Obituary: Jeremy Dale Roberts (C1 1948-52)

Jeremy (C1 1948-52) and Jonathan (B1 1948-52) Dale Roberts were born together on 16th May 1934, the sons of Dr Michael Dale Roberts and his wife Christabel. They lived in the Cotswold village of Minchinhampton where his father was in general practice with his surgery in the house. The twins arrived at Marlborough in the Lent term 1948. Three months younger, I came to the College in the summer term 1948 and we became friends virtually at once. Aged 14, they were so alike that when Mr Coggin was doling out pocket money in A house, he would say “don’t tell me, just turn sideways”. He then tried to guess which was which.

Jeremy went on to C1, and Jonathon to B1, and it was Jeremy who became my lifelong friend. Musical ability was encouraged at MC. His piano teacher was M.O. Marshall, known as Mom, and through him, he was drawn in particular to the French composers Debussy and Ravel. I often accompanied Jeremy to the practice rooms below the Memorial Hall and, with my slight facility with reading music, I tried to turn the pages at the correct moment. These practice rooms and others in the Old Music School below Mount House (since demolished) were sometimes a welcome haven during bitter winter afternoons when the HOB rule (House Out of Bounds) decreed that we should be out of doors doing something healthy in shorts. No Fugs (prefects) patrolled these corridors so we were safe.

Neither I, nor Jeremy, were interested in games and when not compelled to play in some lowly house team we preferred to explore the paradisal Wiltshire countryside on our grids (bicycles). Village churches were a favourite destination and, when we had explored church and churchyard, Jeremy would head for the harmonium. If an organ existed it was usually locked. In the unlikely event that I ever again hear “Claire de Lune” or “Passepied” rendered on a wheezy harmonium I will be straight back in Clatford or Ogbourne St Andrew, preferably on a blazing summer afternoon. (Summer 1949 was unusually hot). Another favourite occupation was to take the Marmite sandwiches provided for “vol tea” and mess around in the water meadows upstream beside the Kennett trying to work the derelict sluice gates and enjoying the unforgotten smell of mud and waterweed.

After leaving school, Jeremy, like the rest of our contemporaries, had a double extended “gap year” in the form of two years conscription for National Service. Neither Jeremy nor I were considered to have “officer qualities” and Jeremy found a niche in the Forces Radio. We met again briefly in the Suez Canal Zone in 1954 where I was among the “other ranks” in a prestigious cavalry regiment and Jeremy was entertaining the soldiers on the airwaves. The only music I ever heard in the requests from mothers and girlfriends were “Mr Sandman, bring me a dream” and “See the pyramids along the Nile/ but remember, darling, all the while/ you belong to me”. I don’t suppose Jeremy ever presented these ditties but he may have had some more respectable “Third Programme” output. If so, I never heard it.

His National Service completed, Jeremy attended the Royal Academy of music and entered the world inhabited by such masters as Gerald Finzi and Vaughan Williams. His early compositions were much influenced by these musicians and his first public performance of his own work, “I heard a Voice” at the Wigmore Hall won critics approval and was compared to Vaughan Williams work. He was 21. Teachers including Rainier and Alwyn helped him to develop a more individual style and Jeremy’s compositions were described as having “an enduring muscularity, grit and tensile strength”.

He was an inspirational teacher, first privately, then at Morley College and for thirty years at the Royal College of Music where he held the post of Professor of Composition. Before retirement, he was twice visiting Professor of Composition at Iowa University.

Jeremy’s compositions were mostly short pieces for a few instruments, full of novelty and wit. This is not the kind of material which will make a composer famous, but his music, his teaching ability and his humorous and affectionate personality won him many devoted and admiring pupils and friends. His twin brother died of a fatal illness in 1993 and Jeremy joined him on 11th July 2017. At a memorial ceremony, he was honoured by musical colleagues and his son and daughter spoke movingly of his home life as a much loved husband and father. His Swiss wife, Paulette, survives him. They met at the home of the Finzi family, where Jeremy was a frequent guest, and were married in 1966.

May he rest in peace.

James Anderson (C3 1948-52)