The reluctant choice of Britain’s finest post-war conductor – who worked his way up from humble beginnings to lead the world’s greatest orchestras, a roll-call of achievements which included taking the baton for the first performance at the newly built Sydney Opera House – was made after his wife of 44 years was diagnosed with terminal secondary cancer in the liver and pancreas earlier this year.
In recent times she had become not only his constant companion, accompanying him to dress rehearsals at the beloved Royal Opera – where they met more than half a century ago when she was an aspiring young ballet dancer and he an emerging conductor – but also his full-time carer.
Sir Edward, although not terminally ill, had had to cope with deteriorating eyesight for many years. By the end of his professional life, when he was well in to his eighties, he was forced to conduct only those pieces contained within his prodigious memory. A recent decline in his general condition, following a hip replacement, and for a musician the desperate blow of losing his hearing, had made the prospect of life without Lady Joan untenable. According to her British doctors, the couple had, at best, a few months left together, though Lady Joan might have only lived for a few more pain-racked weeks. Medication worked intermittently and a delay could have meant she would have been too ill to travel, the family said.
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