Tributes to Jessye Norman and Arthur Searle

24 Sep 2019

We are saddened to hear of the deaths of soprano and RPS Gold Medallist, Jessye Norman, and former RPS Honorary Librarian, Arthur Searle.

Jessye Norman

We are immensely sorry to hear of the death of the great soprano Jessye Norman on 30 September. A true trailblazer, she was one of the few black women to find international stardom in the opera world and one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th Century.

Her iconic performances led her to win four Grammy Awards, the Kennedy Center Honour, and the National Medal of Arts - the latter presented to her by Barack Obama in 2009. Most recently, in 2018, she was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society's very highest honour, the RPS Gold Medal, her acceptance speech for which can be watched below.

She was indisputably an icon and her treasured recordings will rouse hearts for many years to come.

Pianist and member of the RPS Council Iain Burnside writes 'I never saw a singer dominate a space the way Jessye could. The wide open spaces of the Royal Festival Hall shrank in her hands. Every gesture, vocal and physical, carried to the back wall. I treasure her incredible spun line in Strauss’s Wiegenlied and her power in Zueignung. Her high-cheekboned smile will never be surpassed. She conveyed joy like no one else.'

Arthur Searle

A much-loved figure in the story of the RPS, Arthur Searle sadly died on 23 September. For many years, Arthur was Curator of Music Manuscripts at the British Library, a role to which he bought limitless passion and appetite for musical discovery. He was Honorary Librarian of the Royal Philharmonic Society for a remarkable 36 years, from 1983 to 2019. In this time, he played a leading role in establishing a lasting home for the Society’s historic archive at the British Library, and comprehensively surveying all the treasures it entails.

He devoted himself to drawing remarkable stories and insights from the RPS’ 200 year history and sharing them not only with countless academics to aid their own research but with the public at large. His vivid accounts of the Society’s special associations with Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Otto Klemperer and the story of what happened to the RPS during the First World War can be found on our website. His invaluable insights will continue to rouse fresh curiosity for years to come about the Society and all it did in cultivating a classical music repertory and culture in Britain.

Music historian and member of the RPS Council Dr Leanne Langley writes, on the Society's behalf, 'I am deeply saddened to hear of Arthur's passing. A true and staunch friend, he was generous with his knowledge, advice, encouragement and ready wit. I will miss his insight, his love of fine music and even more his impish good humour against the odds. The RPS has lost a wonderful colleague.'


Anthony Payne, composer: commissions include three orchestral works for the BBC Proms, and the internationally acclaimed completion of Elgar's Third Symphony.


Bex Burch was able to spend a year in Ghana studying the gyil - an African xylophone - with Thomas Sekgura, a master musician thanks to funding from the RPS Isserlis Scholarship.