Iain Ellis Hamilton was born on 6th June 1922 in Glasgow.
After growing up in the city, his family moved to London when Iain was 7 years old. He was to become an apprentice engineer but began to study music in his spare time. He won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in 1947 and won the 1950 Dove Prize on graduation. He was also to graduate as a Bachelor of Music from the University of London in the same year.
His first chamber works were to win various prizes :- First String Quartet (Clements Memorial Prize, 1950); Nocturnes for Clarinet and Piano (Edwin Evans Prize, 1951); Clarinet Concerto (Royal Philharmonic Society Prize, 1951). His Second Symphony (Koussevitzky Foundation Award, 1951) was also recognised.
By 1952, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was performing his First Symphony (1948) under Trevor Harvey. His Second Symphony is one of Hamilton’s best known works, last broadcast on Radio 3 by (again) the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Jerzy Maksymiuk in 1996. Hamilton was to complete another 2 symphonies in 1980-1, the last commissioned by the SNO and performed by them in 1983.
His Scottish Dances of 1956 were commissioned by the BBC and received their first performance on St. Andrews Day that year. They were based on well known Scottish tunes that Robert Burns had used for his poetry.
Around this time Hamilton was getting more and more influenced by serialism, marking a period which lasted till 1966. His First Cello Sonata from 1958 was commissioned by Glasgow University.
His most important work from this time Sinfonia for Two Orchestras from 1959 was performed at the Edinburgh Festival marking the 200th anniversary of Robert Burns birth. The Burns loving audience was shocked by its serialism however; the President of the Burns Federation called the piece “rotten and ghastly”. However Alexander Gibson believed in it and recorded it with the Scottish National Orchestra for EMI.
In 2007 The Scotsman detailed the event in its Top 20 Scottish Classical Music Events of all time, and although it said there was no Stravinsky Rite of Spring style riot involved, it invoked the comparison. It remarked that the Festival performance was one of the very few and rare times that a classical music story ever hit the front pages of the popular press in the UK.
In 1961, Hamilton moved to the United States teaching at Duke University, North Carolina; and was resident composer at Tanglewood, Massachusetts. He was to stay in the US till 1981. Several trips to the West Indies in the 1960s seemed to influence his compositional style back to tonality.
He was not forgotten by Glasgow University in this time. They awarded him a honorary Doctorate of Music in 1970 and gave him the Cramb Lectureship from 1971, from which point he divided his time between Scotland and the U.S.
Hamilton was to write several operas, the first The Catiline Conspiracy (1973) was premièred by Scottish Opera in Stirling, 1974 . It was hailed by The Scotsman as a ‘masterpiece’ and the Glasgow Herald noted its similarity to the Watergate scandal in the U.S. It is another of Hamilton’s works to appear in The Scotsman’s Top 20 Scottish Classical Events of all time, an extraordinary achievement for such a neglected composer!
Hamilton was also hailed in England too. In 1974, the same year, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and given the Vaughan Williams Award. The BBC commissioned Tamburlaine in 1976, and English National opera commissioned the opera Anna Karenina in 1978. Back in the UK permanently in 1981, Hamilton then stayed in London.
He was to compose the orchestral work The Transit of Jupiter in 1995. It was performed by the BBC SSO under Martyn Brabbins in that same year. His composition rate was slowing down and last piece London for piano and orchestra was finished in the year of his death. He died on July 21st 2000 in London.
Available works are scarce:-
Piano Sonata :
His Spring Days :
Concerto for jazz trumpet :
Scottish Dances :
Sonata Notturna :
String Quartet No. 3
and Le Jardin de Monet for Piano :
New World Records have completed a transcription process converting their CRI label LP releases to CD. These are flat transfers not remasters. These include a few hard to get Hamilton LPs so even these flat transfers are very much welcome.
The newly digitised CDs contain:-
Music of Iain Hamilton – two works:
‘Epitaph for This World and Time’ and ‘Voyage’ :
‘Nocturnes with Cadenzas’ and ‘Sextet’ :
From time to time, a few of his LPs also crop up on Ebay, particularly from sellers from the U.S. and Canada.
The occasionally available LLC Book on Scottish Composers profiles Hamilton :