Biography

Howard Skempton

  • Chester, England, UK, 1947
  • Composer

Howard Skempton has worked as a composer, accordionist, and music publisher. He studied in London with Cornelius Cardew from 1967 and Cardew helped him to discover a musical language of great simplicity. Since then he has continued to write undeflected by compositional trends, producing a corpus of more than 300 works — many pieces being miniatures for solo piano or accordion. Skempton calls these pieces “the central nervous system” of his work.

Many of his compositions have been recorded, including the hugely successful Lento for orchestra on the NMC label by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the piano works performed by John Tilbury on the Sony Classical label and Shiftwork by Ensemble Bash, also on Sony Classical. 2001 saw the release on Guild of The Flight of Song, an acclaimed choral collection performed by the choir of Queens’ College Cambridge under James Weeks.

Over recent years, Skempton has been concentrated increasingly on vocal and choral music. Of the major pieces, He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven was written for the Belfast Philharmonic Society and first performed in the Waterfront Hall in 2000; The Voice of the Spirits was written in 1999 for the 750th anniversary of University College, Oxford and premièred in St John’s, Smith Square in 1999. The Bridge of Fire, a setting of James Elroy Flecker, was first performed by the BBC Singers in May 2001, and Lamentations, for bass and theorbo, was premièred by Paul Hillier and Nigel North in July of that year.

Tendrils for string quartet received its world premiere at the 2004 Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music. This piece went on to win the prize for ’best chamber-scale composition’ at the annual Royal Philharmonic Society awards in May 2005, and the chamber prize at the BACS ’British Composer Awards’ in December 2005. Major performances in 2006-07 include Lento by the BBC Concert Orchestra in October at the QEH, and the Bozzini Quartet has given performances of Skempton’s string quartets in Sweden in October, England (BBC) in February and Canada in March.

On Disc