestration, the piece appeared at the Saville Theatre in London, with Mildred Mayne in the title role and scenery and costumes by Osbert Lancaster. But the long and successful run forecast by W A Darlington, The Daily Telegraph's theatre critic, did not materialise.
Tranchell also wrote the music, which was played on pre-recorded tapes, for the Cambridge Latin and Greek plays in 1956, 1957 and 1959. He composed an organ sonata, several choral works including the cantatas This Sorry Scheme of Things (1953) and The Joyous Year (1961), and much church music, including settings of psalms.
He made many arrangements of well-known pieces of English church music for the male voices of the Caius choir. His friends also cherish the many scurrilous, blasphemous and heretical songs he composed for their private consumption, set to beautiful melodies. But these pieces hardly lend themselves to public performance.
Tranchell contributed book reviews to periodicals. In 1952 he wrote a savage polemic for Music and Letters, in which he attacked the contributors to a volume on Benjamin Britten for their jargon and tortuous prose.
Tranchell will be remembered as an outstanding teacher and college man. His genuine concern for the welfare of his charges often led him to dissuade people from going into music because he knew that failure and hurt would be inevitable.
Though he could fly off the handle when his high standards were not achieved, Tranchell was better known for his extraordinary generosity.
Among his pupils was Martin Neary, now organist of Westminster Abbey, and among his closest friends the conductor Raymond Leppard.
Tranchell and Leppard once played Grieg's concerto on two pianos in the college. Tranchell asked: "How old were you when you first played that?" Leppard said he was 10. "You bastard," Tranchell said, "I was 11".
He was a superb pianist. A discriminating colleague who heard him play Liszt's B minor sonata declared it the best performance he had ever heard.
Music was far from being Tranchell's only interest. His knowledge of botany made him a splendid director of gardens at Caius.
His wit and repartee were ever at the ready. Recently he noted that an umpire had been struck dead by lightning during a cricket match. This, he observed, was proof that God was a man.
Tranchell was unmarried.