Howard Skempton


Born: October 31, 1947
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. Skempton often employs aleatory elements in his works and largely focuses on melody or on fairly straightforward thematic material. In short, 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. While Skempton's works are still not widely played, his influence has been considerable both in England and across much of the globe.

Howard Skempton was born in Chester, England, on October 31, 1947. From 1967-1968 he studied music at Ealing Technical College and from 1968-1971 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), as a teacher, music editor, and, especially, as a composer. Since about the mid-'80s, when hefty commissions were becoming more frequent, Skempton has been turning more often to larger compositions. His 1990 Lento, for orchestra, has become one of his most popular works, and later efforts like the 1997 Concerto for Oboe, Accordion and String Orchestra have also drawn considerable notice. In the new century Skempton has served 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.
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