Journals Higher Education

Gordon Crosse

‘From his early works, Crosse has rarely been rigid in his approach to serialism; allowing tonal elements to be retained and his instinctive ability for writing striking melody and harmony to be paramount.’
Andrew Burn, The Musical Times

Gordon Crosse was born in 1937 in Bury, Lancashire and died in November 2021. In 1961 he gained a first class honours degree at Oxford, after which he did two years’ research on early fifteenth-century music, part of 1962 being spent studying with Petrassi in Rome. Since 1964 he has held various appointments at the Universities of Birmingham and Essex, and was for two years Composer-in-Residence at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1976, the year in which he won the Cobbett Medal, he returned to his home in Suffolk to devote all his time to composition, but in 1977 spent one year as Visiting Professor in Composition at the University of California.

Much of Crosse’s work reflects his interest in the dramatic and literary arts. This is evident not only in his four operas (of which The Story of Vasco was premièred at the London Coliseum, and Purgatory recorded by Argo), but also in many of the concert works. Examples are Memories of Morning: Night, for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, based on Jean Rhys’s novel Wide Sargasso Sea; World Within, for actress, soprano and ten players with a text taken from the writings of Emily Brontë, and Play Ground for orchestra. Indeed, Play Ground was later to be used for Kenneth MacMillan’s successful ballet of the same name, first performed by Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet at the Edinburgh Festival in 1979. This collaboration between composer and choreographer continued on 1981 with The Wild Boy, a ballet by MacMillan to Crosse’s original concertante for clarinet and eight players by the same name, written in 1978. In 1984 he was approached by the choreographer David Bintley, who asked him to extend Britten’s eight-minute work Young Apollo into a piece of suitable length for a ballet. This was first performed in November of that year in the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Notable concert works, including Ceremony, Epiphany Variations, Play Ground, Dreamsongs, Symphony No.2, the Cello Concerto and the 2nd Violin Concerto, have been written to commission for international orchestras and festivals, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hallé Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Cheltenham Festival, the Aldeburgh Festival, and the Edinburgh Festival.

In 1986 he was commissioned to write a work for trumpet and strings for the BBC Proms and in 1990 a large-scale choral and orchestral piece for the Scottish National Chorus and Orchestra was premièred in Glasgow. A CD of the Cello Concerto, Memories of Morning: Night and Some Marches on a Ground was released on NMC in 1999.

From the late 1980s, Gordon Crosse moved increasingly towards involvement with computer technology and away from composition. However, for the 1996 Spitalfields Festival, he arranged his Verses in Memoriam David Munrow for tenor and ensemble.