Robert Simpson

Biography

Born: March 2, 1921; Leamington Spa, England   Died: December 21, 1997; Tralee, Kerry, Ireland  
British composer Robert Simpson was educated at Westminster City School. His parents wanted him to be a doctor, and he did devote two years of study to medicine before the lure of music overtook him. Simpson was a lifelong pacifist and served in a mobile surgical unit during World War II as a conscientious objector. It was during this time that he began studying music with Herbert Howells and writing the first of four symphonies. For one of the Read more works, Simpson even experimented with serial procedures. Unsatisfied with the compositions, he destroyed them and began anew, writing in his own style that often found two different tonal centers reacting against the other.

The Piano Sonata (1946) and his Symphony No. 1 (1946-51) are among Simpson's earliest works. While writing his "new" First Symphony, Simpson discovered the music of Carl Nielsen, which had a great influence on Simpson's development as a composer.

Simpson earned his doctorate in music at the University of Durham in 1951, using his First Symphony as a thesis. In the same year he finished his First String Quartet and founded the Exploratory Concert Society, along with Donald Mitchell and Harold Truscott, which focused on little-known composers and compositions that Simpson liked. He would also go on to join the British Broadcasting Corporation as a producer and broadcaster. During his stint with the BBC, Simpson introduced the popular "Innocent Ears" program, which would reveal a composer's identity only after the duration of the recording. Simpson remained with the BBC until 1980, when a musician's strike and threat of program cuts convinced him that the ideals of the corporation were not true to his own.

Simpson moved to Ireland in 1986 and continued composing. Although left partially paralyzed by a stroke in 1991, he finished his Second String Quintet in 1995 and began work on his Sixteenth String Quartet before his death. Simpson left behind an impressive body of work, including 11 highly regarded symphonies and 15 string quartets.

He worked to revitalize public interest in composers he greatly admired and wrote of two in The Essence of Bruckner and Carl Nielsen: Symphonist. Simpson also worked tirelessly on behalf of fellow composers who suffered from lack of exposure, often devoting as much time to their promotion as his own. It was Simpson who convinced fellow British composer Havergal Brian to keep writing music, and he was instrumental in arranging for BBC performances of all 32 of Brian's symphonies. Read less