Anthony Lewis was a student at Peterhouse College, Cambridge University, from 1932 to 1935. He studied with Edward Dent, and in addition received a grant to work with Nadia Boulanger in Paris during 1934. After graduating from Cambridge he joined the music department of the BBC, where he later became responsible for all broadcasts of chamber music and instrumental recitals. During this period, which ended with the outbreak of World War II, he devised many notable series of music, several of which, such as the Handel in Rome programmes broadcast during 1938, focused upon his own interest, Baroque music. With the return of peace he rejoined the BBC and played a central role in the creation and development of the Third Programme, being given overall responsibility for all music programmes broadcast on the network.
Having accepted the position of Peyton and Barber Professor of Music at Birmingham University in 1947, Lewis stayed in this post for twenty-one years. At Birmingham he mounted many revivals of previously unknown and forgotten works, notably the operas of the French Baroque; while his parallel activities as a conductor in the recording studio, principally for the label L’Oiseau-Lyre, resulted in several of these productions being preserved on disc. Lewis was also active as an initiator and editor of many scholarly editions, having edited his first publication for L’Oiseau-Lyre in 1936. He was general editor of the Musica Britannica series initiated at his suggestion in 1951 by the Royal Musical Association, of which he was president from 1961 to 1969; Thurston Dart was the first secretary of the series. Lewis’s final major appointment was as principal of the Royal Academy of Music, from 1968 to 1982. He was knighted in 1972.
Throughout his life Lewis was an active composer (his Horn Concerto written for Dennis Brain was published in 1959) and was an expert and experienced committee man, serving both the Arts Council and the British Council in this capacity. His recordings for L’Oiseau-Lyre played a central role in expanding the recorded musical repertoire during the first twenty years of the long-playing record era. Lewis’s performances were invariably invested with great vitality as well as a strong sense of style, qualities exemplified by his account of William Boyce’s Six Overtures and Purcell’s ode Come ye Sons of Art. He recorded early complete accounts of two operas by Handel, Semele and Sosarme, and two by Purcell, King Arthur and The Fairy Queen. His readings of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, both featuring Janet Baker in central roles, set performance standards which have retained considerable validity. He also led early interpretations of Monteverdi’s Vespers and of English operas of the late seventeenth century (Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Arne’s Comus) as well as of sacred music by Mozart.
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