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Cooke, Deryck Victor, 1919–1976 (writer on music and composer)



Deryck Cooke was born on 14 September 1919 in Leicester, the only child of Henry Victor Cooke, an army pensioner, and his wife, Mabel Judd. He began his musical studies with piano lessons. After leaving Wyggeston grammar school in Leicester, he studied music under Patrick Hadley and Robin Orr as an organ scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge, from 1938 to 1940, and, after war service in the Royal Engineers, from 1946 to 1947. He then joined the BBC where he started as a music presentation assistant (1947–56) and moved on to be a music producer (1956–7) and a music presentation writer (1957–9); after six years as a freelance writer he returned as a music presentation editor from 1965. In 1966, Cooke married Jacqueline Etienne; there were no children.

Cooke's main interests and expertise focused on writing about Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, and Delius. His writings include ‘The Bruckner problem simplified’, a series of articles in the ‘Musical Times’ (1969) tracing and clarifying the complicated publication history of the various versions of the composer's symphonies. However, Cooke will undoubtedly be remembered as the man who, in 1960, completed Mahler's tenth symphony, though his natural modesty led him to describe his project as ‘a performing version of the draft for the Tenth Symphony’. He had an innate sympathy for and an imaginative insight into Mahler's music and won considerable praise for the result. Cooke's final version received its first complete public performance by the London Symphony Orchestra under Berthold Goldschmidt at a Henry Wood Promenade Concert on 13 August 1964, since when it has not only found its place in the concert hall repertory but has also been recorded several times. It was published in 1976.

In his first book ‘The Language of Music’ (1959), Cooke argued that music was literally a language of emotions, which composers unconsciously built up over the ages selecting the same musical phrases to express similar feelings or dramatic situations. Cooke's intention was to write a multi-volume book in two main parts on ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’, the first an analysis of the dramatic text of the cycle, the other an analysis of the score. ‘I Saw the World End’, the first half of the first main part, is all that he achieved before his untimely death from a stroke at his home in Thornton Heath on 27 October 1976. Cooke's major writings were posthumously collected and published in 1982 under the title ‘Vindications: Essays on Romantic Music’.

Source: Christopher Fifield, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Found in 1 Collection or Record:


Deryck Cooke Archive

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.10186
Scope and Contents

The majority of the archive comprises writings by Cooke in the form of draft and published articles, radio scripts, concert programme notes, record sleeve notes and lecture scripts. There are also manuscript notes and secondary sources on Cooke's research interests of Gustav Mahler and Richard Wagner, correspondence, photographs and a collection of printed and handwritten music.

Dates: 1808-1983
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (