Anthony Payne

1936 - 2021



Anthony Payne studied at the University of Durham. He began to compose professionally in 1965, having spent a number of a years as a music critic. In the 1960s and -70s he worked within a framework of Schoenbergian serialism, turning later to a new idiom that seemed to follow on from and build upon the tradition established by English composers in the first half of the twentieth century. Payne is primarily a chamber music composer, though his writing is no less self-assured in larger forms, as demonstrated in works such as Time's Arrow and his highly acclaimed completion of Elgar's Third Symphony.
Critical Acclaim
[Payne’s] quiet but thoughtful presence in British music always strikes me as a kind of anchorage in sanity, confirming the continuing life of trusted values. - Michael White, The Independent on Sunday

Dramatic, concise and written with... fastidious concern for orchestral sound and coherent structure...ingeniously coloured fabric...and set out with lucid exposition and feel for colour. - Geoffrey Norris, The Daily Telegraph


Born in London in 1936, Anthony Payne began to compose whilst still at school and went on to read music at Durham University. On leaving University he went through a period of creative uncertainty and began a career as a freelance musicologist, journalist and lecturer, producing such distinguished publications as authoritative studies of Schoenberg and Bridge. In the mid-60s, however, he began to compose his Phoenix Mass, in which he at last discovered a personal language. From that point, Payne's reputation grew steadily with each new work. He received commissions from many important soloists and organisations, and in 1985 was one of the select few chosen by the BBC to compose a piece in celebration of European Music Year: his Spirit's Harvest proved to be one of the most exciting orchestral works of the entire season.

In 1990 the orchestral work Time's Arrow was given its world premiere at the BBC Proms by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Davis. His orchestral work A Hidden Music (1992) for strings and single winds was commissioned by the London Festival Orchestra for its annual Cathedral Classics Festival and premiered at Westminster Cathedral. This was followed by the autobiographical Orchestral Variations - The Seeds Long Hidden for the English Chamber Orchestra (1994) and Empty Landscape - The Heart's Ease (1995) for the Nash Ensemble. In 1997 he completed "an elaboration on the sketches of Elgar's Third Symphony", a project which was been hailed by critics as the musical event of the decade.

Payne's command of large orchestral forces was only one aspect of his rich talent: his chamber works - especially A Day in the Life of a Mayfly which he composed for The Fires of London Ensemble - were more frequently performed in his own country and abroad than is generally the fate of contemporary music. His vocal and choral settings also revealed both the breadth of his literary knowledge and his exceptional sensitivity to language. Having earned his living for a time as a music journalist, his writings were respected as stylish and authoritative and his easy articulacy made him a popular and frequent broadcaster.



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