Erika Fox was born in Vienna in 1936 and came to England as a war refugee. Her highly distinctive musical style is a result of a childhood suffused with music of Eastern European origin; Chassidic music, liturgical chant embellished with heterophony and modal ancient melodic lines that have much in common with the folk music of Eastern Europe.
Upon winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, she studied piano with Angus Morrison and composition with Bernard Stevens and later with Jeremy Dale Roberts at Morley College. In the 1970s, Fox was actively involved with the Nash Ensemble, Dartington and SPNM. Between 1974 and 1994 her works were regularly performed at the South Bank Centre, at major festivals and were regularly broadcast in the UK and abroad. Her large ensemble masterpiece ‘Shir’ which Nicola Losseff describes as ‘consumed with a fierce, internalised anger and passion, expressed in tightly-controlled climaxes which erupt into chant-like passages’ was featured on Channel 4 Television. Her puppet music-drama ‘The Bet’ received over 100 performances following a concert premiere at the Purcell Room and staged premiere at the Almeida Theatre. Her quartet ‘Kaleidoscope’ won the 1983 Finzi Award and ‘The Dancer Hotoke’ (chamber opera) was nominated for an Olivier Award. In 1990 Erika accompanied John Cage to Paris and Strasbourg and took part in his ‘Europeras 1 and 2’. She also taught, including a young Thomas Adès at the Guildhall School Junior Department.
Erika Fox has a catalogue of 52 works showing a natural affinity for the human voice and theatre. Elements of ritual are common in her works and the percussion is frequently given a shamanistic role. Stage directions are also often present: ‘somberly dressed percussionists’ take ‘stately steps’ in Lamentations for Four (1973) and a violin octet circle around the violas and cellos in Round for Fourteen Strings (1972)
Erika Fox has been commissioned by Festivals including Vale of Glamorgan, Cheltenham, Amsterdam, Leamington, Almeida and Sonorities in Belfast. Her work has been performed by Lontano, New Music Players, Contrapuncti, Chamber Domaine, Gemini and the Feinstein Quartet and performed in Greece, Turkey, Canada, Italy, Slovakia.
In 2019, her music reached a new generation of listeners; NMC Recordings released the first album of Fox’s music in the year of her 83rd birthday to great critical acclaim. The album consists of six chamber works, selected and performed by the Goldfield Ensemble in collaboration with the composer. The Sunday Times called it ‘an intriguing showcase…refreshingly unusual…exotic and anti-harmonic, a ritual of untethered lines’ and Gramophone Magazine noted that ‘…the blend of the elegiac and the abrasive is compelling, and very well conveyed by these performers in a recording that catches the evolving interactions of the ensemble with vivid immediacy..’ The Guardian concluded that ‘her moment, overdue, has at last come’. In August, Erika Fox was invited to Tanglewood Festival of New Music, Boston for the American premiere of her work Hungarian Rhapsody.
Biography taken from composer’s website.
Photo: Tim Fox