Robert David Anderson was born in 1927 in India, where his father, a Shetlander, was a tea planter; he died in London on 24 November 2015, at the age of 88.
Not one to seek public eminence Robert was nonetheless a man of immense intellectual ability, capable of storing in his mind the musical scores of the masters as well as interpreting the texts of Ancient Egypt and the Classical world, and making sense of those civilizations for the present day.
Scholar of Harrow School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he read Classics and Egyptology, Robert enjoyed twin careers in the field of Egyptology and music. After military service in Egypt, where his love for that country was born, he spent six years at Cambridge before leaving to take up an appointment at Gordonstoun School in Scotland, where he became Director of Music and met the influential educationist, the school’s founder, Kurt Hahn.
Rehearsing Elgar’s The Kingdom in Westminster Cathedral, 1975
As an Egyptologist, he was for twelve years (1971–82) Honorary Secretary of the Egypt Exploration Society, managing its excavations in Egypt and its activities programme in London, where he also taught hieroglyphics extramurally and produced the third volume, on musical instruments, of the British Museum’s Catalogue of Egyptian Antiquities. He excavated at Saqqara, and at Qasr Ibrim in Nubia, where he was Administrative Director of the Society’s dig, with special responsibility for finds of written material – including the longest passage so far discovered of poetry by the first Roman governor of Egypt, Cornelius Gallus. He spent almost four decades lecturing widely in the United States, United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, Egypt, and elsewhere.
Visiting the temple of Hatshepsut, Deir el-Bahri, Egypt
Parallel with his Egyptological interests, Robert had a second career in music – as joint editor of the Musical Times, music critic for The Times, and founding conductor of one of London’s leading amateur choirs, the Choir of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, whom he directed in performances with London’s foremost professional orchestras, culminating in concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. His two interests were happily united when he conducted the choir in a performance of Handel’s Alexander’s Feast in the gardens of the British Embassy in Cairo to celebrate the Society’s centenary.
Conducting Bach’s Mass in B minor at the Albert Hall, December 1981
After two further years in Cairo (2007–9), he returned to England and to the work of his charity, the Robert Anderson Research Charitable Trust, which he had founded in 1988 and which supports postgraduate students, many of them Egyptologists or musicians, for short periods of intensive study in London. At the same time he continued researching and writing on his own special subjects, leading to publication of books on Baalbek; relations between classical Greece and Rome and Egypt; the sites of Ancient Egypt; and the Coptic saint Shenouté. He was a devoted Elgar scholar and contributed greatly to the composer’s biography and the work of the Elgar Society.*
With new friends at the White Monastery in Sohag, Egypt which is dedicated to Saint Shenoute
A Freeman of the City of London, he never took active academic appointments but, as a visiting lecturer at numerous institutions, generously helped others with his knowledge and experience. He was granted honorary doctorates from the City University and the Moscow State University of the Humanities, and was professor of history honoris causa at the Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don.
Irreverent celebrations outside the house at Hornton Street following Robert’s doctoral award ceremony, December 1985
*A selection of Dr Anderson’s books on classical music is available for purchase here.
The above record is taken from ROBERT DAVID ANDERSON 1927–2015 Classical scholar, Egyptologist and musician, a privately circulated volume of tributes received from Dr Anderson’s many friends, colleagues and students, edited by Trustee Elizabeth Gray following his death in 2015. A PDF version of the full volume including the tributes is available here. A special tribute by Jack Wong, who was the Trust’s Resident Music Scholar at the time of Robert’s death, appears here.