The tragic story of pianist John Ogdon

John Ogdon

John Ogdon

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Our lecture on February 9 demonstrated the range of the subjects covered by the Portsea Island Decorative and Fine Arts Society (PIDFAS).

Lecturer Charles Beauclerk told us about the pianist John Ogdon, one of the most tragic figures in 20th century British music.

Initially taken aback when Ogdon’s enormous, wispily-bearded and bespectacled face appeared on our screen, we were soon gripped as we heard how Ogden, arguably England’s greatest ever pianist, rose as a young unknown to the top of his profession when he and Ashkenazy shared the 1962 Tchaikowsky competition prize.

He emerged from hard-up northern roots as an almost self-taught prodigy and we empathised with the difficulties met by a genius who was so overwhelmed by his gifts that he could not cope with everyday life.

Against a background of Ogdon’s brilliant recordings of the sixties onwards, we were told of his marriage to pianist Brenda Lucas and his inability to cope with marriage and fatherhood of two children.

He was lovable and had many friends, but needed constant care to organise his very meals as well as his concerts.

Yet this bumbling, obese man performed unsurpassed pianistic feats– sight-reading, score-reading, learning works in the train which he had to perform that evening from scratch without trying them on a piano.

He dazzled audiences with his effortless technique that was always at the service of the music.

Because he did not know how to say no he overworked, playing at least three-four concerts a week and travelling continuously.

The last 10 years of his life were spent in and out of mental institutions with psychotic depression.

Though he had made an enormous amount of money, he ended up living in B&Bs, often forgetting to appear for a booked concert, yet his playing was still remarkable.

He died in 1989 aged only 52.

PIDFAS lectures are invariably absorbing and visually intriguing.

We hope you will meet us over a free coffee from 6pm for the next 7pm lecture on March 8 in the Eldon Building on Winston Churchill Avenue to hear about an Edwardian love-story involving the great painter AJ Munnings.

Visitor donations per lecture are £5, and the annual subscription is £40 for 10 lectures. Do come and join us. Ring me on (023) 9282 0317 for more details.

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