Geraldine Mucha

August 3, 2013


Geraldine Mucha, née Thomsen, was born on 5th July 1917 in London. She was born into a musical Scottish family. Her mother enjoyed success as a singing-actress and appeared in several notable London musical productions. Her father, Marcus Thomsen, was a popular concert baritone. He was missing in action in 1917 when she was born. When he returned, rescued by Belgian peasants, his voice was wrecked by mustard gas. Unable to perform professionally he turned to teaching and became Professor of Voice at the Royal Academy of Music.

Encouraged by her father, the young Geraldine was given lessons in harmony after school with the composer Benjamin Dale, a professor at the Royal Academy. She was introduced to Sir Arnold Bax, a prominent figure in British music, by his daughter Maeve, who was her school friend. Bax took a keen interest in Geraldine’s music and would often play through her latest compositions and discuss them with her. She continued her studies in composition and also conducting more formally at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Here she studied harmony with Benjamin Dale, and also met composers Alan Bush and William Alwyn.

In 1939 the War intervened and although the Royal Academy remained open, Geraldine was obliged to combine her studies with working on a telephone switchboard. She still found time to compose incidental music for an anti-fascist play, however, and to make musical arrangements for the BBC.

In 1941, while visiting her aunt as a student, Geraldine met in Leamington Spa her future husband; the writer and journalist Jiri Mucha – at the time a BBC war correspondent and RAF Flying Officer – and the son of Art Nouveau artist, Alphonse Mucha, who died in 1939, and recent widower of the composer Vitězslava Kaprálová, who died in 1940. Following the fall of France, Jiří along with most of the Free Czech Army succeeded in escaping to England. They came to be based at Leamington Spa, where he met Geraldine at a party. Their love kindled that night when singing The Skye Boat Song.

They married in 1945 and returned together to Prague in the autumn to live in Czechoslovakia. Things were to become difficult when the Communists came to power in 1948.

The Muchas were targeted because of their so-called bourgeois roots and they were forced to abandon the house Alphonse Mucha had built. Jiri – because of his links with the BBC and the RAF – was imprisoned because of his links to the West and interred in a uranium mine for four years. The secret police came to confiscate their belongings but as Geraldine then claimed they belonged to her – and she was still a British citizen – they left their home alone. Geraldine stated she started composing “to take my mind off things”.

On Jiri’s release from prison he was denied the right to travel. As Jiri wanted to go abroad to organise exhibitions of his father’s art, they sought a loophole. Geraldine stated in an interview:
“Somebody advised us. They said, if I would return to Scotland and simply live there, he could then apply through a different channel for a visit to his wife in our shared home in Scotland – which he did. I went to Scotland, I lived in my mother’s house in the Scottish Highlands – this is in the 70s. I had to invite him, of course, but he never came near Scotland, naturally, he went off and did an exhibition. Well, he did come occasionally but it was too remote. He was all on edge to be doing the exhibitions. And then, of course, we met up in all sorts of interesting places.” The Communists seemed to tolerate this breach on realising the revenue the exhibits brought to Czechoslovakia, though it has also been alleged that Jiri became a Czech spy.

When the Communist regime ended in Czechoslovakia in 1989, the Muchas returned to Prague. Geraldine continued to regularly visit Scotland each summer.

Jiri died in 1991 and Geraldine composed the Epitaph In memoriam Jiří Mucha. It ends with a haunting evocation of the Skye boat song.

Throughout Geraldine Mucha’s work there are strong Scottish themes. She was to write 16 Variations on a Scottish Folksong, for piano in 1957 and a ballet Macbeth in 1965. Her Orcadian descent is noted in the work Carmina Orcadiana written around 1960.

Geraldine Mucha died in Prague on 12 October 2012. She was 95 and still an active composer. She said in 2007: “I just can´t help composing. It´s what I do”.

Her Divertimento is available. Written especially for The Arlequin Trio, it features on their CD:


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 :