1929 — 1995
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Accompanist is a misleading -- even, demeaning -- term for a musician possessing the uncommon range of skills required to project great music in tandem. The first of these is an intuitive rapport making for hand-in-glove unanimity, allied with the unusual temperament to be, so to speak, second among equals. The stylistic awareness and technical resourcefulness demanded of any performing artist and a superb accompanist must be mercurially responsive. Possessed of these gifts in abundance, Geoffrey Parsons was, for nearly a half-century, a favorite keyboard partner to artists on a roster drawn from the 20th century's greatest. Early precocity sent him to the Sydney Conservatory at 12 for study with Busoni pupil Winifred Burston (1941-1948). By the time he completed his studies with Friedrich Wührer in Munich in 1956, he already had a considerable career behind him -- a tour of Australia with Essie Ackland in 1948, a Southampton appearance with Peter Dawson, the Grand Old Man of English song (despite being Australian), in 1950, and an appearance with Gerhard Hüsch in the Schubert cycle, Die Winterreise, in London in 1955. His first recital with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf took place in London's Festival Hall in 1961 -- the beginning of a partnership later to blossom into the favored status of Schwarzkopf's principal accompanist. Victoria de Los Angeles, Rita Streich, Dame Janet Baker, Nicolai Gedda, Hans Hotter, Hughes Cuénod, and Norman Bailey -- among many others -- gave memorable recitals with Parsons and left a considerable legacy of classic recordings, ranging from the restrained purity of Satie's Socrate, with Cuénod, to the jovial rumbustiousness and vernal poetry of Warlock's best songs, with Norman Bailey, though the great lieder composers and mélodistes, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Wolf, Richard Strauss, Mahler, Fauré, and Poulenc were his mainstay. Instrumentalists such as Paul Tortelier, Ida Haendel, and Nathan Milstein often appeared with Parsons. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1971. At the time of his death in 1995 he had become a genial godfather to a new generation of superstar vocalists, including Olaf Bär, Thomas Hampson, and Barbara Bonney. He was also in demand as a teacher, and his master classes were avidly attended.