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Robert Simpson (composer)

'\Robert (Wilfred Levick) Simpson' (March 2, 1921 - December 21, 1997) was an English musicologist and composer best known for his symphonies and string quartets.

Simpson was born in Leamington and died in Tralee in County Kerry in the Republic of Ireland.

The Symphonies

Two central themes in Simpson's symphonic oeuvre are writing long works entirely based on a single basic pulse, and the tension between tonalities or intervals.

Robert Simpson is said to have written and destroyed four Symphonies (one of which even used serial procedures) before his first published Symphony. His Symphony No. 1 was his doctorate thesis for the University of Durham. This work, in three connected movements, is all in one basic pulse, with the faster tempi being doublings of the basic pulse and the slower tempi halvings of the basic pulse. Also, the work pits the tonalities of A and E-flat against each other. The orchestra is fairly standard, with the exception of using high D trumpets instead of trumpets in B-flat. The premiere was played by the Copenhagen Danish State Radio Orchestra.

For Symphony No. 2, Simpson decided to use the same orchestral instrumentation as Ludwig van Beethoven used in his first two Symphonies, though with high D trumpets. The dedicatee, Anthony Bernard, conducted the premiere of the work with the London Chamber Orchestra. The tonal conflict in this Symphony centers around B and the tonalities a major third above and below it (G and E-flat).

Symphony No. 3 is dedicated to Havergal Brian, who advised Simpson on his music as well as was advised by him. In two movements, this Symphony conflicts C major and B-flat, showing them at the end resolved in a seventh chord. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra premiered the work.

The first time Simpson writes a scherzo is in his Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major, a movement which quotes Franz Josef Haydn's Symphony No. 76 in E-flat major.

"The Chord" dominates Symphony No. 5, always implied even if not always played. Composed of three interlocking tenths (C and E, D and F#, A-flat and C) "The Chord" almost spells out a whole-tone scale, and is meant to represent "the part of the mind that is always watching you, no matter what sort of experiences you're having." The London Symphony Orchestra, to whom the work is dedicated, played the premiere.

In Symphony No. 6 Simpson aims to depict in a general way the miracle of life in conception. This one-movement work is dedicated to the renowned gynecologist Ian Craft.

The idea for Symphony No. 7 was to write a work to be first performed on an LP record rather than at a concert, though it wound up being performed at a concert first. It was meant to address just one listener at a time rather than a crowd. Since the record was to pair this Symphony with Symphony No. 2, Simpson decided it had to be less than 30 minutes and use the same orchestration as No. 2.

The Royal Philharmonic Society, sponsored by the Arts Council of Great Britain, commissioned Simpson to write Symphony No. 8, dedicated to the painter Anthony Dorrell (who painted a portrait of Simpson) and his wife, Daphne. Simpson was still interested in the idea of writing for just one listener, so he talked with Dorrell to get an idea of what kind of Symphony he'd like to hear. Jerzy Semkow conducted the Royal Danish Orchestra in the first performance. The score calls for a large orchestra with clarinet in E-flat, four horns and two sets of timpani.

Simpson dedicated his Symphony No. 9 to his wife, Angela. The work is in one movement and in one basic pulse. It was premiered by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley. It is interesting that it quotes Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 3 in D minor, a work which Simpson criticized as a noble but flawed effort.

Symphony No. 10 is dedicated to Vernon Handley. Each of the four movement starts the same way, with a C# 6/3 chord with an upward octave leap. This same gesture closes the work.

Symphony No. 11 was recently premiered in England.

The Books

As a musicologist, Simpson researched the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Anton Bruckner, Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius. He wrote two books about Bruckner, Bruckner and the Symphony in 1960, and The Essence of Bruckner in 1967; a book on Carl Nielsen, Carl Nielsen, Symphonist, and books on other composers as well as essays, also taking the role of editor sometimes.