Iain Hamilton

Jun 6, 1922 — Jul 21, 2000

Iain Hamilton HeadshotIain Hamilton was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on June 6th, 1922, and died July 21st, 2000, in London. An important figure in music on both sides of the Atlantic, he was a composer of both stage and concert works, whose music has been praised for the 'brilliance of its orchestral textures, uninhibited lyricism" (Anna Karenina: Opera) and "a vast terrain of color, movement, expression and invention" (Voyage: Horn and Chamber Orchestra). These quotes are typical of the critical commentaries on Mr. Hamilton's music, which constantly refer to the color, texture, variety, lyricism and craftsmanship.

Following his schooling in London, he became an apprentice engineer, and remained in that profession for the next seven years. In his free time, he undertook the study of music. After winning a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music, he decided to devote himself wholly to a musical career. He went on to win a Koussevitsky Foundation Award, the Royal Philharmonic Society's Prize, and the Dove Prize, the highest award from the Royal Academy. He earned a Bachelor of Music degree from London University and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from Glasgow University.

Long important in British musical circles, Mr. Hamilton's influence also extended to the United States, where he lived for 20 years (1961 to 1981). From his home in New York City, he commuted to Duke University, where he was Mary Duke Biddle Professor of Music. He then returned to London, and lived there until his death. In April, 2002, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation unveiled a bas-relief commemorating the composer in the Music Department at Duke University.

Mr. Hamilton's extensive catalogue comprises works in all genres, including orchestral, chamber, vocal, solo, and also opera, the category for which he was arguably best known. He wrote several operas, including The Catiline Conspiracy, Anna Karenina, and The Royal Hunt of the Sun. They received performances (and also revivals, in several cases) by such companies as Scottish Opera, English National Opera, and the BBC. The Catiline Conspiracy was hailed as "a masterpiece" in The Scotsman headline after its 1974 premiere in Stirling, the Glasgow Herald noting in addition that "there could hardly have been a member of [the] audience who was not reminded of Watergate." Anna Karenina, premiered by English National Opera in 1978, was first performed in North America in 1982 by the Los Angeles Opera Theater. Raleigh's Dream was commissioned for the North Carolina British-American Festival at Duke University in 1983, where it was premiered at the celebrations for the tercentenary of the founding of Raleigh's colony in 1584.

In the concert hall, Mr. Hamilton's works have been performed by many of the leading British orchestras and ensembles; among his compositions from his final years are The Transit of Jupiter (first performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony under Jerzy Maksumiuk in 1995), and Bulgaria Invocation: Evocation for Orchestra, as yet unperformed. In the United States, commissions included those of the Eastman School of Music for Piano Sonata No. 3 and the Library of Congress for Hyperion for chamber ensemble. In 1996, the New York Philomusica premiered the 1993 Piano Quintet with performances in Pearl River and New York City. His last works include The Wild Garden (5 pieces for Clarinet and Piano) and London: A Kaleidoscope for Piano and Orchestra, written in 2000.

In addition to composing, he was a teacher, organizer of contemporary music concerts, chairman of the Composers' Guild, and served on panels and committees for such organizations as the Music Advisory Panel of the BBC.

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