Rich and powerful musical language and a strong sense of drama have made Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave one of the most respected and exciting contemporary composers in the Western world. Her works are performed in major concert halls, festivals, and radio stations on both sides of the Atlantic.
Known for the clarity of her invention, the skill of her orchestrations, and the power of her musical communication, Musgrave has consistently explored new means of projecting essentially dramatic situations in her music, frequently altering and extending the conventional boundaries of instrumental performance by physicalizing their musical and dramatic impact: both without programmatic content (such as the Clarinet Concerto, the Horn Concerto, the Viola Concerto, and Space Play), and others with specific programmatic ideas (such as the paintings in The Seasons and Turbulent Landscapes, the poems in Ring Out Wild Bells, Journey through a Japanese Landscape, and Autumn Sonata, and the famous Greek legends in Orfeo, Narcissus, Helios, and Voices from the Ancient World); -- all extensions of concerto principles. In some of these, to enhance the dramatic effect, the sonic possibilities of spatial acoustics have been incorporated: in the Clarinet Concerto the soloist moves around the different sections of the orchestra, and in the Horn Concerto the orchestral horns are stationed around the concert hall. Thus the players are not only the conversants in an abstract musical dialogue, but also very much the living (and frequently peripatetic) embodiment of its dramatis personae.
Her 10 large-scale and several chamber operas of the past 40 years beginning with The Voice of Ariadne (1972) and followed by Mary, Queen of Scots (1977), A Christmas Carol (1979), Harriet, the Woman Called Moses (1984) and Simón Bolívar (1992) are in every sense the true successors to these instrumental concertos.
Musgrave has been the recipient of many notable awards including two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Ivors Classical Music Award 2018, and The Queen's Medal for Music. She was awarded a CBE on the Queen's New Year's Honour List in 2002.
Critical AcclaimBehind the aural glitter is an inventive mind, drawing the listener in with compelling narrative. One is never placed at ease enough to settle back – there is always a twist, a sudden shift that grabs you.— Robin Newton, Classical Music ‘Premieres of the Year’
Orchestration [that] has a Straussian depth and complexity, swept along by a romantic undercurrent that is enthralling but unpredictable' — Christopher Lambton, BBC Music Magazine
…as naturally gifted a composer for the stage as anyone writing today…Musgrave has an infallible sense of theatrical pace and effect. — Rodney Milnes, The Times
In a way Musgrave makes no concessions to her audience, since some of the music is pretty tough and unyielding, but somehow she manages still to make it attractive and easily assimilable — Alan Sanders, seenandheard.com
'thoroughly contemporary while remaining true to her tonal roots. — Julian Haylock, Classic FM Magazine
Rich and powerful musical language and a strong sense of drama have made Scottish-American composer Thea Musgrave one of the most respected and exciting contemporary composers in the Western world. Her works have been widely performed in Britain, Europe and the USA, and at the major music festivals, such as Edinburgh, Warsaw Autumn, Florence Maggio Musicale, Venice Biennale, Aldeburgh, Cheltenham and Zagreb. Her works have also been heard on most European and American broadcasting stations; and on many regular symphony concert series.
Thea has conducted many of her own works: the premiere performance of Mary,Queen of Scots at the 1977 Edinburgh International Festival and later with the San Francisco Spring Opera; the premiere performances of The Voice of Ariadne in Britain and again in New York and Los Angeles (New York City Opera); and many orchestral concerts (Philadelphia, San Francisco, St Paul Chamber, LA Chamber, BBC Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony, Royal Scottish National, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Jerusalem Philharmonic, etc.).
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 27 May 1928, Thea studied at the University of Edinburgh. Later she spent four years with Nadia Boulanger at the Conservatoire in Paris before establishing herself back in London as a prominent member of British musical life. In 1970 she became Guest Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1971 she married the American opera conductor Peter Mark, and since 1972 has resided in the U.S. She received a Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation-Library of Congress commission for Space Play (1974), which after its London premiere in the Queen Elizabeth Hall was performed in New York by the Lincoln Center Chamber Players. She has also been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships as well as honorary degrees from Old Dominion University (Virginia), Smith College, Glasgow University, and New England Conservatory of Music. She served as Distinguished Professor at Queens College, City University of New York from September 1987-2002 and was awarded a C.B.E. on the Queen's New Year's Honour List in January 2002. In 2018 she was presented with both the Ivor Classical Music Award and The Queen's Medal for Music, which she received in an audience with Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace.
Musgrave has consistently explored new means of projecting essentially dramatic situations in her music. Some works are ‘dramatic-abstract’, that is without programmatic content (such as the Clarinet Concerto, the Horn Concerto, the Viola Concerto, and Space Play), and others project specific programmatic ideas (such as the paintings in The Seasons and Turbulent Landscapes, the poems in Ring Out Wild Bells, Journey through a Japanese Landscape, and Autumn Sonata, and the famous Greek legends of Orfeo, Narcissus, Helios, and Voices from the Ancient World) -- all extensions of concerto principles.
In some of these, to enhance the dramatic effect, the sonic possibilities of spatial acoustics have been incorporated where the soloist moves around to different sections of the orchestra (Clarinet Concerto), and where orchestral horns are stationed around the concert hall (Horn Concerto). Thus the players are not only the conversants in an abstract musical dialogue, but also very much the living (and frequently peripatetic) embodiment of its dramatis personae.
Thea’s focus on the lyric and dramatic potential of music have naturally led Musgrave to the field of opera. Her large-scale operas, beginning with The Voice of Ariadne (1972), Mary, Queen of Scots (1977), A Christmas Carol (1979), Harriet, The Woman Called Moses (1984), and Simón Bolívar (1993), are in every sense the true successors to her instrumental concertos.
With such a large and varied career and catalogue, Thea Musgrave is frequently interviewed and questioned about being a "woman" composer, to which she has replied; "Yes, I am a woman; and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time."
11th April 2023
- Sam Cave and Sarah Dacey
- City University, London, United Kingdom
15th April 2023
- Albany Symphony Orchestra
- Claire Fox Hillard
- Albany Municipal Auditorium, Albany, GA, United States of America
30th April 2023
- Orli Shaham, piano; Dennis Kim, violin; Warren Hagerty, cello; Ben Smolen, flute
- Samueli Theatre, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, CA, United States of America
17th May 2023
- Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
- Olari Elts
- City Hall, Sheffield, United Kingdom
18th May 2023
- Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
- Olari Elts
- Arts Centre Warwick, Warwick, United Kingdom
- Anton Bruckner Bicentenary in 2024
- Anton Bruckner celebrates his 200th birthday in 2024. The Austrian composer, organist and teacher is one of the great mavericks of the music world. We have highlighted works that can be combined well with Bruckner's symphonies or with his vocal works for your next concert programmes.
- New works for soloist and orchestra
- Read through this selection of dazzling new works written for some of the world’s top soloists by Wise Music Classical’s composers.
- Thea Musgrave awarded Honorary Membership of the Royal Philharmonic Society
- Following in the footsteps of such names as Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Liszt, Verdi, Dvorák, Clara Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Stravinsky and Boulez, the British-American composer Thea Musgrave CBE has been made an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in recognition of her remarkable career and outstanding services to music. The award was handed to her by New Music USA's CEO and President Vanessa Reid at Wise Music's New York office, you can watch the presentation here.
- Opera for Socially Distanced Performance
- Wise Music Classical is pleased to share a collection of dynamic dramatic works for small forces.
- Three composers. Three generations. Three women. Three Scots.
- Thea Musgrave, Judith Weir and Helen Grime are three talented and inspiring female Scottish composers. From three different generations, they each have played a pivotal role in the growth and revolutions of modern composition music.