Skempton: Piano Works - Well, Well Cornelius by Howard Skempton on Apple Music

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About Howard Skempton

Howard Skempton is not only among the most important English composers of experimental music, but one of the few from any country to regularly employ the accordion in his compositions. He emerged as a leading voice in progressive music in the late '60s and early '70s, when the influence of Webern and Cage was still prevalent worldwide. Skempton has written solo music for piano and accordion, songs, and, since about the mid-'80s, a sizable number of works for orchestra or large chamber ensembles. His style typically involves slow tempos, clear textures, sparse thematic development, and brevity of expression. His music is accessible in its clarity and lack of dissonance, but challenging in its aims and ideas. One might compare him with Webern, as well as with Morton Feldman, whose music also left its mark on Skempton.

Howard Skempton was born in Chester, England, on October 31, 1947. From 1967 to 1968 he studied music at Ealing Technical College and from 1968 to 1971 at Morley College, where his composition teachers included Cornelius Cardew. Skempton's earliest works date to his student years and include the piano piece A Humming Song (1967), which already exhibited many elements of his mature style. In 1969 Skempton, along with Cardew and Michael Parsons, founded the Scratch Orchestra, an ensemble devoted to the performance of experimental contemporary music. The group broke up by 1974, owing to objections by Skempton and Parsons over attempts by Cardew and others to inject Marxist politics into the ensemble's agenda. From the early '70s, Skempton was active in performance (he formed a duo with Parsons in 1974) and as a teacher, music editor, and, especially, composer. His 1990 Lento, for orchestra, has become one of his most popular works. In the new century Skempton serves on the faculty of the Birmingham Conservatory as professor of composition and continues to draw critical acclaim for works like his 2004 string quartet Tendrils.

Skempton has continued in later life to forge an independent path, rejecting both neo-Romantic trends and hermetic systems. Commissions have supported large works including several concertos for unusual instruments (such as the Concerto for hurdy-gurdy and percussion of 1995), as well as a piano concerto that was commissioned by the BBC and first performed at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2015. The 2000s decade brought a series of choral works including a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (2003) and the Missa brevis (2007). One of Skempton's most intriguing later works, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for baritone and small ensemble, was composed in 2015 and recorded in 2017 by star baritone Roderick Williams; Skempton set much of Coleridge's rhythmically unvarying ballad, maintaining interest through careful and often dramatically compelling development of pitch sets and textures in the accompaniment. In the words of his Birmingham Conservatory biography, "he has continued to write undeflected by compositional trends, producing a corpus of more than 300 works." ~ Robert Cummings & James Manheim

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