Janet Beat

August 3, 2013


Janet Beat was born in Streetly, Staffordshire on 17 December 1937. She graduated from Birmingham University in 1960, with a Bachelor of Music degree. She continued her studies to Masters level studying early Italian Opera receiving the Cunningham award in 1962. Alexander Goehr provided her composition tuition. During the 1960’s she worked as a freelance horn player and teacher.

In 1972 Beat moved to Scotland. She took up the post of lecturer at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) and subsequently established their electronic music and recording studios.

She is one of the pioneers in electronic music composition in the UK; her earliest ‘musique concrete’ pieces belong to the late 1950s. Beat owned the first synthesiser to be made commercially available in the UK and her early electronic pieces were composed on it.

The vast bulk of her composition has been written since arriving in Scotland and Beat became a vigorous presence in Scotland’s musical scene. She became a founder member of the Scottish Society of Composers in 1980, along with Thomas Wilson.

In 1987 she was a founder and director of the Scottish Electro-Acoustic Music Society.

In 1988 she formed the contemporary music ensemble Soundstrata, a five-piece performing group.

During 1992 she was visiting composer at the Meistersinger-Konservatorium in Nuremberg.

In 1996 she began to lecture in Music Technology for Glasgow University, where she is now an Honorary Research Fellow.

Janet Beat’s published scores can be bought at Furlore Verlag.

Unpublished scores can be bought at the Scottish Music Centre.

Unfortunately, it is rare to find her works on CD or vinyl.

One such work, which is available, Circe (for solo viola) written by Beat for James Durrant in 1974, is on the violist’s CD :
Viola Pieces Volume. 1.

When the audio journal Unknown Public was established as a quarterly magazine showcasing contemporary music, with each issue they provided a CD. On their very first CD released in 1992, Volume 1: Points of Departure, they provided an 4 mins 50 seconds extract of Janet Beat’s 13 minute work for chamber electro-acoustic trio Mandala, performed by her ensemble Soundstrata. This CD has long been deleted, and although a subsequent release of a compilation of their first 4 volumes has been released, Beat’s Mandala has not been included in this. View-Details

Another of her works from 1980, Dancing On Moonbeams (An Electronic Fantasy), is on the long deleted LP; Music from Scottish Composers Volume 1. [Catalogue no. SSC 001 from 1981] This is an LP released by the Scottish Society of Composers, mentioned previously. It is sometimes available second-hand on ebay or other record sites. View-Details


Anna Meredith

July 27, 2013


Born in 1978 in Edinburgh, she came from an artistic family background. Her father is a retired university teacher of journalism, and her mother works in picture restoration. Her sister is the video artist Eleanor Meredith.

At school, Meredith took up the clarinet and percussion and, later, composition. She studied at Napier University and then earned a degree in music from the University of York. After this, she attended the prestigious Royal College of Music (her teachers would include David Sawer and Timothy Salter).

In 2004 Meredith became a composer in residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the PRS/RPS Composer in the House with Sinfonia ViVA, a post she held until 2007.

She was also a judge for the BBC’s Young Composer of the Year and a mentor for Goldie for his show Classic Goldie. In 2009 she was the only classical music nominee for the South Bank Show’s Breakthrough Award. She also won the 2010 Paul Hamlyn Award for Composers. Alongside her classical and acoustic work, she then began a more eclectic electronic project.

Selected Works :

Fin Like A Flower :

Axeman and Flak :

The Binks :

Black Prince Fury EP :

Jet Black Raider EP :

Hands Free (download only) :

Thea Musgrave

July 26, 2013


Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 27 May 1928, she studied first at the University of Edinburgh with Hans Gál and later at the Conservatoire in Paris, where she spent four years as a pupil of Nadia Boulanger (1950-54). In 1958 she attended the Tanglewood Festival and studied with Aaron Copland.

Her music was initially recognized in Scotland, and it was from there that she received her earliest commissions. Among these are A Suite o’ Bairnsongs, A Tale for Thieves, and The Abbott of Drimrock. She has composed in many genres, but showed an early aptitude for dramatic mediums. The ballet A Tale for Thieves and her first opera The Abbot of Drimrock (1955), were both written on commissions from BBC Scotland.

In the 1960s she embraced serialism, which infused her work with a newfound liveliness and energy. Arising from her work with the Composer’s Guild, in the Spring of 1961, along with another Scottish composer William Wordsworth, she undertook a fortnight’s tour of the Soviet Union at the invitation of the Union of Soviet Composers of Moscow, where she met, among other composers, Shostakovich and Khachaturian.

She was commissioned to write her second opera, The Decision (1964-65), a work about a Scottish mine disaster characterized by Hugo Cole as “a closely worked, contrapuntal, freely chromatic score,” befitting the “glim and claustral mood” of the libretto.

Her best known works include The Seasons, Rainbow, Black Tambourine (for female voices, piano and percussion) and operas The Voice of Ariadne, A Christmas Carol, Mary Queen of Scots, and Harriet: The Woman Called ‘Moses.’

In 1970 she became Guest Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which anchored her increasing involvement with the musical life of the United States. In 1971 she married the American violist, opera conductor and general director of the Virginia Opera Association, Peter Mark, and has resided in the U.S. since 1972.

Mary Queen of Scots was the first opera for which Musgrave wrote her own libretto. She conducted its premiere performance at the 1977 Edinburgh International Festival. As a Scot she states it’s a work close to her heart, though admits “I would love to see Mary, Queen of Scots done in Holyrood [Palace] and Edinburgh Castle and France to gain some of the realism of the setting… and it would be quite good if we saw it in Holyrood and had the murder scene actually there in the place. On the other hand, that opera is really about people; it’s really about confrontations, and the settings are incidental.”

From 1987 to 2002 she was Distinguished Professor at Queen’s College, City University of New York. She was awarded a C.B.E. on the Queen’s New Year’s Honour List in January 2002.

Thea Musgrave is a composer who frowns upon pigeon-holing. To questions on being a female composer she has stated: “Yes, I am a woman; and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time.” and “Music is a human art, not a sexual one. Sex is no more important than eye colour.” And to questions of her versatility: “I do chamber works, I do orchestral works, I do opera, I have done ballet, I’ve done songs, unaccompanied choral pieces — all sorts of things. I like to do different things, so I don’t really like to be pigeon-holed. There are even some electronic things — mostly with live music, not on its own.” Instead, Musgrave tries to champion contemporary classical music composition: “I don’t think it’s a matter of sex, I think it’s not enough done for composers. Until the concerts have much, much more 20th century music of today in them, everybody’s neglected. You look at any concert program, it’s a huge preponderance of the Classical and Romantic period! Now a little bit of early music is coming into its own, very early music, but not 20th century music for the most part.”

Selected Works:-

Memento Vitae and Helios and Night Music and The Seasons :

An Occurrence At Owl Creek Ridge and Green and Wild Winter I :

Turbulent Landscapes and Songs For A Winter’s Evening and Two’s Company :

Concerto for Orchestra and Clarinet Concerto :

Pierrot Dreaming Chamber Music for Clarinet Vol. I :

Chamber Works for Oboe :

The Fall Of Narcissus :

Choral Works :

New World Records have flat transferred their CRI LP recordings to CD. The flute and string quartet piece Orfeo III is available on the album
Orchestra 2001 Vol. 1 – Distant Runes :

Peter Maxwell Davies

July 24, 2013


Peter Maxwell Davies was born in Salford in 1934. He took piano lessons and then started composing from an early age. He studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music with the likes of Harrison Birtwhistle and Alexander Goehr. After his graduation he moved to Rome and studied with Goffredo Petrassi.

In 1962 he moved to Princeton University studying with Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt. He then moved to Australia, becoming the Composer in Residence at the Elder Conservatorium of Music in the University of Adelaide.

In 1970 he moved to the Orkney Islands in Scotland, and these islands have been his home ever since. He first, in 1971, rented a croft named Bunertoon on the clifftops of the island of Hoy, overlooking the Pentland Firth. It was sparsely renovated in 1974. He later moved in the late 1990s to the northern island of Sanday.

The Orkneys have had a profound influence on Maxwell Davies’s music. Since his move to Orkney, Davies has often drawn on Orcadian or more generally Scottish themes in his music, and has sometimes set the words of Orcadian poet and author George Mackay Brown. Maxwell Davies’s Sixth Symphony, which was completed just at the time George Mackay Brown died, is dedicated to his memory.

He retains close links with the St Magnus Festival, Orkney’s annual arts festival which he founded in 1977, and is the Composer Laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Maxwell Davies was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 2004 in which role he has sought to raise the profile of music in Great Britain, as well as writing many works for Her Majesty the Queen and for royal occasions.

He is composer/conductor laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra  and is among the most honoured musicians in the world, holding more than 40 doctorates from universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Heriot-Watt as well as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

An association with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra which yielded the ten Strathclyde Concertos, in turn furnished a formula for the ten Naxos Quartets two decades later.

His most popular work, An Orkney Wedding With Sunrise,  includes a Scottish bagpiper and is one of the most widely performed pieces of classical music the world over.

Selected Works:-

Symphony No.1 and Mavis in Las Vegas :

Symphony No.2 and St. Thomas Wake :

Symphony No.3 and Cross Lane Fair :

Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 :

Symphony No. 6 and Time And The Raven
and An Orkney Wedding With Sunrise :

Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 :

Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 :

Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 5 and 6 :

Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 7 and 8 :

Strathclyde Concertos Nos. 9 and 10 :

Naxos Quartets (complete boxset) :

Chamber Works (1952-87) :

Piano Works (1949 – 2009) :

Kenneth Leighton

July 22, 2013


Kenneth Leighton was born in Wakefield in 1929. In 1946, while still at school he gained the LRAM Piano Performer’s diploma. In 1947 he went up to The Queen’s College, Oxford, on a Hastings Scholarship in Classics; in 1951 he graduated both with a BA in Classics, and a BMus. In the same year he won the Mendelssohn Scholarship and went to Rome to study with Goffredo Petrassi.

In 1955, while only 26, he moved to Scotland and – apart from a two year spell between 1968-70 at Oxford University – Edinburgh was to remain his home. He was appointed Lecturer in Music at the University of Edinburgh in 1955, progressing later to Senior Lecturer and then Reader. In October 1970 he was appointed Reid Professor of Music – the post once held by Donald Tovey – at the University of Edinburgh, the post which he held until his death.

Leighton had a deep love of Scotland, especially of the landscape and Celtic tradition of the Western Isles. This influenced much of his music, notably his three-act opera “St Columba” (Opus 77), which was first performed in Glasgow in June 1981.

In 1970 he was awarded the Doctorate in Music by the University of Oxford, and in 1977 was made an Honorary Doctor of the University of St Andrews for his work as a composer. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Music in 1982.

Kenneth Leighton died in Edinburgh on 24 August 1988. At Kenneth Leighton’s request, the original manuscripts of his music, both composition sketches and completed scores, were presented to the Reid Music Library of the University of Edinburgh on his death in 1988 by his widow Mrs Jo Leighton.

His compositions include three symphonies, eight concertos for various solo instruments, an important output of church music and a wide variety of chamber, and instrumental and vocal works.

Selected works:-
Symphony No. 1 and Piano Concerto No.3:

Symphony No. 2 and Te Deum laudamus:

Symphony No. 3 and Cello Concerto:

Organ Works :

Sacred Choral Music :

Piano Works :

The Piano Works are a boxset featuring Angela Brownridge, who studied with Kenneth Leighton at the University of Edinburgh.

And, appropriately for a man who gave so much to Edinburgh and its University, the Edinburgh Quartet have two discs showcasing Leighton’s chamber works:-

Piano Trio, Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet :

String Quartets :

William Wordsworth

August 28, 2010

William Wordsworth

William Brocklesby Wordsworth was born in London on 17th December 1908. He was a great great grandson of Christopher Wordsworth, brother of the famous poet William Wordsworth. With a similar love of nature, the composer was to find his home not in the poet’s Lake District but in the Scottish Highlands instead.

His musical talent was noticed as he became a teenager and he was to study under the composer and organist George Oldroyd in Croydon.

This led to Wordsworth’s first move to Scotland in 1934. He went to the capital to study under Donald Tovey at Edinburgh University. He studied there for 3 years but did not obtain a degree. Tovey was to make an impact on him and he dedicated his second symphony to him.

Before the Second World War he moved back to England. Wordsworth was a pacifist associated with the Peace Pledge Union and was secretary of the Hindhead Fellowship of Reconciliation Group. As the war drew nearer Wordsworth began work on the land, anticipating that he would be a conscientious objector. When his case came to trial this was made a condition of his exemption to military service.

He became concerned with the number of broadcasts his work was to receive by the BBC in London. He wrote to Richard Howgill, the Music Controller in 1957 : I am quite convinced that I have something to say, and an individual way of saying it which the ordinary music-lover is capable is responding to if he is given sufficient opportunities. I would not go through the labour of creation were I not so convinced.’

With the appointment of William Glock as Music Controller in 1959 the BBC changed direction again and began to champion avante garde composers instead. This did not further Wordsworth any more than before as his work was largely tonal and romantic in style.

In Spring 1961 he made the trip to the Soviet Union with the composer Thea Musgrave as a tour. Invited by Union of Soviet Composers of Moscow they were to meet Shostakovich and Khachaturian.

In the same year he moved to Scotland permanently, this time to Kincraig in Speyside. The stunning view to the mountains above Glen Feshie from his house was said to inspire him.

He was to suggest that the move to Scotland made his composing clearer and more direct : ‘I have always had joy in the grander aspects of Nature – mountains, storms, spacious views, and in the ever-changing colours of the Scottish Highlands. I cannot say if there has been any change in my style of writing since we came to live in Scotland, but I would like to think that it is becoming clearer and less complicated, more direct in its expression. In fact all the things it should not be, if one wants to be successful in the present musical fashions.’

In 1965 he was appointed representative of the Composer’s Guild in Scotland, and in 1966 with Robert Crawford he was helped found the Scottish Composers Guild. He was chairman of this body till 1970 and during this time became friends with many other Scottish composers.

He was to write 6 string quartets, many chamber works and 8 symphonies, the last No. 8 ‘Pax Hominibus’, Op.117 written in 1986. It was commissioned by BBC Scotland and dedicated to his friend and fellow composer Martin Dalby for helping him recover after a heart attack. It was premiered by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Stirling on the 28th October of that year.

It was to be his last completed work. He died on the 10th March 1988 at Kingussie.

Selected works :-
Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 :
Piano Sonata :
Cello Sonata :

Iain Hamilton

August 28, 2010

Iain Hamilton

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 : buy-icon
His Spring Days : buy-icon
Concerto for jazz trumpet : buy-icon
Scottish Dances : buy-icon
Sonata Notturna : buy-icon
String Quartet No. 3
and Le Jardin de Monet for Piano : buy-icon
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’ : buy-icon
‘Nocturnes with Cadenzas’ and ‘Sextet’ : buy-icon
‘Palinodes’ : buy-icon

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 : buy-icon