Neville Marriner, the conductor and violinist who was something of an entrepreneur as well as the guiding spirit behind one of the most successful classical recordings of all time — the soundtrack to the 1984 smash movie Amadeus — died overnight at age 92 at his home in London. His death was announced by the chamber orchestra he founded, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.
Marriner was made Commander of the British Empire in 1979, and was knighted in 1985. In 2015, Queen Elizabeth named him a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour. Marriner was also most certainly one of the most-recorded classical artists of all time, with more than 500 recordings made with his ensemble.
Born on April 15, 1924, in the cathedral city of Lincoln in England’s East Midlands, Marriner originally trained as a violinist. His studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music were interrupted by World War II. After serving in the Royal Navy, he returned to the conservatory and went on to study at the Paris Conservatoire. After school, he briefly taught at Eton College and then at the Royal Conservatory, but Marriner’s main focus was as a working performer.
He played second violin in the Martin String Quartet and was the co-founder of the Jacobean Ensemble, focusing on 17th- and 18th-century repertoire, before joining the Philharmonia Orchestra as a violinist in 1952. In 1956, he joined the London Symphony Orchestra [LSO] as its principal second violin, where he remained until 1968.
But Marriner was not content to remain part of a much larger institution — nor to remain a violinist. Along with studying with his mentor Pierre Monteux, he worked as an extra with Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwängler, as well as with Joseph Krips, George Szell and Leopold Stokowski.
Three years into his tenure with the LSO, Marriner formed the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields [ASMF], a chamber orchestra that has grown into one of the best-known groups of its kind in the world, with more than 500 albums to its credit. Marriner remained music director of the ASMF until 2011, whereupon he was named “life president” and violinist Joshua Bell was named as his successor.
Along with nurturing his burgeoning St. Martin in the Fields orchestra, Marriner continued to maintain a vigorous dual life in the U.K. and the U.S. In 1969, he took on a second major post, as the first music director of the then-new Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and served as the artistic director of Michigan’s Meadowbrook Festival from 1979-1984. Between 1978 and 1986, he was music director of the Minnesota Orchestra. (During a very public 16-month labor battle in Minneapolis between the orchestra players and the ensemble’s administration, Marriner joined two other former Minnesota conductors, Edo de Waart and Stanislaw Skrowaczevski, in beseeching management to reach an agreement with the musicians.) After leaving Minnesota in 1986, he took up the post of music director of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, where he stayed until 1989.
Though his repertoire reached from Bach to Stravinsky and beyond, he made a real specialty of 18th-century music with his ASMF. And it was with that repertoire that Marriner became most well known and beloved by a wide public — whether or not they knew it was him on the podium. He recorded a complete cycle of Mozart symphonies (as well as major works of Handel and Haydn) during a time when, as Marriner later told Gramophone, “the big surge of companies recording everything anybody had ever written began. In order to make the catalogue complete, record companies were looking for orchestras of the right size and scale to play Mozart, so we were lucky that the Academy had the reputation of being ideal for 18th-century music.'”
Marriner and the ASMF went on to make literally hundreds of albums that helped sustain their organization. But mainstream fame came when Marriner and the ASMF performed most of the music used in the 1984 Mozart-based film Amadeus, which won eight Oscars and for which Marriner also acted as music supervisor. The Amadeus soundtrack went on to become one of the best-selling classical albums of all time.