Christopher Brown





music typesetter

“One of Britain’s most accomplished composers of the post
Leighton-Howells-Britten generation”  (Musical Opinion)

Christopher Brown


English composers have often been renowned for their choral music and this is a tradition in which Christopher Brown has excelled.  Born in 1943 into a musical family in which singing played an important role, he became a chorister at Westminster Abbey at the age of 9. He continued his education at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, where he came under the strong influence of the director of music, David Lepine.  In 1962 he won a choral scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge.  From 1965-67 he studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Lennox Berkeley, whose grace and naturalness as a composer he inherited, and completed his studies with a year in Berlin under Boris Blacher.  In 1974 he was awarded a Collard Fellowship by the Worshipful Company of Musicians and won the first Guinness Prize for Composition with his 1st String Quartet (1970). In 1976 he was the first British composer to win outright the coveted Prince Pierre of Monaco Prize with his Soliloquy (1972), a work that also brought him a second Guinness Prize in the same year, while his 2nd String Quartet (1975) was awarded first prize in the Washington International Competition.


His style is essentially lyrical and vocal, and this has led him to write a wide range of choral and vocal music in all genres. Many of the early pieces were short works such as the Three Shakespeare Songs (1965), Elegy (1967) and a number of Christmas pieces. Hodie Salvator Apparuit (1971) and Aubade (1968) both show his skill in writing more extended and elaborate choral textures, and these he has further explored in later works such as the Herrick Songs (1971), From the Doorways of the Dawn (1985), Mass for 4 Voices (1992) and To Musick, Sing! (1993). Alongside these unaccompanied works there has been a steady stream of pieces for larger choral and orchestral forces. A Hymn to the Holy Innocents (1965) brought him national recognition while still a student, and works such as David (1970), Chauntecleer (1980), Landscapes (1986), Magnificat, (1980), The Circling Year (1989), The Vision of Saul (1983), Three Medieval Lyrics (1973) and Tres Cantus Sacri (1984) have all been well received by performers and audiences alike. The cantata Seascape (1981) proved particularly effective and moving, and has been recorded.  In 2009 he wrote A Five-Gated Well for the choirs of Clare College and Trinity College, Cambridge, to a specially commissioned set of poems by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University.


Instrumental music has played an important part in Christopher Brown’s output at all stages of his career. There are several impressive orchestral works, including a Feeney Trust commission for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra entitled Triptych (1978), the Organ Concerto (1979) written for the St. Albans International Festival, The Sun: Rising (1977), for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and Ruscelli d’Oro (1990), for the Cambridgeshire County Youth Orchestra. He has always shown an especial sympathy for strings, and Sonata for Strings (1974) and Into the Sun (1984) combine brilliant textures with taut structures and an expressive lyricism. In the field of chamber music he has written two string quartets, woodwind and brass quintets, two piano trios, and numerous works for other combinations, amongst them Chamber Music (1975) for two wind, two strings and piano, La Légende de l’Étoile (1991) written for Evelyn Glennie and Thomas Trotter, a string trio Star Song III (1997), and solo works for violin, viola, cello, trumpet, organ and piano. 


There are several song cycles, including Point of Departure (1969) for tenor, Wordsworth Songs (1969) for soprano, The Snows of Winter (1971) for 6 voices and ensemble and a set of seasonal songs for tenor and guitar All Year Round.(1976).


He has always enjoyed working with and writing for amateurs and young performers, and has been particularly aware of the need to forge a musical language which communicates clearly and vividly, while maintaining its own distinctive voice and integrity. The children’s operas The Split Goose Feather (1979), The Ram King (1981), The Two Lockets (1988) and Die Schwindlerin (1990) have all enjoyed several productions, not only in England but also in Germany, giving the singers music that is not only well within their technical grasp but also valid musically and dramatically.


Besides his work as a composer, he also taught composition for nearly 40 years at the Royal Academy of Music, and now is much in demand as a composition supervisor at the University of Cambridge.  He has been active as conductor of the Huntingdonshire Philharmonic, the Cambridge Players, the New Cambridge Singers, the Stamford Chamber Orchestra and the Dorset Bach Cantata Club, and, in this role, has  shown himself to be a sympathetic advocate of a wide range of musical styles.  He has also been responsible for the commissioning of an extensive amount of new music, and has conducted first performances of music by David Bedford, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Timothy Brown, Ruth Byrchmore, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies,  Mark Goddard, Alicia Grant, John Webb, Philip White and others, as well as the UK premieres of two works by Shostakovich. His company Musography publishes many of his own works and also a wide range of practical performing editions of Baroque music by Bach, Handel, Purcell and others.  He is also in considerable demand as a music typestter, especially of complex contemporary music. Since 1976 he has been active as an examiner for the ABRSM.


Christopher Brown’s is an independent voice, and he has developed over the years at his own pace and in his own way, rejecting the vagaries of fashion for a more durable and solid means of expression. His achievements are considerable and his message is as refreshing as it is individual.  


Conducting the Huntingdonshire Philharmonic,

November 1986

Rehearsing with the Dorset Bach Cantata Club, October 2007

“His music radiates an ingenuous spirit of joy, which is to be welcome in the cynical, restive musical time in which we live”
(Musical Opinion)

Conducting “Messiah” with the New Cambridge Singers and the Sweelinck Ensemble, March 2006