Alistair Hinton: biographical sketch


Alistair Hinton was born in Scotland. Hearing Chopin’s 4th Ballade on the radio at the age of 11 evoked the altogether understandable wish to become a composer; (“I just wanted to know how music was made — and to make some of my own”). His first Sonata for piano was written immediately and displays some facility in its assimilation of fleetingly encountered influences. He continued his musical studies simply by studying music, passionately (“one learns composition by composing, as one learns wine-tasting by tasting wine”). His early work attracted the interest of Benjamin Britten, with whose advice and help he attended Royal College of Music London for lessons with Humphrey Searle and Stephen Savage. His music dates from 1962 but he destroyed much of his pre-1985 output.

A significant encouragement of his compositional development was provided by the music, literature and friendship of Parsi composer Sorabji; these played an important rôle in exposing him to crucial formative influences, including Szymanowski, Busoni, van Dieren, Medtner, Godowsky and Stevenson which, together with a deepening admiration for Chopin, were to enhance his love of the piano and preoccupation with the challenge of writing for it.

Having persuaded Sorabji in 1976 to relax the long-standing embargo on public performance of his music, he took an active part in fostering international interest in it. This led to his founding The Sorabji Music Archive, of which he is curator. Based in Bath, England, the organisation was renamed The Sorabji Archive in 1993; it is a research source for performers and scholars, maintains a continuously expanding collection of literature by and about the composer, assists and oversees the compilation of new authentic editions and issues copies of his scores and writings to the public.

He has published articles and reviews in journals including Tempo, The Organ, International Piano Quarterly, The Godowsky Society Newsletter and The Ronald Stevenson Society Newsletter, acted as executive producer of various recordings and contributed to radio and television productions in several countries including USA, Scotland, Netherlands and England. The author of two chapters of the book Sorabji: A Critical Celebration, ed. Paul Rapoport (Scolar Press, UK, 1992, repr. 1994), he also contributed substantial valuable research material to it; he has since assisted another of its contributors, Marc-André Roberge, towards a substantial biographical study of Sorabji due for publication in 2006.

His extant works include a String Quintet, a song-cycle Wings of Death (Tagore), for soprano and orchestra, a Violin Concerto and numerous piano works. His Pansophiæ for John Ogdon, for organ, commissioned in 1990 in memory of the great pianist with whom he collaborated on his legendary recording of Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum, was first heard in 1991 in a recital devised and given in Ogdon’s honour by Kevin Bowyer and was later recorded by him in the Church of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol.

In 1993 he received four commissions, of which the last, Variations for Piano and Orchestra, was completed in February 1996. More recent works include Szymanowski-Etiud, for wind ensemble (1996), Sinfonietta (1997) and a cadenza for Medtner’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (1998) commissioned for that concerto’s Italian première. In 1999 he concentrated principally on chamber music. His Six Songs, Op. 40 were commissioned by the Planet Tree Festival 2000 for the soprano Sarah Leonard. He recently completed a commission for a series of piano pieces — Sieben Charakterstücke — and a wind ensemble work, Concerto for 22 Instruments.

His piano work Variations and Fugue on a theme of Grieg, his organ works and his most ambitious composition to date, the String Quintet, have been released on the prestigious Altarus label to considerable critical acclaim. Altarus also plans to record other works including his euphonium and piano pieces Conte Fantastique (1999) and Passeggiata Straussiana (1999–2000), Piano Quintet (1980–81) and Sequentia Claviensis (1993–94).

The 3-CD recording of his String Quintet was broadcast complete in USA in January 2003 and repeated later that year by popular demand; its UK broadcast première was given as part of BBC Radio 3’s 2005 British Music Focus series.

Artists who have to date performed, broadcast and recorded his work include pianists Donna Amato, Ian Brown, Carlo Grante, Jonathan Powell, Yonty Solomon, Ronald Stevenson and Nicola Ventrella, sopranos Sarah Leonard and Jane Manning and organist Kevin Bowyer. The artists in the String Quintet recording are Jagdish Mistry and Marcus Barcham-Stevens (violins), Levine Andrade (viola), Michael Stirling (cello) and Corrado Canonici (double bass), with Sarah Leonard (soprano).

All enquiries concerning Alistair Hinton are welcome.