Sir John Barbirolli was a British conductor and cellist. He is remembered above all as conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, which he helped save from dissolution in 1943 and conducted for the rest of his life. Earlier in his career he was Arturo Toscanini's successor as music director of the New York Philharmonic, serving from 1936 to 1943. He was also chief conductor of the Houston Symphony from 1961 to 1967, and was a guest conductor of many other orchestras.
Born in London of Italian and French parentage, Barbirolli grew up in a family of professional musicians. After starting out as a cellist, he was given the chance to conduct, from 1926 with the British National Opera Company, and then with Covent Garden's touring company. On taking up the conductorship of the Hallé he had less opportunity to work in the opera house, but in the 1950s he conducted productions of works by Verdi, Wagner, Gluck, and Puccini at Covent Garden with such success that he was invited to become the company's permanent musical director, an invitation he declined. Late in his career he made several recordings of operas, of which his 1967 set of Puccini's Madama Butterfly for EMI is probably the best known.
Both in the concert hall and on record, Barbirolli was particularly associated with the music of English composers such as Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams. His interpretations of other late romantic composers, such asMahler and Sibelius, as well as of earlier classical composers, including Schubert, are also still admired. Vaughan Williams dedicated his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies to Barbirolli, whose nickname, "Glorious John", comes from the inscription Vaughan Williams wrote at the head of the score of the Eighth: "For glorious John, with love and admiration from Ralph."
In 1968, after 25 years with the Hallé, Barbirolli retired from the principal conductorship; no successor was appointed in his lifetime. He was appointed the orchestra's Conductor Laureate. His final year was dogged by heart trouble; he suffered collapses in April, May, June and July. His last two concerts were with the Hallé at the 1970 King's Lynn Festival. The last work he conducted in public was Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 on the Saturday before his death. Barbirolli died at his London home of a heart attack, aged 70.