Elisabeth Lutyens

Composer Information

Birth - July 9, 1906 | London, England, United Kingdom

Death - April 14, 1983 | London, England, United Kingdom

Nationality - English

Era - Modern

Composer Biography

Written by: Julia Vide

Elisabeth Lutyens, an English composer, was born on July 9th, 1906 in London. Elisabeth was the youngest daughter of architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. While her parents never showed any interest in music, they did make her learn the violin at age eight to stop her nail-biting habit. Lutyens’ musical education began with music lessons in London, then at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, and finally continuing on to study composition with Darke and Viola with Tomlinson at the Royal College of Music. The debut performance of The Birthday of Infanta in1932 marked the first public performance of one of her compositions.

Lutyens was inspired by the music of Webern and Debussy. Her earliest music was highly chromatic and dissonant, while still fitting mostly within the late-Romantic style, but she quickly shifted to utilizing twelve-tone serial techniques. O Saisons! O Chateaux! demonstrates Lutyens’ mastery of twelve-tone techniques. Her work was tightly organized yet extremely expressive. While Lutyens had a strong background in Viola from studying with Tomlinson, she was able to write for a variety of instruments across genres and forms including opera, ballet, choral, orchestral, chamber, and arrangements for voices and instruments because of her studies with Darke in composition. Not confined to the classical genre, Lutyens also wrote music for the radio and cinema. Lutyens began writing short chamber operas, including The Pit and Infidelio, but she quickly started expanding her writing to full-length works, such as Time Off? Not a Ghost of a Chance!, The Numbered, and Isis and Osiris.

In 1939, Lutyens’ string quartet made a lasting impression at the ISCM festival in Warsaw which prompted her to work on multiple chamber works. Her Concerto no. 1 is lauded as one of the most innovative British works of its time because of the chromatic thematicism and weakened textures. In 1969, Lutyens was awarded the City of London Midsummer Prize for her musical achievements and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

While Lutyens was a great composer of many styles, she relied heavily on alcohol during her marriage with Edward Clark, which led Lutyens to be a less than ideal parent to her four children. Lutyens eventually sought help from a hospital after a nervous breakdown and separated temporarily from Clark who was one of the main reasons behind her drinking. Lutyens’ health improved and she and Clark got back together, but he died shortly after. Towards the end of her life, Elisabeth Lutyens published an autobiography, A Goldfish Bowl, in 1973 about her life as a female musician in London and passed away ten years later in 1983.

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