Composer Rhian Samuel was born in Aberdare, Wales, in 1944 to a Welsh-speaking, musical family and has lived in Britain and the United States. She writes orchestral music, chamber music and vocal and choral music and has worked with many of today's foremost classical artists. Her large orchestral works include Elegy-Symphony (St Louis Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, conductor, 1981); Clytemnestra (1994) for soprano and orchestra, which was released on disc in 2020 and short-listed for a Gramophone Award, Dawnsiau'r Nant / Dances of the Stream (1999) and Tirluniau / Landscapes (2000), which was premiered at the BBC Millennium Proms in the Albert Hall by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBCNOW), Tadaaki Otaka, conductor. In the USA, among many other awards, she was joint winner of the ASCAP-Rudolph Nissim Award, 1983, from The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, for her choral-orchestral work, La belle dame sans merci. In the UK she won first prize at the Greenwich Festival (1979) and has received subsequent accolades including the Glyndŵr Medal for services to the Arts in Wales and an Hon DMus from the University of Wales. To date over 140 of her works have been published.
Influences on the music of Rhian Samuel include her rich Welsh literary and musical heritage, the landscape of her present home in mid-Wales and her long sojourn in the USA. She is interested in all facets of classical music, particularly early music and American music; in her youth she played the oboe in orchestras and the viol and wind instruments in early music groups; she completed a PhD with a study of 16th-century vocal music. She identifies with her female colleagues in a profession still dominated by males, seeing her position, somewhat outside the male tradition, as an exciting one with many challenges and opportunities.
Rhian Samuel's orchestral works have been premiered by BBCNOW, the St Louis Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia 21, the Brunel Ensemble, the BT Scottish Ensemble, Sinfonia Adesso and others. Vocal music is also an important part of her output; she has written works, including 20 song-cycles and song-sets, for many renowned solo singers with orchestra, piano and/or chamber ensemble. Throughout her career she has sung in and conducted choirs and written music for them, including her own choirs at Reading University and City University, London, UK. As a graduate student in the USA she sang in the Washington University Madrigal Singers at the White House for President Lyndon Johnson. Other choirs for whom she has written include the New College (Oxford) Choir and its directors, Edward Higginbottom and Robert Quinney, and the BBC Singers, as well as many college and high school choirs in the UK and USA.
Rhian Samuel is co-editor of the ground-breaking New Grove/Norton Dictionary of Women Composers (1994); her much-quoted preface to this dictionary discusses the situation of women composers over the previous 100+ years. She has also written articles on several of the operas of Harrison Birtwistle, including Gawain, The Minotaur and The Second Mrs Kong, publishing for the two former works both the programme notes for the ROH (invited to do so by the composer) and diaries of their first productions for the Cambridge Opera Journal. In the United States, she taught at Washington University, St Louis, where she completed her doctorate on 16th-century musica ficta, and the St Louis Conservatory of Music as Head of the Theory and Composition Department. In 1984 she returned to the UK, teaching at King’s College London, then Reading University. In 1995 she moved to City University, London, where she is now Emeritus Professor. She also taught composition at Magdalen College, Oxford University, where she was a member of the Music Faculty. She now composes full-time at her home in mid-Wales and in London.
Much of Rhian Samuel’s music is published by Stainer & Bell Ltd, while many works are published by Tŷ Cerdd (the Welsh Music Information Centre). Others are published by Novello, Cadenza, ABRSM, Curiad, Simrock and Andresier/Bardic.
Biography taken from composer’s website.
Photo courtesy of Tŷ Cerdd