– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

Malcolm exhibition 2017

George Malcolm, CBE, KSG (1917-1997)

Balliol’s musician of genius

“George Malcolm was a great musician, a renaissance man, a wonderful human being. He was influential in the development of choral and instrumental music in Britain and abroad; and I consider myself one of the fortunate recipients of his immense knowledge, broad culture and excellent taste. He should never be forgotten.”                        

– Sir András Schiff, who gave a recital in memory of GJM at Balliol College on February 24th 2017

Child Prodigy

Born in Clapham, south-west London on 28th February 1917, George John Malcolm showed an exceptional gift for music from an early age. When only seven he won a local authority scholarship to attend the junior department of the Royal College of Music – the youngest child ever to achieve this.

1  Album of newspaper cuttings made by Mrs Dodie Malcolm, mother of GJM, open at news stories of the boy’s precocious talent.

2  Black & white photograph showing GJM playing the violin. © Daily Mail 1924. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.

3  Sepia photograph showing GJM dressed for his first communion.

4 ‘Hymns and Benediction sung for the First Communion’ – printed music by GJM, written when he was six years old.

5  ‘The Mount Pleasant College Magazine’ of July 1924 – article about GJM by Sister Mary Xavier, SND.                   

6 Programme for dress rehearsal of Dame Ethel Smyth’s Entente Cordiale, held at the Royal College of Music on 22nd July 1925.

7 Title page of script Entente Cordiale, with a dedication by the composer Dame Ethel Smyth in appreciation of GJM’s help.

8 Black & white photograph of the cast of Entente Cordiale on stage, showing GJM towards the left in front. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.


Royal College of Music

GJM continued to attend the R.C.M. as a junior during his teenage years; then again as a young adult student after taking his academic degrees at Oxford; finally completing his musical studies after serving in the Second World War.

9 Extract from ‘The Monthly Musical Record’, January 1929, praising the piano playing of GJM at 11 years old. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.                         

10 Letter from the Royal College of Music, 1937, stating award of Leverhulme Scholarship to GJM.

11 Review in ‘The Scotsman’ of 17th May 1939 of a concert at the Royal College of Music  in which GJM featured with Janet Smith-Miller (contralto). Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.

12 Programme of a concert at the Royal College of Music held on 7th December 1939 at which GJM performed Weber’s Konzertstück.  

13 Report for Summer Term 1947 on GJM’s progress at the Royal College of Music.

Balliol College

Having done extremely well at his secondary school in Wimbledon, GJM not only won a place at Balliol for entry in Michaelmas Term 1934, but also the valuable Lewis Nettleship scholarship. He read successfully for both the B.Mus, awarded in 1937 and Literae Humaniores, awarded the following year.

GJM first performed in Balliol’s series of free Sunday night concerts in his first term. He would go on to appear, usually as solo performer on the harpsichord, on at least 20 further occasions.

14 Letter dated 16th March 1934 from the Master, AD ‘Sandy’ Lindsay, informing GJM of the award of the Lewis Nettleship Scholarship, worth £100. 

15 Photograph of GJM upon graduation in summer 1938. 

16 Photograph of GJM with his father, taken in the back garden of the family home in Clapham, summer 1938. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.  

17 Telegram from GJM in Oxford to his parents, dated 23rd November 1937, giving news of passing the BMus degree. 

18 Programme of Balliol concert no. 1022, held on 3rd December 1939, in which GJM performed Mozart’s piano concerto K.459.  

Music in wartime

For nine years (1938-47) GJM was choirmaster-organist of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in his native Clapham. But with the outbreak of war he joined the RAF Reserve and was posted to a musical role in Suffolk. From there he was in 1942 appointed bandmaster of Bomber Command Band, based at Uxbridge.

GJM would always value the experience he gained in this role, not least in terms of managing men of diverse backgrounds and musical experience.

“Some of the longer tours could be very tiring and depressing, particularly when after a long, cold journey we arrived at a station to find that no preparations had been made for us. It was then that I had to forget that I was a musician and remember that I was a warrant officer, who could get people jumping about a bit.”

On the evidence of the notebooks shown here, GJM was permitted to return to Clapham for certain church festivals. He had also continued to write music for the church.

19 Photocopy of the programme of a concert given by Bomber Command Band in High Wycombe on 21st May 1944, with GJM conducting.   Displayed in facsimile for preservation reasons.  

20 Photocopy of the programme of a concert given by Bomber Command Band in Colchester on 21st January 1945, with GJM conducting.   Displayed in facsimile for preservation reasons. 

21 Original manuscript of a concerto by Handel, arranged by GJM for oboe and military band.  

22 Memo book from St Mary’s Catholic Church, Clapham, kept by GJM as organist/choirmaster, open at entry for 15th September 1940 at the time of the Blitz.       

23 Choirmaster’s book from St Mary’s Catholic Church, Clapham, kept by GJM, open at a list of his own compositions in use there.  

24  Organ book from St Mary’s Catholic Church, Clapham, kept by GJM, open at entry for 28th March 1945, showing his The Nine Responsories being sung for the service of Tenebrae.                                                

Discovering the ‘Jangle-box’

Having saved up his demobilisation grant, GJM noticed in 1947 that Sotheby’s was offering a fine Shudi-Broadwood harpsichord at auction. He bought it almost on a whim; but it was not long before he was known both to own it and to be playing it brilliantly. Within two years of this impulse purchase he was making recordings – still 78 r.p.m. shellac discs at that period. By the time of his 1954 recording for Decca of two masterpieces by Bach, microgroove vinyl discs at 33 r.p.m. had arrived.

Through the 1950s and ‘60s, GJM favoured the instruments made by Thomas Goff in Pont Street, SW3. By the time of the two recitals in the 1970s shown here he had switched to Goble harpsichords – usually supplied and tuned by a loyal and tireless technician, Malcolm Russell.

25 Sleeve of 10-inch long playing record of harpsichord music by J.S.Bach, played by GJM, issued by Decca Records in 1954. 

26 Programme of a concert of music for multiple harpsichords, financed by instrument maker Thomas Goff, held on 26th May 1959 in the Royal Festival Hall, London. 

27 Sleeve of 12-inch double long playing record of the complete harpsichord music of Rameau, played on a Goff harpsichord by GJM, issued by Argo Records in 1967.    

28 Flyer for a concert of music for harpsichord by Rameau, given on 6th March 1973 by GJM in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.  

29 Flyer for a concert of music for harpsichord by Handel, given on 5th December 1979 by GJM in the Wigmore Hall, London. 

Westminster Cathedral’s Master of Music

Appointed aged 29 to Westminster Cathedral to the accompaniment of the press coverage shown here, GJM soon set about changing the ‘hooty’ sound produced by the boy trebles to an incisive timbre with the spirit of the playground in it. He was both very demanding and inspired great loyalty in the majority of those under him.

GJM’s relations with the Cathedral authorities, however, were not always easy; he even left his post for a year (1952-3) before being restored to it under a more sympathetic Administrator.

At Christmas 1958 Benjamin Britten heard GJM’s boys performing his A Ceremony of Carols and was so impressed that he resolved to write something for them. He delivered his Missa Brevis as GJM was about to leave his post, but there was just enough time for the piece to be recorded live in a service by the BBC; a performance which soon appeared on this Decca EP disc.

30  Blue exercise-book album of newspaper cuttings, made by Mrs Dodie Malcolm, mother of GJM, open at news stories and announcements of his appointment as Master of Music, Westminster Cathedral in summer 1947.  

31 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record of Tenebrae Responsories by Victoria, sung by the choir of Westminster Cathedral under GJM, issued by Argo Records in 1957.   

32 Sleeve of 7-inch extended play record of Missa Brevis by Benjamin Britten, sung by the boys of Westminster Cathedral with GJM (organ), recorded by the BBC and issued by Decca Records in 1960.  

33 GJM’s copy of Britten’s Missa Brevis (1959), open at the first page of the ‘Gloria’.


“I play the harpsichord 1. because I do actually like playing it; 2. because I’m professionally grooved into it; and 3. because people seem prepared to pay me for doing it.” (from lecture-recital notes by GJM)

GJM was only able to develop his playing career when he left Westminster Cathedral in 1959. Of his performance in Bach’s Goldberg Variations, one critic wrote: “As always, his virtually flawless reading was technically outstanding – indeed too commanding in no.29, where he managed with one hand what Bach had distributed over two.”

34  Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record ‘Music for three and four harpsichords’, featuring GJM and three other soloists, issued by EMI in [year unknown].

35 Flyer for a concert of music for harpsichord, given on 20th October 1963 by GJM at Crosby Hall, London SW3 on 20th October 1963.  

36 Programme for a concert of the Goldberg Variations by J.S.Bach, given on 18th October 1964 by GJM at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London SW7.  

37 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record ‘The World of the Harpsichord’, compiled from 20 years of recordings by GJM, issued by Decca Records in 1973.


Alongside his successful playing career, GJM now began to conduct a number of orchestras in a wide repertoire. In the 1960s he was especially associated with the Philomusica of London and the BBC Scottish Orchestra. He also appeared frequently with the Northern Sinfonia and the English Chamber Orchestra.

38 Flyer for a concert of orchestral music conducted by GJM, given on 30th January 1966 at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.  

39 Programme for a concert of orchestral music with the Northern Sinfonia, conducted by GJM, given on 6th June 1979 in Newcastle City Hall.  

40 Programme for a concert of orchestral music with the Northern Sinfonia, conducted by GJM, given on 1st March 1964 in Durham Castle.

41 Programme for a BBC Promenade concert with the Northern Sinfonia, directed by GJM, given on 22nd August 1972 in the Royal Albert Hall, London.            

42 Programme for a concert of orchestral music with the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by GJM, given on 8th February 1980 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.  

43 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record of Brandenburg Concertos 1, 2 & 3 by J.S. Bach, with the Northern Sinfonia, conducted by GJM, issued by Enigma Records in 1977.   

44 Photograph of GJM aged around 50. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.             

With the Academy of St Martin in the Fields

GJM formed a long and happy association with the A.S.M.F., sometimes as continuo player but often performing concertos, such as these by Handel for organ and harpsichord, as well as a much-praised recording of Poulenc’s organ concerto.

45 Extract from ‘The Academy of St Martin in the Fields’ (1981) by Meirion & Susie Harris, published by Michael Joseph.  

46 Box for four 12-inch long playing records of concertos for harpsichord and organ by Handel, with GJM as keyboard soloist and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Neville Marriner, issued by Argo in 1976. 

At the Aldeburgh Festival

Arising from his admiration of GJM’s work with the boys of Westminster Cathedral, Benjamin Britten engaged him in 1960 to be conductor of the 2nd and 3rd performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. GJM would go on to feature at the Festival on 31 occasions, including conducting a Britten-Pears School student production of another Britten opera, The Turn of the Screw, in 1983.

47 Handwritten notes by GJM about his experience of conducting early performances at the Aldeburgh Festival, 1960 of the opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten. Displayed in facsimile for preservation reasons.                              

48 GJM’s conducting copy of the score of Act III of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, open at a passage for the Fairies near the end of the opera.  

49 Photograph of GJM with violinist Hugh Maguire in the Maltings, Snape [?1983].

50 Photocopy of a letter written by Imogen Holst to GJM, following the dress rehearsal of The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten in 1983.  Pencil original held by Britten-Pears Foundation.  


Educator at Dartington and Spode

Two institutions in particular value the memory of GJM’s teaching and all-round musical inspiration: Dartington Summer School, and Spode Music Week, dedicated to study and performance of music for the Roman Catholic liturgy.

51 Two mounted photographs of GJM at play at Dartington Hall, Devon; [date unknown].

52 Letter written by John Amis, secretary of Dartington Summer School, to GJM on 24th August [year unknown]. 

53 Photograph of John Amis, David Munrow, Gill Munrow, GJM taken at Dartington Hall; [date unknown].  Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.  

54 Brochure of Dartington Summer School, 1973, at which GJM was a tutor.    

55 Brochure of Spode House Music Week, 1973, at which GJM was resident conductor. 

András Schiff

GJM first encountered András Schiff in Budapest as a precocious child pianist, given the task of turning the visiting harpsichordist’s pages. On the boy’s frequent visits to England, GJM gave him much valued guidance. Later they often performed together, one of the last occasions being a BBC Prom in 1995.

56 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record of keyboard works by J.S.Bach, performed by András Schiff, issued by Hungaroton in 1974; GJM’s copy, given to him by the performer, including handwritten dedication to GJM as his mentor. 

57 Handwritten critical notes by GJM upon listening to Schiff’s recording of Bach. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons. 

58 Programme of a concert in Leeds including a performance of the Concerto for two pianos by Mozart, performed by András Schiff and GJM, in 1980.  

Chamber Musician

GJM, so well-known worldwide for his harpsichord playing, was always eager to get back to his first and deepest love, the piano. His duo partnership with the violinist Christopher Hirons bore more fruit with the formation of a piano trio.  That did not mean forsaking the harpsichord for long.

59 Flyer for a recital at the Wigmore Hall of sonatas for violin and piano performed by Christopher Hirons and GJM on 18th May 1973.                           

60 Poster for a recital at the Wigmore Hall by the George Malcolm Trio (Christopher Hirons, Stephen Orton, GJM) on 16th March 1975. 

61 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record of two piano trios by Beethoven, performed by Christopher Hirons, Kenneth Heath and GJM, issued by Crescent Records in 1976.  

62 Flyer for three recitals at St John’s Smith Square, London SW1 of baroque music, performed by William Bennett, Christopher Hirons, GJM and Charles Tunnell in March 1974.  

Balliol College again

GJM, always a welcome recitalist here, became an honorary Fellow of the college in 1966. Seventeen years later he was responsible for an extraordinary musical occasion as Balliol marked its 1500th free Sunday concert with great performers, all engaged by him.  Concert no.1631 saw him on the platform here for the last time.

63 Letter from Christopher Hill, Master of Balliol, offering honorary Fellowship to GJM on 17th February 1966.  

64 Poster for Balliol concert no.1500, with star performers engaged by GJM for the occasion, 8th May 1983.  

65 Photograph of GJM with Sir Edward Heath, a Balliol contemporary, after concert no.1500 on 8th May 1983.  Displayed as a facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons. 

66 Letter from Anthony Kenny, Master of Balliol, thanking GJM for his efforts re Balliol concert no.1500. 

67 Programme of Balliol concert no.1631, a lecture-recital by GJM – his last performance at the college on 30th April 1995.  

Honours and tributes

Honours started to come GJM’s way in 1960, with the Cobbett gold medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. In the 1965 New Year’s Honours List, he became a CBE.  In 1970 the Pope made him a Knight of St Gregory – the highest honour attainable by a Roman Catholic musician. Sheffield University awarded GJM an honorary D.Mus in 1978. In July 1997 – just three months before he died – the Incorporated Society of Musicians presented him with its gold medal

68  GJM’s choice of ‘Desert Island Discs’ for the BBC Home Service, in an interview with Roy Plomley first broadcast on 7th December 1964.

69 Photograph of GJM with his mother Mrs Dodie Malcolm, on receiving his CBE in summer 1965. Displayed in facsimile for preservation reasons.

70 Handmade birthday card from Michala Petri, Danish recorder player, to GJM for his 70th birthday, shown open; 28th February 1987.     

71  Handmade birthday card from William Bennett, English flautist; 28th February 1987. Reverse displayed in facsimile. 

72 Photograph of GJM between [unknown] and Ian Partridge, that year’s president of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, to commemorate the award of the I.S.M.’s  gold medal for 1997 to GJM.  ©CJW Photographic Services 1997. Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons. 

Royal College of Music, again

Awarded a Fellowship of the R.C.M. in 1974, and invited to teach harpsichord students there, GJM soon found himself too busy performing to discharge his duties – hence the letter of resignation. As a distinguished alumnus he continued to be invited to give recitals at the College.

73 Programme for a concert at the Royal College of Music in honour of the 80th birthday of the composer Herbert Howells, with GJM among the performers, on 17th October 1972. 

74 Handwritten draft by GJM of a letter to Sir David Willcocks, director of the R.C.M., in which GJM resigns his professorial role at the R.C.M. on 6th December 1978.  Displayed in facsimile (enlarged) for preservation reasons.   

75 Programme of a recital of music for harpsichord at the R.C.M. given by GJM on 27th September 1979.

Latter years

GJM lived for the last 24 years of his life in the Wimbledon home of the Hirons family. He remained in demand for much of that time, although affected by health issues. Purchase of a country cottage in Gloucestershire provided a welcome bolthole.

The Requiem Mass celebrated at Westminster Cathedral, three months after his death on 10th October 1997, was a fitting tribute to a great musician.

76 GJM’s wall calendar for October 1977.   

77 Programme for a concert given at Saintbury, Gloucestershire by James Bowman, Christopher Hirons and GJM, 2nd August 1980.  

78 Handwritten notes by GJM recording a brief holiday in Scotland by train and taxi in summer 1995. 

79 Programme of a concert given at the Wigmore Hall, London WC1 by GJM, Ian Partridge (tenor) and the Academy of St Martin’s Chamber Ensemble, to celebrate GJM’s 80th birthday on 28th February 1997. 

80 Programme of the Requiem Mass for GJM, celebrated at Westminster Cathedral on 29th January 1998. 

81 Photograph of GJM’s gravestone in the churchyard at Saintbury, Gloucestershire. 

Working with Menuhin

Among the many flautists and violinists with whom GJM performed and recorded was Yehudi Menuhin. They combined to memorable effect in September 1961 in Bach’s six Sonatas, BWV 1014-19. Happily these recordings can now be heard again on compact disc.

82 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record (UK edition) of sonatas for violin and harpsichord by J.S. Bach, performed by Yehudi Menuhin, Ambrose Gauntlett and GJM, issued by EMI in 1962.  

83 Sleeve of 12-inch long playing record (French edition) of sonatas for violin and harpsichord by J.S. Bach, performed by Yehudi Menuhin, Ambrose Gauntlett and GJM, issued by EMI Angel in 1962. 

84 Photograph of GJM (right) with Jeremy Menuhin, Yehudi Menuhin, Ronald Kinloch Anderson and Douglas Larter in the control room at Abbey Road Studios, London NW8 in September 1961.        

85 Certificate recording the nomination of GJM and Menuhin’s recording of Bach sonatas for EMI for a ‘Grammy’ award in 1962.  

86 GJM’s marked score of Bach’s sonatas for violin and harpsichord, open at the beginning of the 3rd movement of the sonata in E major, BWV 1016.  

87 Case for two-CD re-issue of the 1962 Bach sonatas recording, issued by Forgotten Records in 2015.  

88 Programme for Gstaad Festival 1963, open at the concert on 8th August featuring Menuhin and GJM.  

89 Programme for a concert of violin and keyboard music, given on 30th November 1973 at Salle Pleyel, Paris by Menuhin and GJM. 

90 Handwritten reference dated 25th September 1965 by Yehudi Menuhin for GJM, who considered applying to be Principal of Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London in that year.  Displayed in facsimile for preservation reasons.

* * * * *


Items from Balliol College, George Malcolm Archive: 5, 19-24, 26, 28-9, 33, 35-6, 38-42, 44, 47-8, 50, 52-5, 58-60, 62, 63-7, 70-1, 73-80, 86, 89-90

Items loaned by Christopher Hirons: 1-4, 6-18, 30-32, 34, 49, 51, 56-7, 61, 69, 84-5

Items loaned by Giles Dawson: 25, 27, 37, 43, 45-6, 68, 81-3, 87

Item loaned by I.Partridge: 72

Exhibition, handlist and related concert display by Giles Dawson, with support from Anna Sander.


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