The English baritione and music pedagogue, John Carol Case, was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, where his father was an undertaker and a keen amateur singer, and he was given the middle name Carol so that if he ever wanted to become a professional musician he could call himself John Carol instead. He attended Bishop Wordsworth’s grammar school, and then won a choral scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge – at first as a counter-tenor rather than a baritone. After studying music for a year, in 1942 he volunteered for the army, returning after World War II to graduate in 1947 with Bachelor of Music and Master of Art degrees. David Willcocks, organ scholar at King’s at the time, recalls that he gave John his first paid engagement with the Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra while they were still students. This was the beginning of a long professional association between the two which included 20 consecutive Palm Sunday performances of the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in the Royal Festival Hall with The Bach Choir. In 1968, John and the then treble Bob Chilcott were the soloists on David Willcocks’s recording of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem with the King’s College Choir Cambridge.
On leaving university, finding it difficult to get work as a solo singer in the austerity years after the war, John Carol Case took the jobs of Director of Music at King’s College school, Wimbledon, and National Music Advisor (or Director) of the Townswomen’s Guild Choir. In 1948 a teaching colleague put him forward as the soloist in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols, with the composer himself conducting. Other performances directed by the grand old man of British music followed, not only of his own compositions, but also of the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244), in his home town of Dorking, Surrey. Case regarded the recording he made in 1968 of R. Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony with the soprano Sheila Armstrong and Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic choir and Orchestra as a career highlight. Five years later the same forces recorded R. Vaughan Williams’s Dona Nobis Pacem, and in 1974 Case sang Christ on Adrian Boult’s recording of Edward Elgar’s The Apostles.
The other composer whom John Carol Case had a notable working relationship with was Gerald Finzi. They met after a 1951 concert in the newly opened Royal Festival Hall in London. John had performed Finzi’s set of five Shakespeare songs, Let Us Garlands Bring, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under George Weldon, and the composer invited him to his home in Ashmansworth, Hampshire, to go through more of his works. Finzi died aged just 55 in 1956, and Case then premiered two song collections, I Said to Love and To a Poet. He subsequently recorded all Finzi’s settings of Thomas Hardy with another composer, Howard Ferguson, at the piano.
During the mid 1950’s John Carol Case began to be recognised as one of England’s leading baritones and he became associated with all the great choral societies and festivals. He became a regular broadcaster on BBC radio and television and made concert appearances in Europe and Canada. He was best known for his many performances of the part of Christ in J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion (BWV 244). His great love of language shone through in the clarity of his diction and the way he could energise the text, thereby clarifying its meaning. As a result he was much in demand as an interpreter of 20th-century English music, and of the two composers’ work in particular – Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gerald Finzi.
John Carol Case recorded widely for EMI and Lyrita, especially choral works, songs and opera. One of his early performances was in EMI’s recording of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Yeomen of the Guard, in the small role of Second Yeoman, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. His choral recordings include solo parts in J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) (with both R. Vaughan Williams and Otto Klemperer), Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem and numerous works by Edward Elgar and R. Vaughan Williams. Among his opera performances is as the Evangelist in Sir Adrian Boult’s recording of R. Vaughan Williams’ The Pilgrim’s Progress. His English song recordings include the works of Gerald Finzi, notably the Thomas Hardy song cycles for baritone.
Once he had achieved all he could hope to as a singer, John Carol Case retired from performing in 1976 at the relatively early age of 52 and returned to teaching, now keen to pass on his expertise to students, both as a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and as a freelance singing coach. In 1989 he retired fully to Thornton-le-Dale, North Yorkshire, where he sang in the village choir. In 1976 the Royal Academy made him an honorary RAM, and in 1993 he was awarded OBE from the Queen in recognition of his services to music. For All Saints Church, Thornton-le-Dale, he wrote carols, which have been published by Banks Music Publications. He died in December 2012, at age 89. He is survived by his partner of 55 years, Bob Wardell.
Source: Bach Cantatas Website