Obituary: Diana Gibson

Diana Gibson
Diana Gibson

Musician and piano teacher Diana Gibson died on July 15, aged 68.

This tribute is by her husband, Harry.

AT the private funeral service in loving memory of Diana, at Christ Church, High Harrogate, on July 22, the Rev Dr Geoffrey Turner movingly read this tribute from our daughters, Miranda, Sarah and Emma:

“Diana was a natural born pianist with a gift for interpretation.

“She came top of her year at the Royal Academy of Music.

“Above all, she loved the home and put the family first.

“She was a loving wife and a very kind and wise mother who knew her husband and children.

“She was a dedicated and inspired teacher who wanted her pupils to enjoy playing the piano.

“As a person she was sensitive and independent with a very clear mind.

“She was happy with a simple life and always had a smile for everyone.

“She suffered but never lost her spirit and integrity, and found peace again.”

I first met Diana at the Royal Academy of Music in London where we were fellow students in the early 1960s, and where she made her mark as an exceptionally fine pianist, winning a number of top awards for piano and piano accompaniment.

Contemporaries at the RAM will remember her under her maiden name of Diana Abra, the beautiful girl from Colchester, totally unaffected - an accomplished violinist as well as massively-talented pianist. Diana had been leader of the Essex County Youth Orchestra.

A highly distinguished final year at the RAM culminated in Countess of Munster Music Trust and Tobias Matthay Fellowship grants which took her to Rome for a period of study with Guido Agosti.

She excelled in the big Romantic repertoire: Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Scriabin were particular favourites.

Chopin was her favourite of all the major composers for the piano. She played both books - opus 10 and opus 25 - of the Chopin Études outstandingly well, and in later life kept her hands supple by regularly revisiting these masterpieces.

Contemporaries will also remember her performances of the Grieg and John Ireland piano concertos in the Duke’s Hall at the RAM.

In fact she could play just about everything put in front of her, and, to everything she played, she brought air and light. The music simply shimmered under her fingers.

Diana had a lovely smile and warm personality which could instantly light up social gatherings and concert platforms alike.

She was an outstanding ensemble musician with an excellent ear who possessed an almost feral, instinctive awareness of what was going on around her and a lightning-quick mind capable of the split-second adjustments often necessary in the white heat of live performance.

I recall fondly the time we spent together exploring the piano duet piano repertoire, and in particular the wonderful compositions of Franz Schubert, including the Fantasie in F minor, D940, the Theme and Variations in A flat major, D813 and the Andantino variee in B minor, D823.

After the RAM and Rome, a professional career as a top accompanist beckoned, instead of which Diana poured her heart and soul into building our home, nurturing our three daughters, Miranda, Sarah and Emma, and passing on her passion for music as a piano teacher - first in St Albans and, for the past 37 years, in Harrogate.

She was a fine teacher with a phenomenal knowledge of the rich piano teaching repertoire available today.

Ever-patient, perceptive, kind-hearted and encouraging, she could always draw the best out of her pupils: five-year-old beginners and recharged nonagenarians, alike, would glow with pleasure from her inspirational tuition.

For Diana, it was important that her pupils developed something of her own voracious appetite and passion for playing. She worked along the grain of their own enthusiasms and the house resonated with anything from the immortal classics to Freddie Mercury.

It meant everything to her if a pupil went to a piano each day, impelled by inner craving as opposed to routine duty.

Aside from music and the family, Diana’s abiding passion was for nature, which was a life-long source of wonder and contentment to her.

She was a member of the Royal Horticultural Society and spent many happy hours at Harlow Carr.

She loved the beautiful cyclical patterns of seasonal change, the fascinating annual carousel of birth, life and death - “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower”, as the poet Dylan Thomas put it.

We had some lovely holidays in these isles, enjoying the quiet beauty of Suffolk, Northumberland, Devon, the English Lake District, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Ireland held a particular allure and we returned time and again to the magical coast of Connemara, Galway and Sligo to the West.

Diana was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the end of March and died in Harrogate District Hospital on July 15 at the age of 68. She had spent most of her time after the terminal diagnosis at home in the surroundings she loved.

She accepted her illness with total serenity, patience and good humour.

She died happy and fulfilled, the day after being readmitted to hospital on July 14.

We have received many messages of condolence and support over the last four months and some of the most unbearably beautiful have come from young children.

Diana, herself, never lost one of her most endearing qualities - a wonderfully uncomplicated openness, sweet simplicity and directness which was child-like.