"Alun Hoddinott was one of the most admired British composers of his generation"
(The Times, March 2008)
"One of the most versatile and prolific British composers of all time […] colour, scintillating effects, fiery outbursts and sheer panache"
(Meic Stephens for The Independant, March 2008)
"Since his First Clarinet Concerto appeared in 1949, Alun Hoddinott has been a prolific composer with a particular aptitude for orchestral scores. His language is reminiscent of Rawsthorne and Fricker and his soundworld derives from Hindemith though it is more colourful with its extensive use of percussion"
Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott was born in the mining town of Bargoed in 1929. Taken to a concert at the age of 4, he discovered the violin and started taking lessons. Educated at Gowerton Grammar School, Alun Hoddinott was awarded a university scholarship in Cardiff at the age of 16. His skills in composition developed quickly and he co-founded the National Youth Orchestra of Wales in 1946. While still a student he wrote and overture a symphonic suite for orchestra, a cello concerto and several string quartets, along with songs and choral works. After graduating in 1949, Alun Hoddinott took private lessons with the Australian composer Arthur Benjamin, making ends meet by writing for radio plays and turning out film scores for Disney, as well as one for the Hammer Films Sword of Sherwood Forest, starring Richard Greene.
He then joined the staff of the Cardiff (later Welsh) College of Music and Drama.
Alun Hoddinott rapidly earned a national reputation which brought him a string of commissions by leading orchestras and soloists. As he was championed by some of the most distinguished instrumentalists and singers of the time, such as Dame Margaret Price, Dame Gwyneth Jones, Sir Geraint Evans, Sir Thomas Allen or Jill Gomez. He gained his first success as a composer in 1954 when Gervase de Peyer and the Hallé Orchestra performed his Clarinet Concerto No 3 at the Cheltenham Festival.
Influenced by Stravinsky, Bartók and Hindemith, Alun Hoddinott’s early works are characterized by slow nocturnal movements and an unmistakable sense of line, rhythm and structure as well as a brooding lyricism, cumulative in its effect until the tension breaks and is diffused in a series of buoyant scherzi. Writing mostly during the night, Alun Hoddinott was drawn to the contrast between night and day, silence and music.
Trained as a violinist, but subject to stage fright, Alun Hoddinott often spoke about his compositional thinking in terms of strings rather than the piano, composing directly on to an orchestral score without the intermediate of a piano outline.
During the 1960s, Alun Hoddinott produced almost a hundred works to commission in almost every genre except opera, proving himself one of the most prolific composers of his generation. His prodigious energy drove him to create symphonies, fugues, sonatas, oratorios, concertos, sinfoniettas, dance suites and cantatas and numerous choral, vocal and chamber works. His versatility, his all-around fluency led legendary conductor Sir Charles Groves to compare Alun Hoddinott to Haydn.
Turning to writing opera during the 1970s and the early 1980s, Alun Hoddinott found his most popular success with The Beach of Falesá, his first opera based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson with a libretto by Glyn Jones. It marked a new phase for the composer’s work. Alun Hoddinott found particular inspiration in low male voices. He declared that he “felt more at home in writing a work of this kind than most other pieces”. From that point on, his corpus included a more frequent use of instruments in extended solo roles, acute dramatic outbursts and a deepening of orchestral colour to match the atmosphere of its romantic subject.
His lengthy collaboration with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales was particularly productive, spawning works such as Lanternes des Morts, Star Children and The Sun, the Great Luminary of the Universe. The latter is often considered Alun Hoddinott’s middle period’s most admired work. It is a nocturnal piece, marked by contrasts of explosive sound followed by his “massive silences” and a reflection of the composer’s lifelong habit of writing during the hours of darkness.
Alun Hoddinott became a true ambassador for music and culture in Wales, founding the Cardiff Festival of Music with his good friend, the distinguished pianist John Ogdon and encouraging music making with the youth, writing for many student ensembles and youth orchestras. He had a tremendous influence in awakening interest in contemporary music in Wales and his teaching and generous teaching inspired many composers and music-makers.
He also contributed music for major royal occasions, such as the investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales and his wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles.
Alun Hoddinott was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1981 and presented with several honorary awards, professional accolades and prestigious prizes in recognition of his achievements.
In 1989, his association with the London Symphony Orchestra gave birth to the sublime Noctis Equi (Opus 132), a poem for cello and orchestra inspired by the eerie line in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus “O lente, lente curritem noctis equi”. This work is generally accepted as Alun Hoddinott’s finest composition, although it is hard to choose from an output of about 300 works.
He passed away on March 11, 2008.