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Robert (Wilfred Levick) Simpson

English Born 02 Mar 1921 Died 21 Nov 1997

Robert Simpson was born on March 2nd 1921 in Leamington Spa.  He was originally directed by his family towards a career as a doctor, but was more attracted to music, going to London to study under Herbert Howells .  He took his doctorate at the University of Durham, where he presented his First Symphony (actually the fifth he had written, but the first he was satisfied with).  A year later, he was appointed as a producer at the BBC, and later became a broadcaster, where he shared his passion for great music with his listeners.  However, upset by the drop in standards in the BBC's music policy, topped off with cuts to orchestral resources, he resigned after 28 years in 1980.  He continued to make music even after a stroke which left him partially paralysed in 1991, completing his Second String Quartet and beginning his sixteenth.

Much of Simpson's music makes use of the tension created by playing two keys against each other.  The resulting tonal conflict can evoke a powerful visceral effect, but although Simpson's style is tough and rugged, it is set off by streaks of wit and gentleness.  He was faithful to traditional Western classical forms, writing eleven symphonies, fifteen string quartets, two choral pieces, brass band works (which make regular appearances at competitions) and various concertos.  Whilst not 'difficult', Simpson's works reward close inspection.  His Ninth Quartet is an hour long set of thirty-two palindromic variations and fugue on a theme of Haydn.  His Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Quartets are close examinations of Beethoven's Razumovsky Quartets

Simpson did a lot to popularise the music of his friend Havergal Brian, helping to arrange the first performances of several of his symphonies, including the Gothic.  He also wrote books on Bruckner and Nielsen, reviving interest in their works.  His writing (like his broadcasting) was clear and direct, intended to let his reader feel and understand the music without having to go through theory and terminology.  Simpson was of the opinion that good music shouldn't need explaining.

Related composers: Brian, Bruckner, Beethoven

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