Patric Standford Obituary: Versatile composer who combined classical work with film and TV scores, 2014


Lewis Foreman


2014 May 04

Patric Standford's music spanned most forms: he wrote six symphonies, chamber and instrumental music, choral and vocal music, ballets and an unfinished opera, Villon, to his own libretto, which he worked on for many years. Finding himself in what he called "the hyperactive world of commercial music", he also produced scores for West End shows, television, films and the rock band Continuum. He was a versatile musical professional who was also and teacher and music critic of The Yorkshire Post for over a quarter of a century.

He was born John Gledhill in Barnsley in 1939. His mother died when he was four, and with his father away in the Forces he was adopted by a cultured local lady and attended Ackworth School, a Yorkshire Quaker boarding school. Introduced to modern music by an enthusiastic school master, by Hallé concerts in Sheffield and BBC broadcasts, he started composing. Caught by the final years of conscription he chose the RAF, where he wrote an orchestral work, Ritornello.

He studied composition and conducting at the Guildhall School of Music, where his composition teacher was Edmund Rubbra. Winning the Mendelssohn Travelling Scholarship in 1964, he studied with Gianfrancesco Malipiero in Venice and with Witold Lutosławski in Warsaw. His first works included the String Quartet (1965), based on a song of Dowland; a song cycle, Gitanjali, setting four poems of Tagore (1965); the symphonic poem Saracinesco (1966), evoking an aerial landscape of the Italian mountain town; and a Suite for Small Orchestra (1966) first performed in a Canadian broadcast by the Halifax Symphony.

Two notable and extended academic appointments underpinned his career as a composer. He was Professor of Composition at the Guildhall from 1969-1980 and then Head of Music at Bretton Hall College, Leeds University, which occasioned moving to Wakefield. In retirement he taught at Huddersfield University and for several years was the
Chairman of the Composers Guild of Great Britain and British Music Information Centre.

His commissions and prizes had an increasingly international flavour: the orchestral Notte at the Malta Festival in 1968, Four Preludes for bassoon and piano at the 1971 Zagreb Festival, and the First Symphony (The Seasons) in Trieste (the City of Trieste Prize) in October 1972. In 1983 his Symphony No 3 – the Requiem Symphony subtitled "Towards Paradise" – was awarded the Ernest Ansermet Award by the City of Geneva and the Radio Suisse Romand, whose orchestra was conducted by Richard Hickox in the premiere on 12 June 1986. In the latter work for chorus and orchestra the composer portrays Dante's journey from Purgatory to Heaven. It was later withdrawn for revision by the painstaking composer. When in 1976 he was commissioned to "ghost" a Cello Concerto for Rod McKuen he delivered in 10 days for immediate recording.

His oratorio Christus-Requiem gave him a wide public when it was premiered in St Paul's Cathedral in 1973, followed by Psalm Dances at the Queen's Royal Jubilee Concert in 1977 and A Christmas Carol Symphony in 1979. The grandly dramatic Christus-Requiem generated international interest and was awarded the Committee of Solidarity Award in Skopje.

Interest from Hungary resulted in his joining the jury of the International Bela Bartok Choral Festival, where he  encountered much folk and folk-based music, a far-reaching influence on him. As he visited Europe, Australasia and South America, non-western influences appeared in his music, notably the Japanese- influenced Fourth Symphony, Taikyoku, for two pianos and six percussion (1977), and Dialogues for cimbalom and orchestra (1981), written for Agnes Szakály in Budapest. Three sets of folk-song arrangements for string orchestra (1982-86) feature Eastern European, Venezuelan and British folk songs.

His Cello Concerto (1974) was written in Brahms' one-time summer residence at Baden-Baden; the Violin Concerto (1975) was written for Mincho Minchev, while his Piano Concerto was written for the Australian pianist Rhondda Gillespie to celebrate the 70th birthday in 1979 of the Finnish composer, Olavi Pesonen.

Speaking on behalf of the Composers Guild in 1978 he criticised the direction of the Proms for the lack of living British composers; he himself was never heard at the Proms. Highlighting a lifelong unease, he wrote to me saying, "I am becoming more and more concerned by the living composer's isolation which seems to be caused by the establishment blessing given to confused ideas and technical mediocrity.
The industry worships performers, and performers understandably worship the music that the industry feels will best sell performers! Very few British composers are known to a concert-going public that would enjoy their work."

His most recent work was a substantial quintet for recorder and string quartet written for John Turner, who will be recording it later this month, and an Anthem (Psalm 8) for the Alwyn Festival at Blythburgh later in the year.