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Biography
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© Copyright 2012 Lionel Sawkins
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LIONEL SAWKINS
B Mus PhD  ARCM  Officier de l’Ordre des Arts & des Lettres
Conductor, Choral Director, Scholar, Teacher, Editor
After education at North Sydney Boys' High School, and training at the NSW Conservatorium, Lionel Sawkins sang as a Bass Lay Clerk at St. Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney before his appointment as Director of Music of the Church of England Grammar School, Brisbane. While in Brisbane, he organised a Three Choirs' Festival and trained boys' choruses for the National (Elizabethan Trust) Opera under Karl Rankl, and for the ABC. After coming to England in 1958 he was appointed Organist of Holy Trinity, Beckenham and Head of Music at Upton House School in East London. During these years he initiated the Beckenham Summer Choral Festival to enable local choirs to join together to perform major works. He also prepared boys' choirs for the Philharmonia under Leopold Stokowski and for productions at the Royal Opera House including Tosca with Maria Callas. In 1966, he was appointed Music Lecturer at Whitelands College (later Roehampton Institute). In 1971-2 he spent a stimulating and productive year on the new MA Course at Nottingham University in the Interpretation and Editing of Renaissance and Baroque Music, devised by Professors Denis Arnold and Stanley Boorman. Although Lionel Sawkins’s original intention was to work on English music (he had prepared editions of Dowland and Boyce) he soon turned his attention to French music, at the suggestion of Professor Arnold. At this time, Philippe Oboussier had revived works by both François Couperin and Michel-Richard de Lalande, manuscripts of which were at St. Michael’s College, Tenbury, and these had been performed by Roger Norrington. It was clear that other works of Lalande at Tenbury merited attention, notably Lalande’s Exaltabo te, Domine, now recorded by Martin Gester and Le Parlement de Musique for Opus 111. Thus began Lionel Sawkins’s work on French Baroque music that has extended over more than 40 years since. His PhD for London University was on the sacred music of Lalande.

Performances with Lionel Sawkins’s period-instrument group, Les Musiciens du Roi, were given at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and Lina Lalandi invited Sawkins to contribute concerts and editions to the English Bach Festival in Oxford and London. In 1977 he produced his first Rameau edition with La Princesse de Navarre presented by the EBF (for which he also acted as chorus master) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. This was the first time any music by Rameau had ever been heard in that house. Six years later, in 1983, the tercentenary of Rameau’s birth, Lionel Sawkins unearthed in a Bordeaux library the complete performing material of the 1763 revival of La Princesse de Navarre, the fourth of such major Rameau discoveries he made – he had earlier identified original performing material of La Naissance d’Osiris, Anacréon, and, most importantly, of Pigmalion, leading to a new edition significantly different from that then in use. This was first broadcast by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert for the European Broadcasting Union in 1998, and most recently performed at the 2005 Musikfestspiele Potsdam-Sans Souci, by the New York Baroque Dance Company and Lautten Compagney, Berlin.

Through the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Lionel Sawkins continued to produce a steady stream of first editions both of operas such as Royer’s Zaïde (performed complete for the first time in 2005 for the tercentenary of the composer’s birth), Rameau’s Les Fêtes de Ramire and Lully’s Isis, as well as some 20 more motets of Lalande. Recordings of his editions appeared on the Erato, Harmonia Mundi, Teldec, ASV and Opus 111 labels. In 1990 and again in 2001, the Centre de Musique Baroque at Versailles invited Lionel Sawkins to act as Artistic Advisor for their festivals of the music of Lalande and for these he produced programme books and editions for the many concerts, broadcasts and recordings which followed, and directed the first international conference on Lalande’s music. Recent outstanding performances of his editions of Lalande’s motets include Cantate Domino performed by the choir of St Thomas’s, Leipzig, and Concerto Köln in the opening concert of the Leipzig Bachfest in 2002, three performances of the same work by Uppsala Cathedral Choir, Sweden with the Stockholm Baroque Orchestra, and two by the Nonsuch Singers in London, who have also performed Sacris solemniis and Regina cœli.

Lionel Sawkins worked in Paris in 1982-83 to help establish the Centre d’Information et de Documentation (Recherche Musicale) of the CNRS, and at the same time contributed more than 400 citations (mostly of the motets of Lully and Lalande) to the Catalogue thématique du grand motet français, published in 1984 under the direction of Jean Mongrédien. The same year, Lionel Sawkins directed performances of Lalande grands motets in Paris with Schola Cantorum of Oxford and the Orchestre de Paris-Sorbonne. He also gave seminars in the 1980s for the Groupe de Formation Doctorale (Musique et Musicologie) at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, and directed seminars and workshops in universities in France, Germany, the USA, Japan and Australia. He has contributed numerous articles to musical dictionaries in France and in Britain and his Thematic Catalogue of the Works of Michel-Richard de Lalande 1657-1726, prepared with the help of John Nightingale and the support of the British Academy, published in 2005 by Oxford University Press. In 1996, the French Minister of Culture named Lionel Sawkins as Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (he was promoted as Officier in the same order in 2001) in recognition of his ‘contribution à la diffusion de la musique française en Grande-Bretagne et dans le monde’.

In 1999, 21 scholars from Europe and the USA came together to offer a "Hommage a Lionel Sawkins" in the form of a festschrift of essays on a variety of subjects relating to French music and in particular that of Jean-Baptiste Lully whose compositions had long been one of Lionel Sawkins's primary objects of research and editing. This volume was edited by Jérôme de La Gorce and Herbert Schneider under the title Quellenstudien zu Jean-Baptiste Lully, L'œuvre de Lully: Etudes des sources (Hildesheim, Olms Verlag, 1999).

In 2008, the book of essays, Lalande et ses contemprains, originating from the conference at Versailles in 2001 organised by Lionel Sawkins in conjunction with the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles was published in Paris by Editions des Abbesses. Further articles on the music of Lalande by Lionel Sawkins were published in Revue de Musicologie in 2006 and Early Music in 2007, while reviews he has written of books and performances have appeared in Musicology Australia in 2007 and 2008 and in Early Music in each year from 2008 to the present.

In 2011, Lionel Sawkins was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and is travelling to Canberra in 2012 to sign the Charter Book of the Academy and to give a lecture organised by the French Embassy there.