David Lumsdaine

David Lumsdaine biography

David Lumsdaine was born in Sydney in 1931 and was educated at the University of Sydney and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Like so many of his generation he heard London’s call and in 1953 relocated to further his career as a composer. Intellectually curious and single‑minded, he quicklyestablished himself in London within a circle of like‑minded people, notably the Australian poet Peter Porter, with whom he collaborated extensively in the ensuing decade.

Initial studies with Máytás Seiber honed his technique. Subsequent study with Lennox Berkeley took him to the Royal Academy of Music, where by the mid-1960s he was teaching composition and had set up the Manson Room. Leaving this post in 1964 he worked as a music editor for Schotts andUniversal Edition (his first publisher). It is from this period that his first acknowledged works date:Annotation of Auschwitz(1964), which sets Porter’s text of the same name,Easter Fresco(1966), for soprano and ensemble, andKelly Ground(1966), for solo piano. These works display his technical facilityand give a glimpse of his imaginative breadth.

When Peter Zinovieff established EMS Putney, Lumsdaine was an early visitor, composing the electronic worksNursery Rhymes(1969) andBourdon with a Bell(withdrawn). When the BBC commissioned him to write the incidental music for Alan Burns’Babel, he made use of the sounds of London in awork ofmusique concrète. Much in demand as a teacher, he took up a lectureship at Durham in 1970, where he immediately established an electronic studio with Peter Manning. In 1971 he recorded the Durham Miners’ Gala, later composed asBig Meeting.

Fuelled by his visit to Australia in 1974 (the first of many), the decade was particularly productive. It resulted in numerous chamber works, including the influentialAria for Edward John Eyre, which incorporated live electronics and pre‑recorded materials, the piano soloRuhe sanfte, sanfte ruh’, and theorchestral workHagoromo, which was commissioned for the BBC Proms.
In 1981 he returned to London where he became a Senior Lecturer at King’s College London, a post that he shared with the composer Nicola LeFanu, whom he had married two years earlier.
Lumsdaine has long been fascinated by birdsong, to which much of his music responds (the piece for solo piano,Cambewarra, is a prime example). During the 1980s he made a series of soundscape recordings that were commissioned by the ABC:Lake Emu,Meunga Creek,River Red GumsandButcher-birds at Spirey Creek. Two other CDs of soundscapes were released in the 1990s:CambewarraandMutawinji.

Before retiring to York in 1994, where he still resides, his final years as a composer were marked by several substantial, vivid and energetic works –Mandala V, ATree Telling of Orpheus,A Garden of Earthly DelightsandKali Dances.

Works by David Lumsdaine in the UE

Press reviews

“Comparisons, we know, smell bad, and seem particularly inappropriate in the case of such a loner as David Lumsdaine, whose works, scarce and wonderful and in many ways quite unlike each other, have come out of a solitary journey. But maybe a connection could be drawn with the music of CharlesIves, at a level below style. Lumsdaine is a more sophisticated artist, but there is a guilelessness that seems familiar, if perhaps only because it is so rare: both mean what they write, without compromises or excuses or inhibitions. And Lumsdaine, like Ives, feels landscape and history as close as the end ofhis pen, with the difference that the landscape and history and those of his native Australia.”

(Paul Griffiths,The Times)

“[A Tree Telling of Orpheus] Using a fresh and inexhaustible instrumental energy to give the vocal line strong rhythmic support and momentum, Lumsdaine unlocks a dazzling fund of songful invention.... Hearing the voice and its entourage of instruments setting off on another joyously propelled excursionreminded me of one of those unstoppable and rhythmically tricky polyphonic rondeaux of the 15th century, rotating as if forever through its daisy chain of melody and counter-melody ...”

(Sydney Morning Herald)

“[onHagaromoat the Proms 1983] Indeed, not for quite some years have I heard a new orchestral piece so stunning and so rich in new experience. What happens in the composition is that the orchestra is made to dance, and to reveal, for itself and for itsaudience, its own beauty in a thousand new colours and shapes. There are sheets of string and wind tone dappled with pitched percussion as a Klimt is dappled with gold…. Lumsdaine’s imaginary landscape has a searching, critical human presence…”

(Paul Griffiths, The Times)

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