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Biography

Childhood and discovering music

My introduction to music was rather unusual. As an infant, I would become noisy and irritable after breakfast, so my parents played an LP of Nursery jingles in order to calm me down. This only worked temporarily, and as soon as the tunes finished Iíd be off again. Eventually my father could take it no longer and decided to play me Beethovenís Fifth Symphony.

Despite the fact I was barely four, the power of this music had an overwhelming impact. From then on music was an essential part of my life. Neither of my parents played instruments, my father was a Crown Prosecutor and my mother a physiotherapist, but music was constantly being played on the radio.

 

So Beethoven has always been central to all my thought processes as a composer. I still find more life force in his work than in any living composer.

It became apparent to me that there were other Beethoven symphonies and soon I boasted a collection of all nine on LP. I had no knowledge of what a symphony was, how an orchestra worked, or indeed who Beethoven was, but do remember the thrill of discovering these works individually. I think my favourites then were the 5th, 6th and 7th and the first two movements of the 9th. Beethovenís emphatic endings made an immediate impression on me; so much so that I would become tetchy and frustrated listening to 60ís pop tunes principally as a result of their fading out over repeated sequences. So Beethoven has always been central to all my thought processes as a composer. I still find more life force in his work than in any living composer.

 

Early education

Shortly after my discovery of the Beethoven Symphonies I started piano lessons and soon after took up the oboe which was never mastered, though there was a fine wind group at school and I can remember the joy in playing Mozart Wind Serenades and the Nielsen Wind Quintet.

We lived in Kennington, South London where I was educated at Westminster Under School and met the Film Editor James Whitehorn, perhaps my closest friend until his tragic and unexpected death in 2006 from peretenitis. Later I went to City of London School which enjoyed a thriving music department.

 

But my discovery of the music of Robert Simpson at the age of fifteen was a defining point in my development as a composer...

At 12 I studied at the Junior Academy and it was there that I had my first composition lessons with Melanie Daiken, a former Messiaen pupil. Melanie is simply one of the kindest and most inspirational teachers anyone could wish for and I will be forever grateful to her for her encouragement during these formative years.

But my discovery of the music of Robert Simpson at the age of fifteen was a defining point in my development as a composer for here was a figure who somehow made the symphonic tradition vital and relevant to modern consciousness.

 

Cambridge and other tuition

After gaining a Music Scholarship to Cambridge University I wrote to Bob asking if he might give lessons. His reply was characteristically pithy and self effacing; he never felt comfortable giving composition tuition as he was hesitant imparting his own musical thoughts to anyone else. But we met for lunch in 1984 and we became close friends very quickly. Bob and Angela moved to South Ireland two years later and I shall forever cherish memories of idyllic summers there where we would talk about music, politics, literature whilst strolling along Tralee Bay enjoying the magnificent vistas of the Atlantic ocean.

 

...[David Matthews and I] shared an enthusiasm for Beethoven and Tippett, for vigorous country walks, and I sensed that here was a kindred spirit closer to my own generation.

Though conversations were never formal tuition as such, Bobís encouragement and ideas provided a crucial and stabilising influence, particularly when so much modern music at the time failed to excite. Saying that I admire a lot of music by my exact contemporaries, Mark Turnage, James Francis Brown, and Martyn Harry to name a few.

 

At Cambridge I was fortunate to have lessons with Robin Holloway who was blessed with that rare gift of being able to highlight the weaknesses in a piece after only one glance at a score and offer solutions which revealed a pertinent understanding of the musical language. Later I saw David Matthews privately and had some lessons with him. Davidís example was also very liberating, especially at a time when confidence was often at a low ebb Ė we shared an enthusiasm for Beethoven and Tippett, for vigorous country walks, and I sensed that here was a kindred spirit closer to my own generation.

 

Developing as a conductor

Parallel with composition was my work as a conductor which I felt was necessary in order to support any creative endeavours. I studied first with Robin Page in my teens whose support during these early years was invaluable, with Vilem Tausky at Guildhall School of Music whose Janacek stories charmed us all, and for a fortnight in 1987 I worked with Bernstein at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik festival. Memories of those Bernstein days seem so vivid, even though they were over twenty years ago now. Just before preparing a rehearsal of Shostakovich 1st Symphony he whispered a saucy limerick which created such hilarity that I nearly fell off the podium.

 

Having felt that there was a substantial corpus of 20th Century music which was insufficiently known by the public at large... I tried to find opportunities to present their music...

Having felt that there was a substantial corpus of 20th Century music which was insufficiently known by the public at large, including many significant figures whose work was either undervalued or simply misrepresented, I tried to find opportunities to present their music: Bob Simpson was certainly one and David Matthews and John McCabe others, also Vagn Holmboe and Malcolm Arnold.

 

Performances of my works

But I have been fortunate in having gained some magnificent performances from conductors of all ages. George Hurst gave many readings including broadcasts of the First Symphony in the 80ís. In 2003 I became the first Associate Composer of the recently formed chamber orchestra sound collective. They and their conductor Tom Hammond launched my Third Symphony in 2005. Other memorable events include the magnificent world premiere of the Symphony No.2 in 2009 with Garry Walker and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

 

Inspirations - places and family

I have spent most of my adult life in South London where I have always felt comfortable, despite the inevitable jibes, though walks in the country are an important part of the gestation of a new work. Continually I return to the Sussex Downs which are like old friends for me, always appearing slightly different in some ways but reassuringly constant in others. But I also derive great enjoyment from North Norfolk, much of Cornish coast, the New Forest, the Lake District or, my most recent discovery the Cullins on the Isle of Skye.

 

I married Juliet in 2006, perhaps the best thing that Iíve ever done and we have a little daughter Emily born in 2008 whose intelligence, curiosity and determination never cease to amaze us both. We were thrilled to become a quartet when Imogen Mary was born in March 2010. As a result of the ever expanding family we moved from Battersea to Farnham in October 2010 to a magnificent Edwardian house and are hugely enjoying the extra space, open air and general atmosphere.

Matthew Taylor
February 2009

 

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