MUSICTEACHERS.CO.UK VOLUME 2 ISSUE 11, MAY 2001  
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On his retirement in 1983 from the chair at UCLA, he returned to the UK and, after a spell on the north Norfolk coast (a favourite area to which as a child he used to go on holiday with his parents), Crossley-Holland settled in his beloved Wales where he continued his researches on Celtic music and folklore (a lifelong passion), and returned to original composition. Reflecting his deep interests in nature and philosophy, some of these later works (which are in general on a larger scale than his earlier works) embrace the Golden Section and the related Fibonacci series as a principle of formal construction, though this is hardly obvious to the listener, other than on a purely instinctive basis. They include a Symphony in D (not yet performed – it represents a spiritual journey), three symphonic poems, and an Ode to Mananan, for recorder, string orchestra and harp, inspired by Manx folklore, on which he was an authority, and which was given its premiere on 4 March last at Newtown, Powys, by the Welsh Chamber Orchestra, with myself on recorder and Elinor Bennett playing the harp. At the time of his sudden death he had just completed scoring for soprano, recorder and string orchestra his song The Philosopher Bird, composed to words specially written by his son Kevin (their only artistic collaboration) and dedicated to his daughter Sally.

Crossley-Holland was born in London in 1916 to parents who were both amateur musicians (his father played the organ and his mother sang in choral societies), and they encouraged their son's musical talents to the full, with lessons on both piano and violin. Crossley-Holland's chosen instrument at Abbotsholme School was the piano and at one time, he thought of becoming a concert pianist. Whilst still a schoolboy he met Carl Dolmetsch, and this meeting later bore fruit in his many compositions for the recorder, an instrument whose natural folk music resonances seemed particularly congenial to him. When he went up to St. John's College Oxford in 1933 it was not, however, to read music but medicine (the result of paternal pressure), though composition was an all-consuming interest, and one his earliest successes was the professional performance in Sheffield the following year of a Fantasy Quintet for piano and strings (George Linstead was the pianist). A Violin Sonata and Suite No. 1 for strings, both composed in 1938, won for Crossley-Holland the Foli Composition Scholarship at the Royal College of Music, where he was taught by John Ireland, who had earlier given him private lessons, and for whom he retained a considerable affection (Ireland is the dedicatee of the late symphonic poem The Golden Pathway). Later he returned to Oxford to read for a BMus degree, his graduation piece (an early indication of his interest in matters Celtic, an enthusiasm which he has passed on to his son Kevin) being A Song of Saint Columba. Other composers with whom Crossley-Holland had close contacts were Rubbra (whose company he found congenial and who later dedicated to him the Pezzo Ostinato for solo harp, influenced by Buddhist religious philosophy), Seiber (though his exercises in serialism did not strike a chord with Crossley-Holland), and Julius Harrison, whom the composer has to thank for his introduction to his wife, Nicole, herself a distinguished French scholar.

From 1943-1945, Crossley-Holland was North West Regional Director of CEMA (the predecessor of the Arts Council), living in Wilmslow, Cheshire, and at this time he composed many songs, including a setting of Robert Bridges' The Nightingale, which he considered his most inspired song.

Crossley-Holland's later music, as well as the works composed in the earlier part of his career reflect, beneath the often deceptive surface simplicity of the music, the composer's deep preoccupations with metaphysics, the natural world (with its principles of order, growth and renewal), and the human spirit. The composer himself dealt at length with the sources of his inspiration in a lecture, published in Speaking of my Life (Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1979), and these found a true reflection in his own inspiring personality and character. He seemed eternally young (I still remember vividly the way he bounded up on to the platform in the rehearsals for his eightieth birthday concert). He was meticulous, thoughtful, kindly, and immensely knowledgeable – a sort of twentieth-century Prospero figure. For his seventieth birthday his son Kevin wrote a poem, reproduced below, the acute observation of which magically brings him back again to life for me.

In recognition of his contribution to Welsh music studies, Crossley-Holland was, in 1992, awarded an honorary Fellowship by the University of Wales, Bangor, who published his recent research into the composers of the Robert ap Huw manuscript, and who were the recipients of a part of his large collection of musical instruments. He was also awarded an honorary Fellowship (Philosophy) by the University of Wales, Lampeter, and he was an honorary Professor of the University of Wales.

Peter Crossley-Holland, composer and ethnomusicologist, was born in London on 28 January 1916. He died in London on 27 April 2001 aged 85.



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