Barbara Sidwell, nee Hill

A sutudio portrait 1952

Bach Harpsichord concerto BWV1056 - Presto

London Bach Orchestra, conductor Martindale Sidwell soloist Barbara Hill

Barbara Anne Hill was born in Bath on 24th October, 1920 and died on 24th September, 2008, one month short of her 88th birthday. She was the only child of Edith (nee Burchell) and Edwin (Ted) Hill, an auctioneer. From an early age she attended the village school where her mother was headmistress. The family moved from Shoshcombe to Ash Villa, in Corsham, in 1926 and Barbara later attended Chippenham High School, where she was awarded a prize for French and Art, and won the school tennis championship.

Barbara learned the piano with Edith Gould from the age of 7 and went on to become an Associated Board Scholar at the Royal College of Music in September 1936, at the age of 15. At the RCM she studied piano with Kathleen Long and viola, as her second instrument, with Arthur C. Bent. She was awarded the ARCM diploma in piano performance in April 1939, a McKenna exhibition in the summer term 1940, and the Challen Gold Medal and Pauer Prize (both for piano) in the summer term 1941. The RCM Magazine lists a number of performances that she gave at the College between the years 1939-1942.

Barbara gave various concerts and Wigmore Hall recitals during the war years, at one of which she played Michael Tippet’s 1st Piano Sonata. After being introduced to Martindale Sidwell by his sister Onaway, they were married in Corsham Parish Church in 1944. The music for their wedding was provided by Martin’s choir from Leamington Spa, where they lived until moving to Hampstead in 1947. They resided at several addresses in the area before eventually moving into No. 1 Frognal Gardens, the family home for many years. Their eventful 54-year marriage sadly came to an end when Martin died in 1998.

Barbara taught piano at Henrietta Barnet and Highgate Schools, and in September 1964 was appointed Professor of Piano at the RCM, retiring from this post in July 1990. When Martin founded the London Bach Orchestra in 1967 she became the resident harpsichordist, and together they gave regular concerts and broadcasts, and made several recordings. For many years she was also the accompanist for rehearsals of the Hampstead Choral Society and played continuo at many of their concerts, both in Hampstead Parish Church and at The Royal Festival Hall. For a number of years, Barbara also played in the Oriel Trio with John Barnet and Betty Mills.. A review of one of Barbara’s concerts by Wilfred Mellors ends by saying “ …. she is clearly a born Debussy player.”

In addition to supporting Martin in his various endeavours and continuing her own musical career, Barbara also somehow found time to produce and bring up their two children, Peter and Timothy. Peter was born on 19th December 1956 and Tim arrived two years later, on 22nd November 1958.

Characteristic of Barbara was her great kindness and generosity to everyone. She was an excellent hostess and was constantly entertaining people at home. A long succession of singers, orchestral musicians, assistant organists and other friends enjoyed being entertained by Barbara for lunch, tea, dinner, drinks etc., often before or after some service, rehearsal or concert in the church. She was much involved over the years with the Friends of the Music of Hampstead Parish Church, serving as President in later years, and she used to attend choir concerts, tours, outings, cricket matches, garden parties, and other events whenever she could. As well as being well known to people in Hampstead and at St Clement Danes, she often attended events at the Savage Club (where Martin was a member), including the annual Rosemary Lunches for widows of former club members, and the Carol Service at St. Clement Danes.

Paul Brough is Principal Conductor of The Hanover Band Paul Brough writes:-

"As a schoolboy in the seventies I had already been to several London Bach Orchestra concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall: Barbara Hill was their harpsichordist. Imagine my delight when, on entering the Royal College of Music I discovered that she, whom I admired so much, was to be my piano Professor. I was to learn from one of the finest keyboard-players in London. My discussions of those concerts with the knowledgeable had already introduced me by reputation but not yet in person to the legend who was Martindale Sidwell: of that meeting more in a moment.

I found Barbara was as immensely kind a teacher as she was a generous and forbearing friend to so many of us. Alas my efforts at the 'Waldstein', Chopin op.10 and the Italian Concerto were always dwarfed the moment she demonstrated them herself. Let us not forget that she had given solo piano recitals at the Wigmore Hall. Outside term time she taught me at 'No.1' in the holidays, and it was there that MS walked in, without knocking, in the course of one of my lessons; it was my first meeting with him.

"Who's he then?"

"This is Paul Brough, one of my pupils at the College...he's an organist.."

"Organist eh! Well all I can say is I'm sorry for you!..."

Barbara was a consummate musician, and her thoroughness, impeccable taste and diligence seemed ideally to complement the more mercurial, maverickly-inclined Martin; genius though he undoubtedly was. I suspect that we shall never know the full story, but I like to think that deep-down Martin recognised that her musical insight, profundity and far-reaching imagination in some ways outstripped his own, and provided the necessary inspiration to complete his own musical character. I miss her a lot. She was so enthusiastic about music, and people."