Thomas Beecham

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Sir Thomas Beecham (29 April, 18798 March 1961) was a British conductor. He founded several British orchestras. From the early twentieth century until his death, Beecham was a dominant influence on the musical life of Britain.


  • Great music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and leaves the memory with difficulty. Magical music never leaves the memory.
    • [Beecham admitted to Neville Cardus that he had made this up on the spur of the moment to satisfy an importunate journalist; he acknowledged that it was an oversimplification. (Neville Cardus: 'Sir Thomas Beecham, A Memoir', 1961)]
  • Asked if he had ever conducted any Stockhausen, he said, "No, but I once trod in some."
  • Too much counterpoint; what is worse, Protestant counterpoint.
    • Of J. S. Bach; quoted by Neville Cardus, Guardian, 8 March 1971
  • A musicologist is a man who can read music but can't hear it.
    • Quoted by H. Proctor-Gregg, Beecham Remembered (1976), p.154

Conductors by John L. Holmes (1988) pp 31-37 ISBN 0-575-04088-2

  • I found it as alluring as a wayward woman and determined to tame it.
  • The grand tune is the only thing in music that the great public really understands.
  • If I cannot sing a work, I cannot conduct it.
  • The musical equivalent of St. Pancras Station
  • No composer has written as much as 100 bars of worthwhile music since 1925.


  • It is said that in one rehearsal he was unsatisfied with the performance of a female cello soloist, and so said to her "Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands, and all you can do is scratch it!".
  • He helped Walter Legge underwrite the creation of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and conducted its premiere concert on 25 October, 1945. Later, Legge raised the matter of Beecham's fee, to which he replied: "The privilege of directing this magnificent consort of artists is such that my pleasure would be diminished if I accepted a fee. I would, however, gladly accept a decent cigar"
  • "Here are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between."
  • When asked why only male composers appeared in his repertoire, he said "There are no women composers, never have been, and possibly never will be" (however he later revised this view, and became a champion of Ethel Smyth's music)
  • He described the sound of the harpsichord variously as
    • "like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof"
    • "playing a birdcage with a toasting fork"
  • Of Beethoven"Beethoven’s last quartets were written by a deaf man and should only be listened to by a deaf man"
  • On Beethoven's Seventh Symphony: "What can you do with it? It's like a lot of yaks jumping about."
  • “Try everything once except folk dancing and incest. (This is also attributed to Sir Arnold Bax, George S. Kaufman, Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill.)
  • Brass bands are all very well in their place – outdoors and several miles away”.
  • “I have just been all round the world and have formed a very poor opinion of it”.
  • After conducting an orchestra through a piece of music - "Bass Trombone, you are out of tune." [a voice comes from the orchestra saying] "Sir, the bass trombonist hasn't arrived yet." [To which Beecham replied] "Oh... well when he arrives, tell him he's out of tune."
  • On a grave stone is written: "Here lies a fantastic organist and an excellent musician." [Beecham then comments...] "What, both in the same grave?"
  • It is quite untrue that British people don't appreciate music. They may not understand it but they absolutely love the noise it makes.
  • In the first movement alone, I took note of six pregnancies and at least four miscarriages.
    • Of Bruckner's 7th Symphony