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Rhian at 80

With pleasure and pride in an association of over 25 years, Stainer & Bell warmly congratulates Rhian Samuel on the occasion of her eightieth birthday. At the forefront of a pioneering generation of musicians who came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, she has created a distinctive catalogue of works exploring many themes, including what it means to be a successful woman composer in our times.

A landmark was her co-editing of the historic Norton Grove Dictionary of Women Composers of 1994, and the lasting impact of her teaching and scholarship may be witnessed in the unprecedented range of opportunity now characteristic of today’s musical community. In Rhian’s own compositions the fine literary tradition of her Welsh heritage has been a shaping force. Another powerful influence, encountered at a pivotal moment in her career, was the revelation of contemporary American music of the 1980s, and the alternative it offered to the prevailing stylistic orthodoxies of the European conservatoire. Its spirit continues to imbue her instrumental scores with an engaging lightness of touch and humour, whether examination music for piano or instrumental duos, music for ensemble, or the orchestral Dawnsiau’r Nant (Dances of the Stream) of 1999 and Tirluniau (Landscapes) of 2000.

Rhian Samuel: Light and Water
Rhian Samuel: Light and Water
Rhian Samuel: Clytemnestra
Rhian Samuel: Clytemnestra

Above all, Rhian in her music for voices has fashioned an unrivalled corpus of contemporary art song, ranging from unaccompanied solos to over twenty song cycles and song sets for voice and piano, and the dramatic scena Clytemnestra of 1994, for soprano and orchestra. An especially fruitful union of words and music arose from friendship with the poet Anne Stevenson (1933–2020) and admiration for her writing. Some of the composer’s finest thoughts are musical evocations of Stevenson’s epiphanic moments of being, in the context of a deep empathy with the natural world, as in The Shape of Trees of 2019, for unaccompanied chorus. Most recently, the nature poetry of Edward Thomas has proved inspirational in the a cappella Earth Newborn of 2023, while also reflecting the composer’s long experience as a singer and choral conductor.

A committed participant in higher education who has held distinguished posts both in the United Kingdom and USA, and is Emeritus Professor of Music from London’s City University, Rhian continues to lead by her example. During the coming years, Stainer & Bell looks forward to a further quarter-century of collaboration with a composer who is an outstanding presence in British music, and remains an inspiration for her publisher, her many students and her fellow composers, all of whom together will doubtless join us in wishing her a most memorable anniversary.

Rhian Samuel: Songs of Earth and Air
Rhian Samuel: Songs of Earth and Air

Click here to read a Q&A with Rhian, in conversation with our Choral Ambassador Angus Smith.

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