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Richard Popplewell RIP

Malcolm Kemp

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Posted on behalf of Paul Derrett:

The death has just been announced of Richard Popplewell, for many years a much loved and influential Professor of Organ at The Royal College of Music. He was Director of Music and recitalist at St.Michael’s Cornhill from 1966-1979 and subsequently Organist and Composer to HM Elizabeth II at St.James’s Palace for twenty-one years until his retirement. He died on Tuesday 22nd March aged 80. He had been severely ill for some time.

Paul Derrett is a past pupil of Richard’s and a keen promoter of his music. He will be remembering Richard in a recital he is due to give at 11.30am on Bank Holiday Monday at Bromley Parish Church. It will be an ‘upbeat’ recital with plenty for the Easter mood, but it will include the Trio Sonata in C by Bach and works by Richard’s beloved Max Reger and Popplewell himself.

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Gosh - what a lovely tribute that film is. My own touchstones with Richard were from being a chorister at St Paul's when he was Assistant Sub-Organist. He would take probationers' practice one morning and his main duty appeared to be playing/assisting at the Sunday morning Mattins/Eurcharist double service. I'm not quite sure exactly what he did on these occasions as it was not the custom at St Paul's in those days to have one in the loft and one downstairs, but I think it was too much for one organist to manage on their own if the Communion setting was unaccompanied. Yes, thinking about it, there were things like the intonation for the Creed and Gloria for such settings as the Vaughan Williams that required two organists - I'm sure there was more to it than that! I don't remember his playing at all - partly because we didn't really know when he WAS playing! I expect he took his turn at weekday evensong from time to time but this must have been very rare. I have one recollection of his appearing downstairs to conduct an anthem because he looked so untidy! (This is a small boy's recollection, don't forget!) He was wearing the old chocolate and blue FRCO hood and appeared to have tied it in a knot on his back and his surplice was all over the place as well.


Anyway, roll on a bit and I took part in one of Douglas Hopkins' 'Holiday Courses for Organists' at the RAM in 1973. Richard was a most congenial member of the staff team at that and I remember 'doing' the B minor 'Corelli' fugue with him on the old RAM Duke's Hall organ. Fast forward even further and I last met him at the garden party at Buckingham Palace about 20 years ago, and again, his tremendous friendliness was striking. He relished in reminiscing about old days at St Paul's and had a lot to say about the old school characters who had taught on that 1973 course - Hopkins, Hawkridge, Arthur Wills, etc.

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