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Iain Hamilton (Composer, Arranger)

Born: June 6, 1922 - Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Died: July 21, 2000 - London, England, UK.

The remarkable Scottish composer, Iain (Ellis) Hamilton, was taken to London at the age of 7, and attended Mill Hill School. After graduation, he became an apprentice engineer, and remained in that profession for the next seven years. In his free time he undertook the study of music. He was 25 years old when he decidedly turned to music. He won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied piano with Harold Craxton and composition with William Alwyn. Concurrently he studied at the University of London, earning the Bachelor of Music degree in 1950. He made astonishing progress as a composer, and upon graduation from the Royal Academy of Music received the prestigious Dove Prize (1950). Other awards included the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize for his Clarinet Concerto (1951), the Koussevitzky Foundation Award for his 2nd Symphony (1951), the Edwin Evans Prize (1951), the Arnold Bax Gold Medal (1957), and the Vaughan Williams Award (1974).

From 1951 to 1960 Iain Hamilton was a lecturer at MorIey College in London. He he also lectured at the University of London from 1952 to 1960. Long important in British musical circles, his influence also extended to the USA, where he lived (based in New York) for 20 years (1961 to 1981). From 1961 to 1978 he served as Mary Duke Biddle Professor of Music at Duke University in Durham, N.C., where he was chairman of its music department (1966-1967). He also was composer-in-residence at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Massachusetts (summer, 1962). In 1970 he received an honorary D.Mus. from the University of Glasgow.

In 1981 Iain Hamilton returned to London, where he lived until his death. In April, 2002, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation unveiled a bas-relief commemorating the composer in the Music Department at Duke University.

In addition to composing, he was a teacher, organizer of contemporary music concerts, chairman of the Composers’ Guild, and served on panels and committees for such organizations as the Music Advisory Panel of the BBC.


An important figure in music on both sides of the Atlantic, Iain Hamilton was a composer of both stage and concert works, whose music has been praised for the "brilliance of its orchestral textures…uninhibited lyricism" (Anna Karenina - Opera) and "a vast terrain of color, movement, expression and invention" (Voyage - Horn and Chamber Orchestra). These quotes are typical of the critical commentaries on his music, which constantly refer to the color, texture, variety, lyricism and craftsmanship.

Iain Hamilton's style of composition is marked by terse melodic lines animated by a vibrant rhythmic pulse, creating the impression of kinetic lyricism; his harmonies are built on a set of peculiarly euphonious dissonances, which repose on emphatic tonal centers. For several years he pursued a sui generis serial method, but soon abandoned it in favor of a free modern manner; in his operas, he makes use of thematic chords depicting specific dramatic situations.

Iain Hamilton’s extensive catalogue comprises works in all genres, including orchestral, chamber, vocal, solo, and also opera, the category for which he was arguably best known. He wrote 12 operas, including The Catiline Conspiracy, Anna Karenina, and The Royal Hunt of the Sun. They received performances (and also revivals, in several cases) by such companies as Scottish Opera, English National Opera, and the BBC. The Catiline Conspiracy was hailed as "a masterpiece" in The Scotsman headline after its 1974 premiere in Stirling, the Glasgow Herald noting in addition that "there could hardly have been a member of [the] audience who was not reminded of Watergate." Anna Karenina, premiered by English National Opera in 1978, was first performed in North America in 1982 by the Los Angeles Opera Theater. Raleigh’s Dream was commissioned for the North Carolina British-American Festival at Duke University in 1983, where it was premiered at the celebrations for the tercentenary of the founding of Raleigh’s colony in 1584.

In the concert hall, Iain Hamilton’s works have been performed by many of the leading British orchestras and ensembles; among his compositions from his final years are The Transit of Jupiter (first performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Jerzy Maksymiuk in 1995), and Bulgaria: Invocation/Evocation for Orchestra. In the USA, commissions included those of the Eastman School of Music for Piano Sonata No. 3 and the Library of Congress for Hyperion for chamber ensemble. In 1996, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra premiered the 1993 Piano Quintet with performances in Pearl River and New York City. His last works include The Wild Garden (5 pieces for Clarinet and Piano) and London: A Kaleidoscope for Piano and Orchestra, written in 2000.


Clerk Saunders, ballet (1951)
The Royal Hunt of the Sun, opera (1966-1968; 1975; London, Feb. 2, 1977)
Agamemnon, dramatic narrative (1967-1969)
Pharsalia, drdmatic commentary (1968)
The Cataline Conspiracy, opera (1972-1973; Stirling, Scotland, March 16, 1974)
Tamburlaine, lyric drama (1976; BBC, London, Feb. 14, 1977)
Anna Karenina, opera (1977-1978; London, May 7, 1981)
Dick Whittington, lyric comedy (1980-1881)
Lancelot, opera (1982-1983; Arundel, England, Aug. 24, 1985)
Raleigh's Dream, opera (1983;Durham, N.C., June 3, 1984)
The Tragedy of Macbeth, opera (1990)
London's Fair, opera (1992)

4 symphonies:
- No. 1 (1948)
- No. 2 (1951)
- No. 3, Spring (1981; London, July 24, 1982)
- No. 4 (1981; Edinburgh, Jan. 21, 1983)
Variations on an Original Theme for Strings (1948)
2 piano concertos:
- o. 1 (1949)
- No. 2 (1960; revised 1967, 1987; BBC, Glasgow, May 1989)
Clarinet Concerto (1950)
Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, and Chamber Orchestra. (1950)
2 violin concertos:
- No. 1 (1952)
- No. 2, Amphion (1971)
Scottish Dances (1956)
Sonata per orchestra da camera (1956)
Overture: 1812 (1957)
Concerto for Jazz Trumpet & Orchestra (1957)
Sinfonia for 2 Orchestras (1958)
Ecossaise (1959)
Arias for Small Orchestra (1962)
The Chaining of Prometheus for Wind Instruments & Percussion (1963)
Cantos (1964)
Concerto for Organ & Small Orchestra (1964)
Circus for 2 Trumpets & Orchestra (1969)
Alastor (1970)
Voyage for Horn & Chamber Orchestra (1970)
Commedia, concerto (London, May 4, 1973)
Aurora (New York, November 21, 1975)
The Alexandrian Sequence for Chamber Orchestra (1976)

2 quintets for Clarinet & String Quartet:
- No. 1 (1948)
- No. 2, Sea Music (1974)
4 string quartets (1949, 1965, 1984, 1984)
Quartet for Flute & String Trio (1951)
3 Nocturnes for Clarinet & Piano (1951)
Viola Sonata (1951)
Capriccio for Trumpet & Piano (1951)
Clarinet Sonata (1954)
Piano Trio (1954)
2 octets: No. 1 for Strings (1954) and No. 2 for Winds (1983)
Serenata for Violin & Clarinet (1955)
2 cello sonatas (1958, 1974)
Sextet for Flute, 2 Clarinets, Violin, Cello, & Piano (1962)
Sonatas and Variants for 10 Wind Instruments (1963)
Brass Quintet (1964)
Sonata notturna for Horn & Piano (1965)
Flute Sonata (1966)
Violin Sonata (1974)
Hyperion for Clarinet, Horn, Violin, Cello, & Piano (1977)
Spirits of the Air for Bass Trombone (1977)

Keyboard: Piano:
3 sonatas (1951, revised 1971; 1973; 1978)
3 Rieces (1955)
Nocturnes with Cadenzas (1963)
Palinodes (1972)
Lefardin de Monet (1986)

Fanfares and Variants (1960)
Aubade (1965)
Threnos - In Time of War (1966)
Paraphrase of the Music for Organs in Epitaph for this World and Time (1970)
Roman Music (1973)
A Vision of Canopus (1975)
Le Tombeau de Bach (1986)

The Bermudas for Baritone, Chorus, & Orchestra (1956)
Cinque canzone d'amore for Tenor & Orchestra (1957)
Nocturnal for 11 Solo Voices (1959)
A Testament of War for Baritone & Small Instrumental Ensemble (1961)
Dialogues for Coloratura Soprano &Small Instrumental Ensemble (1965)
Epitaph for This World and Time, for 3 Choruses & 3 Organs (1970)
The Golden Sequence for Chorus, Congregation, & Organ (1973)
Te Deum for Chorus, Winds, Brass, & Percussion (1973-1974)
Cleopatra, dramatic scene for Soprano & Orchestra (1977)
Requiem for Chorus (1979; BBC, Glasgow, May 1980)
Mass for Chorus (1980; London, April 4, 1981)
Vespers for Chorus, 2 Pianos, Harp, & Percussion (1980)
The Morning Watch for Chorus & 10 Wind Instruments (1981)
The Passion of Our Lord According to St. Mark for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, & Orchestra (1982; London, May 6, 1983)
The Bright Heavens Sounding for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, & Instrumental Ensemble (1985; London, June 27, 1986)
Prometheus for Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Chorus, & Orchestra (1986)
Paris de Crepuscule a l'aube for Voice & Orchestra or Piano (1986)
La Mort de Phedre for Voice & Orchestra (1987)

Source: Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Theodore Presser Company Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (July 2007)

Iain Hamilton: Short Biography | Piano Transcriptions: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Iain Hamilton (Theodore Presser Company)
Iain Hamilton (1922-2000): British Composer by Paul Conway (MusicWeb)

In memoriam: Iain Hamilton Musical Times (Find Articles)



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