Pharmacologist, businessman and Bach devotee Sir Ralph Kohn died on Friday aged 88.

His wife and children announced the news on his website, writing: ‘Words cannot express our love for him and our gratitude for his extraordinary life and his many blessings.’

Born in Leipzig, Kohn began his musical studies in Amsterdam with the violin, before training as a baritone in Rome, New York and London. He gave numerous recitals and performances with orchestras in the UK and abroad, and recorded 16 CDs, many with Graham Johnson.

He established the Wigmore Hall International Song competition in 1997, and later became a fellow and benefactor of the Royal Academy of Music. His Kohn Foundation supported the conservatoire’s Bach cantata series and annual Bach Prize, and also funded a number of scholarships for singers.

Kohn was knighted for services to science, music and charity in 2010. In 2013, he was presented with the Medal of Honour of the City of Leipzig for his substantial contributions in promoting Bach scholarship and performance and his support of the Bach Festival in Leipzig. In the same year, he also received the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Kohn was made an honorary doctor of music at the University of London in July 2014. In the same year, he was elected as a trustee of the Wigmore Hall and honorary trustee of the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras.

Paying tribute to Kohn, who he described as ‘a great friend of music’, Sir John Eliot Gardiner said: ‘There has surely never been anyone quite like him in the history of music of the past hundred years.

‘Sir Ralph was a seminal figure: the fact that he was a fine musician and skilled singer in his own right gave additional significance to his exceptional generosity as a benefactor and discerning patron of performing groups and individuals over many years.’

RAM principal Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood praised Kohn as ‘such a good friend to us all […] a wonderful, big-hearted, fresh-thinking and life-loving man.’

He added: ‘His Bach legacy here is very significant and it resonates in every part of the building and beyond. I know that he would want us to take forward his inspiration, and we will do that.’

Masaaki Suzuki, a former winner of the RAM Bach Prize, tweeted: ‘Deeply grateful for everything you’ve done to Bach’s Music! We miss you in this world, but please rest in peace.’


RAM’s Christmas Cantata concert on 4 December will be dedicated to Kohn’s memory.