(5th February, 1927 – 5th February, 2007)



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‘When my sister and I – we were twins – were born, we were living in a little house called “Red Cottage” at Sandyford, just outside Dundrum where later my aunt too she lived. We were christened in a church along the road there and then we moved from there down to Greystones.’ – Interview with James Knowlson, 27 August 1991.



‘There was this chap D. O. Williams, who lived in Greystones, he lived in Greystones, and he’s married to the daughter of a lady called Mrs McCann – am I right? – who lived at the bottom of the road that we lived in, as it happened, in the Burnaby Estate in Greystones – we lived there from 1933 – we came down through Dundrum when Ann and I, my sister and I were three… five or six, to this big house – it’s still there, we drove past it the other day – we often drive round that way in Greystones – we were going down to Wicklow – we like to go down the back road because that’s the way my father used to drive down to Rathdrum to work.

   ‘He, Mr Williams, was married, I think, to the daughter of Mrs McCann, and he either lived or frequently visited Mrs McCann’s house, which was at the opposite end of the road from our house.  And my father had got to know him in some way and they used to play piano duets together, frequently, because he was a good pianist.

   ‘I remember Mr Williams telling me he had a complete set of the vocal scores of the Bach Cantatas, which he’d been in the British Army in Germany during the war, and at the end of the war he discovered some house which had been owned by some German chappy, and which had in it all the Bach Cantata scores – and he couldn’t resist swiping them! So he had them packed up and he brought them back to Ireland as kind of war booty, and it’s rather civilised war booty!’  – Interview with Charles Gannon, 31 July 1998.



John attended St Columba’s College, Dublin, where he was taught music by Joe Groocock, whom he admired little short of idolatry, and who furthered his lifelong devotion to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. John wrote his first fugue about the age of fourteen, leaning on a chest of drawers in the Groocock family home, while visiting them one weekend. – Text for Appreciation, Andrew Robinson, February 2007.




Name: John Stewart Beckett
Address: Drummany, Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Date of birth: February 5th, 1927
Father’s name: G. P. D. Beckett, M.D., address as above.
Father’s profession: County Medical Officer of Health, Wicklow.
Subject: Composition
Instrument: Organ
Date of entering college: September 17, 1945
Date of leaving college: 23 July 1946

Awarded K. B. Stuart Prize (£3/3/=) Midsummer 1946 [end of 3rd term].

Name: John Stewart Beckett
Address: Drummany, Greystones, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Date of birth: February 5th, 1927
Father’s name: G. P. D. Beckett, M.D., address as above.
Father’s profession: County Medical Officer of Health, Wicklow.
Subject: Composition
Instrument: Organ
Date of entering college: as Scholar, September 23, 1946
Date of leaving college: July 17 1948
No. of terms resident: 6

Mr Beckett was paying student from September 1945 to July 1946 (3 terms). See “Kalamazoo”.

Julian Lyttelton               £120 for study in Paris [scholarship]
                                             £60 1946
                                             £60 1947
                                             £120 1948

Composition III: Dr R. O. Morris [wrote textbooks – see Grove].
2nd study: Organ – Dr George Thalben Ball [organist of Temple Church].
Composition: Rubbra
Also piano lessons, perhaps 1 term, with Basil C. Allchin.
Orchestration: Dr Gordon Jacob [see Grove].
Viola (1 term): Dyer
Organ: Dr George Thalben Ball
Theory: Dr Gordon Jacob – for whole of the last year.


– Information supplied by Chris Bornet of the Royal College of Music Library.



David attended St Columba’s as a boarder between 1948 and 1953; Joe Groocock taught him music. When David was 15 and Joe was ill, John Beckett stepped in to take his place and gave David lessons on the organ and piano. …David was struck by his prejudices and snobbishnesses and his hatred of Handel and Bruckner; John did so much to put him off both composers that David cursed him. John swore that there was only one good piece of music by Handel, an aria in Messiah, which he claimed couldn’t have been by him as it was too good. They did ‘bits and pieces’ together, such as Debussy and Schubert, and a little early music.

   John would have also been a boarder at St Columba’s – there were no day pupils. He would have been there, studying under Groocock, between 1940 and 1945. As there was no school of music in Trinity College, Dublin, he must have gone to the Royal Irish Academy of Music [he did], though he would have got his B. Mus. in TCD as an external degree. John told David that when he went to Paris, he studied privately with Nadia Boulanger, with whom all aspiring composers studied at that period. Samuel Beckett (who loved Schubert) helped John when he was living in Paris. – Telephone conversation with David Lee, 3rd August, 2007.



In Paris, John got a job at teaching English in a school at Saint Germain-en-Laye. He used to take the old SNCF train from the Gare Sainte Lazare out to the school. – Telephone conversation with the late Morris Sinclair, May 19, 2007.



‘When I came back – I came back to Dublin having been a student at the College of Music in London – that was in ’48 – then I was in Paris for a year, ’49, and I think I came… yes, I did come back to Dublin, I think, in 1950.  My father died, alas, September 3rd 1950, and I was back before that.  And I was in Dublin for, I think, two years: ’50, ’51 and most of ’52, and then went to London in September ’52 [1953], as I remember.’ – Interview with Charles Gannon, 31 July 1998.



John met Michael Morrow in the National Library, Dublin, in 1950 when he had returned from Paris. They began to talk and Michael invited John back to the Morrow household, where he accompanied his sister Brigid, who sang songs by Dowland, on the lute. John and Michael went to London in 1953, where they shared a flat and earned £10 a week performing for diners at Forte’s Musical Fountain, a restaurant in Picadilly. – Telephone conversation with Brigid Ferguson (nee Morrow), February 2007.



Venetia O’Sullivan met John in her early 20s (around 1950) through a shoolfriend of hers who lived in Greystones. Her friend told her that John was interested in music and brought her out to a derelict rented cottage (where, she cannot remember) to meet him. There was no mention of John’s first wife Vera Slocombe (originally the wife of Douglas Slocombe, the photographer and cinematographer). Vera was in Ireland during John’s recovery in hospital after the car crash in 1961. She and John lived in a rented cottage in Dalkey, on the sea front. When John was in hospital, Werner Schürmann made him a wooden table for his bed, on which he could rest his arms. – Telephone conversation with Venetia O’Sullivan, February 26, 2007.



You are quite right about the inaccuracies in John’s obituary [in The Guardian]. He won a scholarship to the Royal College in London as far as I know and not Paris; he probably went to Paris after London at Sam’s [Samuel Beckett’s] invitation, I remember Josette Hayden telling me that Sam announced John’s arrival to her and asked her to rent him her spare attic room.
   Vera was married to the cinematographer Slocombe.
   I also only know about the one accident that you mention, he was driving back from a late night chamber music session and drove straight into a wall outside Bray, luckily it was the wall of the local Garda’s [policeman’s] garden who called the ambulance to bring John to Loughlinstown Hospital, had it not been for that John may well have lain there for hours and bled to death!

   – E-mail from Edward Beckett, March 2007.




Mr. J. S. Beckett and Miss V. Slocombe

The marriage arranged between John Beckett, younger son of the late Dr. G. P. G. Beckett, and Mrs. M. R. Beckett, of Greystones, Co. Wicklow, and Vera Slocombe, only daughter of Mrs. Evelyn Nielson of London, took place in Dublin on Monday 23rd October.

The Irish Times, October 31, 1961.



He [John Beckett] was best known as a harpsichordist and as a co-director of the group Musica Reservata in London in the 1960s. This was the first group to put some wellie into the performance of early music and we Dublin students of the sixties made what you might call a tribute band, The Consort of St Sepulchre.
   John was also a conductor, and he inaugurated a series of February Sunday concerts in St Ann’s, Dawson Street, consisting entirely of Bach cantatas. Since he left Dublin (again) in the eighties the series has been revived, and is still running. – Andrew Robinson, H2G2, February 5, 2007.


7.30 pm, Royal Albert Hall
Sinfonia from Cantata No. 174: Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemütne.
Cantata No. 21: Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis

Sinfonia from Cantata No. 42: Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbatus
Cantata No. 30: Freue dich, erlöste Schar

New Irish Chamber Orchestra
Irene Sandford, soprano
Bernadette Greevy, contralto
Frank Patterson, tenor
William Young, bass
Cantata Singers

Broadcast in stereo

Programme notes: Nicholas Anderson

John Beckett
Born in Dublin, 1927. After winning sholarships in composition and keyboard playing to the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music in London, he was awarded a travelling scholarship to study in Paris.

– Programme Notes for Henry Wood Promenade concert at the Royal Albert Hall, July 22, 1979.



At the beginning of March, my father and I drove to Saint Ann’s church, Dawson Street, so that I could make a recording of a little group named the Henry Purcell Consort, which John Beckett had formed. He wanted to send a tape of the group performing to England. He, Betty Sullivan, Arthur McIvor and Thérèse Timoney performed various pieces by Purcell and then Frank Patterson joined us a little later in the afternoon to sing some of his songs. – Full unabridged version of Cathal Gannon – The Life and Times of a Dublin Craftsman by Charles Gannon, at the National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.



When Paul accompanied John on his tour around Germany in 2000, visiting the places where Bach had lived and worked, he kept a diary of events. John and Paul travelled to Switzerland in 2003, visiting various places of interest (including James Joyce’s grave, where they drank bottles of white wine in honour of him) and scenic spots in the mountains. One of the highlights was to be a visit to a gallery in Bern that housed Paul Klee’s paintings. This turned out to be something of a disaster as the gallery was being rebuilt and only ten or fifteen of the paintings were on display. – Conversation with Paul Conway, February 15, 2007.



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