Jon Lord, Composer and Deep Purple Founder, Dies at 71

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Jon Lord, the organist for the trailblazing rock band Deep Purple who later composed works for symphony orchestra and chorus, died Monday at 71.

He succumbed after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, according to a statement on his website.

Lord was one of the pioneers of classical-rock fusion, most famously with Deep Purple's 1970 album Concerto for Group and Orchestra, recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. One of the first collaborations between a rock band and an orchestra, the project didn’t enjoy great critical enthusiasm but it had chart success and a certain staying power. In 1999, Deep Purple revived it at the Royal Albert Hall with the London Symphony Orchestra.

More recently, Lord's Durham Concerto and choral piece From Darkness to Light were widely performed in Europe and Russia.

Born in Leicester, England in 1941, Lord started piano and classical music lessons at an early age. He also became inspired by other genres, as well as the music of J.S. Bach and Edward Elgar.

Lord moved to London in 1964 to attend drama school and co-founded Deep Purple in 1968, coining their most famous tune, “Smoke on the Water." His Hammond organ was a dominant part of the band's sound, and his aspirations as a composer came to the fore.

"We're as valid as anything by Beethoven," declared Lord of his band, in an interview with the New Musical Express in 1973.

At its heyday, Deep Purple was arguably as big as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, selling more than 100 million albums.

Lord retired from the band in 2002, and was signed to Virgin Classics just as classical crossover was reemerging. He turned his focus to symphonic, choral and piano compositions. The Durham Concerto, an ambitious six-movement piece whose style echoes Vaughan Williams, Tavener and Malcolm Arnold, was premiered and recorded by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 2007. While some critics found the concerto derivative, writer James Leonard acknowledged its “romantic themes, sumptuous colors, atmospheric touches and resounding climaxes."

A 2010 album with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, "To Notice Such Things," received an "editor’s choice" citation by Gramophone magazine.

Lord is survived by his wife, Vickie, and daughters from a previous marriage.