Opera Scotland

Alexander Goehr Suggest updates

Born Berlin, 10 August 1932.

English composer and teacher.

Alexander Goehr was brought to Britain in 1933 when his father, Walter Goehr, was appointed musical director of Columbia Records. He studied composition at the Royal Manchester College under Richard Hall. He was instrumental in founding a group of young musicians, the New Music Manchester Group, which included Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, and John Ogdon, who gave concerts of contemporary music in the north of England and London. On leaving Manchester he was awarded a French Government scholarship and studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Olivier Messiaen, and privately with Yvonne Loriod.

In the sixties he had works commissioned by organisations such as the Leeds Triennial Festival, the BBC, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Aldeburgh, York, Cheltenham, Edinburgh, Lucerne, Donaueschingen and Bath Festivals. His works had been performed in Darmstadt, Prague, Venice, Zagreb, Warsaw, Cologne, Donaueschingen, Lucerne and in the USA.

His first opera, Arden Must Die, with a libretto by Erich Fried derived from the anonymous Elizabethan tragedy Arden of Faversham, was premiered by the Hamburg State Opera in 1967. It was originally scheduled for performances when that company came to the 1968 Edinburgh Festival, but the production, it seems, did not fit the King's Theatre. Subsequent stage works include Naboth's Vineyard, a 'dramatic madrigal' (1968) and Shadowplay (1970). Rather more recently, his opera based on King Lear was presented by English Touring Opera.

He was appointed Professor of Music at Leeds 1971-6. He was later Professor of Music at Cambridge. His father, the exiled German Walter Goehr had developed an interest in baroque music, especially Monteverdi, preparing editions of the Vespers and Poppea (1954). Alexander Goehr's own music theatre piece, Shadowplay was similarly influenced by Monteverdi, especially Combattimento, and also uses two mimes, plus singers and musicians.

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