Elisabeth Lutyens


Born: July 9, 1906 Died: April 14, 1983
An uncompromising radical in a musical culture marked by "schools," Elisabeth Lutyens was one of the first British composers to adopt serialist ideas. Her life was as unconventional as her music. Born in 1906, she announced (at age nine) her decision to become a composer. She studied music in Paris, falling under the spell of Debussy, and then moved on to the Royal College of Music in London in 1926. Lutyens hated the music of Elgar and the other gigantist symphonists of the age, and she derided the works of the British pastoralists as "cowpat music." But, like the early 12-tone composers, she admired Brahms. At one point she set the entire biblical Book of Job in Brahmsian musical language. At the RCM, Lutyens joined with a small group of female students devoted to modern music. She encountered the works of Britten and was influenced by Renaissance music and its continuous flow. By the time she composed the Concerto for Nine Instruments (1939), she was working in a quasi-serial style.

In 1933 Lutyens married singer Ian Glennie and had three children, but five years later she left him for BBC producer Edward Clark, who tried but failed to push the network toward contemporary music programming. After Clark quit his job, Lutyens became the breadwinner of the family (she had brought her children with her). For much of her life she supported them by writing film and television scores such as that for Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1966). From time to time she supplemented the family income by renting out rooms; one of her boarders was poet Dylan Thomas.

After World War II, as she fully developed her personal serial-influenced language, she began to build an audience, earning the nickname "12-Note Lizzie" from traditionalists. Her setting of the Rimbaud poem "O Saisons, O Châteaux" (1947) was among her first major successes. Her opera Infidelio (1954) had to wait two decades for a performance, but lean modernist works such as Six Tempi (1957) and Music for Orchestra II (1962) won admirers. As British audiences warmed to modern music and Lutyens herself shifted to a somewhat lighter, more evocative style in such works as the choral Essence of Our Happinesses (1968), she was acclaimed as a pioneer. In 1969 she was made a Commander of the British Empire. The major works of Lutyens' last years were operas: The Numbered (1967), Time Off? Not a Ghost of a Chance (1968), and Isis and Osiris (1970).

There are 12 Elisabeth Lutyens recordings available.

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