The Michael Kennedy Collection

  • Reference
      GB 133 KEN
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      139 items
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The Michael Kennedy collection held at the John Rylands Library includes all the manuscript and typescript drafts of his books referred to above. Some of them differ considerably from the published version and illustrate the different stages of book production. This is particularly true of the Elgar volume, which is represented here in both manuscript and typescript form. In addition there is a small amount of correspondence relating to the Elgar book which was generated during Kennedy's research; of greatest interest is the bundle of letters from Elgar's daughter, Carice Elgar Blake (1890-1970). There is a larger quantity of correspondence relating to Kennedy's 1964 volume on Vaughan Williams. This reveals the thoroughness of his research methods as he unearthed details of hitherto unrecorded performances and manuscripts of Vaughan Williams's works. It includes information on the works and reminiscences about the life of the composer, often supplied by well-known figures, and has been listed in some detail. Included are letters from Ursula Vaughan Williams (the composer's widow), Bertrand Russell, Adrian Boult, Benjamin Britten, John Barbirolli, Larry Adler, Osbert Lancaster, Julius Röntgen, and various other musicians, composers and writers. The correspondence forms a valuable resource for research into Vaughan Williams and his work.

Michael Kennedy is referred to as MK throughout this catalogue.

Administrative / Biographical History

(George) Michael (Sinclair) Kennedy was born in Manchester on 19 February 1926, although he moved to North Wales with his parents at a young age. He travelled south to attend Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire, leaving at the age of 15 to join the staff of the Daily Telegraph in Manchester. He served on the editorial staff in various capacities from 1941, with a 3-year absence for war service during 1943-6. He became Assistant Northern Editor on the newspaper in 1958, rising to the post of Northern Editor in 1960, a position he retained until 1986. Since 1989 he has written for the Sunday Telegraph.

An important event in relation to this collection was Michael Kennedy's appointment as Staff Music Critic in 1950. Over the years his writing (both for the Telegraph and in the form of a steady stream of full-length published works) and broadcasting on musical topics have earned him widespread respect in the world of classical music. He has counted numerous well- known composers, conductors and musicians among his friends, and a number of important figures left specific requests that Kennedy should be their official biographer. The contents of this collection relate largely to these biographies and Kennedy's other books published independently of his work for the Telegraph. Many of these have an emphasis on Manchester and the musical life and traditions of the city.

Kennedy's first published book was The Hallé Tradition (1960), a history of Manchester's famous orchestra, the oldest permanent symphony orchestra in Britain. The volume traces the musical traditions of the city before the arrival of Charles Hallé in 1848, through the foundation of the orchestra 10 years later, to 1959, when John Barbirolli was conductor. Kennedy returned to the Hallé theme again over 20 years later with a publication to mark the orchestra's 125th birthday (a manuscript draft of which is included in this collection). This is The Hallé, a history of the orchestra from 1858 to 1983 (1982), a shorter volume than the earlier work, encompassing the whole history of the orchestra but concentrating on the period from 1933 to 1982, therefore covering the whole of Barbirolli's period as conductor.

Michael Kennedy's second book was the result of a request made by the composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), in his will. Vaughan Williams studied at the Royal College of Music and Cambridge University, before going on to play an important part in the revival of English music in the 20th century. He wrote works in many musical genres, finding inspiration in the work of 16th-century English composers and in traditional English folk songs, of which he personally collected many. From the period following the First World War until his death he played a prominent role in England's musical life, principally as a composer, but also as a conductor of numerous amateur music festivals, as a teacher and a writer. Michael Kennedy first made contact with Vaughan Williams by post, when he sent a letter to the composer about his music while he was serving in the Royal Navy in 1945. Vaughan Williams unexpectedly replied, and this led to a close friendship which lasted for the rest of the composer's life. Vaughan Williams requested that his biography be divided into two separate volumes, a personal biography to be written by his wife, Ursula, and a musical life to be written by Kennedy. In compliance with this request, Kennedy, working closely with Ursula, produced the companion volume to her book R.V.W: a biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1964). In the meticulously researched The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1964), he records and analyses the composer's musical output and career. His work on this volume is represented in the collection by a manuscript draft and extensive correspondence. The book was subsequently revised and the detailed catalogue of works which originally formed an appendix became a separate volume (A Catalogue of the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams) in its own right.

For Kennedy's next book, he turned to another celebrated English composer, Sir Edward (William) Elgar (1857-1934), who came from a background of comparative poverty in the Midlands and, lacking any formal training, rose to become the best-known English composer of his time. He won his first large-scale success with Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma) in 1899 and became a household name with the first of a set of Pomp and Circumstance Marches in 1901, which was set to words as Land of Hope and Glory. Kennedy set out to write a detailed portrait of Elgar as both man and musician, and the result was the volume Portrait of Elgar (1968). This volume is represented here by manuscript and typescript drafts, and correspondence relating to research and publication.

The city of Manchester and its musical heritage form an important theme in Kennedy's next three books. In 1966 he was asked by the Council of the Royal Manchester College of Music to write a history of the institution on the event of its impending amalgamation with the Northern School of Music to form a new college. Michael Kennedy's book, The History of the Royal Manchester College of Music, 1893-1972 (1971), draws on the college archives and the reminiscences of former students to chart the history of the college from its inception at the instigation of Sir Charles Hallé in 1893, to its merger with the Northern School to become the Royal Northern College of Music in 1972. A manuscript draft is preserved in this collection.

Kennedy's Portrait of Manchester (1970) is, as the title suggests, a portrait rather than an official history of the city, written from the perspective of a native Mancunian. Kennedy stresses aspects which interest him, and the volume covers such topics as historical events, politics, education, architecture, sport, journalism, the arts and the cultural life of Manchester. He also incorporates his own experiences of the city. A manuscript draft is included here.

Kennedy's books on Manchester and its musical and cultural life are complemented by a volume on one of the most famous figures associated with Manchester's musical history, Sir John (Giovanni Battista) Barbirolli (1899-1970). Barbirolli conducted several prominent orchestras, before being invited in 1943 to become conductor of the Hallé. He accepted the offer and succeeded in rejuvenating the crisis-stricken orchestra, lifting it to new heights, and he remained in Manchester for the rest of his life. Michael Kennedy was a friend of Barbirolli for nearly 30 years, and it was understood between them that Kennedy should write Barbirolli's biography, an agreement which was formalized in the conductor's will. Kennedy had access to Barbirolli's personal archive which had been carefully filed and organized before his death. The authorized biography, Barbirolli: conductor laureate, appeared in 1971, and a typescript version is preserved in this collection.

Michael Kennedy's next book - a manuscript copy of which is included here - forms part of the Master Musicians series of volumes, which provides a general introduction to the life and work of various eminent composers. Kennedy's Mahler (1974) replaced an earlier volume in the series by Hans F. Redlich which covered the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler (1860- 1911) along with his contemporary and countryman Anton Bruckner. In it, Kennedy stresses the need to reappraise Mahler's career by concentrating closely on his music and criticizes those in the music world who until the 1960s neglected Mahler, refused to take him seriously, and based their judgements on his personality rather than on his work.

The English composer, Sir William (Turner) Walton (1902-1983), originally from Oldham in Lancashire, was the subject of a book published by Kennedy in 1989. His Portrait of Walton was written in response to a request made by Walton himself in 1968, after reading Kennedy's book on Elgar, that Kennedy should also be his biographer. Kennedy did not wish to undertake this task while the subject remained alive, and the book was therefore postponed until the 1980s. He did, however, contribute an essay, 'William Walton: a critical appreciation', to Stewart Craggs's William Walton, a thematic catalogue of his musical works (1977), and a manuscript version of this survives here.

Michael Kennedy added another volume to the Master Musicians series in 1976 with the publication of Richard Strauss. The German composer, Richard (Georg) Strauss (1864-1949) established himself as the most important young composer in Germany in the late 1880s and went on to become a key figure in the post-Wagnerian musical scene, making a great reputation both as a composer and a conductor. Kennedy's book provides a general introduction to his life and work, and the typescript forms part of this collection. Also included is a manuscript draft of the Strauss entry written by Kennedy for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980). Kennedy later wrote a larger biography of Strauss (published in 1999), to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the composer's death.

In addition to the books represented in this collection, Michael Kennedy has written numerous other music-related volumes, including further works on Elgar, Strauss, the Hallé, and the Royal Northern College of Music, and books on Benjamin Britten and Adrian Boult, amongst others. He was awarded an honorary M.A. by Manchester University in 1975, an O.B.E. in 1981, and C.B.E. in 1997. He is a member of various musical institutions and trusts, including the Vaughan Williams Trust, and the Elgar Foundation. He married Eslyn Durdle in 1947, who died in 1999. He married secondly Dr Joyce Bourne. Michael Kennedy died on 31 December 2014.


In accordance with archival principles the collection has been arranged into three series according to the physical nature of the material. These are as follows:

  • KEN/1 Manuscripts
  • KEN/2 Typescripts
  • KEN/3 Correspondence and papers

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.


Many thanks to Michael Kennedy for reading this catalogue in draft form, providing answers to all my queries, and offering various helpful suggestions and comments.

Other Finding Aids


Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PP.

Custodial History

The collection was amassed by Michael Kennedy during the course of his research and writing, and he presented it as a gift to the John Rylands University Library at Oxford Road in 1975-6. It was subsequently transferred to the Deansgate building.

Related Material

Aside from manuscripts and typescripts, the archival material (correspondence and papers) in this collection relates only to Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Archival material (musical scores, letters, family papers etc) relating to Elgar may also be found at: the Elgar Birthplace Museum in Worcester; Hereford and Worcester Record Office; the British Library; the Library of the Royal Academy of Music; London University Library; Richmond Local Studies Library; Leeds University; and Birmingham University.

Papers relating to Vaughan Williams are held at: the British Library; King's College, Cambridge; Cambridge University Library; the Library of the Royal Academy of Music; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; Yale University, Connecticut, USA; and Cornell University, New York, USA.


Books by Michael Kennedy which are relevant to this collection

The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams (London: Oxford University Press, 1964).

Portrait of Elgar (London: Oxford University Press, 1968; revised in 1982 and 1987).

Portrait of Manchester (London: Hale, 1970).

The history of the Royal Manchester College of Music 1893- 1972 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1971).

Barbirolli: conductor laureate (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1971).

Mahler (London: Dent, 1974) ('The Master Musicians Series').

Richard Strauss (London: Dent, 1976; revised in 1988 and 1995) ('The Master Musicians Series').

'William Walton: a critical appreciation', William Walton, a thematic catalogue of his musical works, ed. Stewart Craggs (London, 1977).

The Hallé, a history of the orchestra from 1858 to 1983 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1982).

Entry on Richard Georg Strauss, printed in the New Grove dictionary of music and musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1980).

Select bibliography of Michael Kennedy's other publications

The Hallé tradition: a century of music (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1960).

Elgar Orchestral Music (London: BBC, 1970). (BBC Music Guides).

The Autobiography of Charles Hallé (ed.) (London: Elek, 1972).

Britten (1981, rev. edn, London: Dent, 1993) ('The Master Musicians Series').

Strauss Tone Poems (London: BBC, 1984) (BBC Music Guides).

The Oxford Dictionary of Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985; revised edition with Joyce Bourne, 1994).

Adrian Boult (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987).

Portrait of Walton (1989, rev. edn, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Music enriches all: the Royal Northern College of Music: the first twenty-one years (Manchester: Carcanet, 1994).

See also: Ursula Vaughan Williams, R.V.W. a biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams (London: Oxford University Press, 1964).

Geographical Names