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Alun Hoddinott CBE (1929–2008)

Alun Hoddinott was a musician of remarkable talent and vision. Following his appointment as Professor and Head of the Music Department at University College, Cardiff (now Cardiff University) in 1967, he built on the strong foundations laid by Professor Joseph Morgan and his predecessors and set about projecting the Department into the forefront of higher education in music in the United Kingdom. It was under his skilful guidance that the now School of Music’s purpose-built facilities stand proudly in Cardiff’s Corbett Road behind Dame Barbara Hepworth’s bronze, Walk In’. Designed by Welsh architect Sir Alex Gordon and formally opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1971, these facilities set a benchmark for British musical institutions. They have since been fundamental in the development of the Cardiff School of Music into a vibrant and ambitious centre dedicated to first-class teaching, research, composition and performance.

Hoddinott had been awarded a university scholarship in Cardiff at the age of 16 and his skills in composition had developed quickly, assisted by studies with Arthur Benjamin. National success had come with the première (1954) at the Cheltenham Festival of his Clarinet Concerto, performed by Gervase de Peyer and the Hallé Orchestra, under Sir John Barbirolli. Appointed lecturer in music at the Welsh College of Music and Drama in 1951, he had moved across Cathays Park to a university lectureship in 1959, gaining a DMus (1960), progressing steadily up the ranks, and winning various prestigious awards for his work along the way.

Assuming a professorial and management role, Hoddinott became an influential ambassador for music and culture in Wales. He used his Cardiff university base to support one of his many brainchildren, the Cardiff Festival of [20th-Century] Music, of which he was co-founder (with the distinguished pianist John Ogdon) in 1967 and eventually sole Artistic Director until its demise in 1989. The Festival laid particular emphasis on the promotion of new music. Its musical outcomes totalled at least 70 commissions and in excess of 50 first British performances of works by, among others, Benjamin Britten, Malcolm Williamson, Lennox Berkeley, Malcolm Arnold, Alan Rawsthorne and Welsh composers Grace Williams and William Mathias, as well as Hoddinott himself. Audiences in South Wales were treated to concerts given by some of the world’s foremost performers and visits by eminent composers such as Britten and Olivier Messiaen. The Festival also widened public appreciation of contemporary art and sculpture through its various exhibitions, whether of works by internationally-renowned John Piper or by prominent local figures such as John Wright.

Meanwhile, Hoddinott was himself establishing an international reputation as one of the most prolific and successful composers of his generation. His commissions and resultant rich corpus of works embraced a variety of compositional styles and almost all the principal musical genres – operas, symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and a wide range of other vocal, choral, instrumental, chamber, and orchestral compositions. His long association with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales proved especially fruitful, spawning works such as ‘…the sun, the great luminary of the universe’ (1970), Landscapes (1975), Lanternes des morts (1981) and Star Children (1989), stimulating his appreciation of orchestral colours and sonorities, and assisting in the dissemination of his music worldwide. It is therefore particularly fitting that the orchestra’s new home in the Wales Millennium Centre will take his name. While his work was championed by many renowned singers and instrumentalists, notably Dame Margaret Price, Dame Gwyneth Jones, Sir Thomas Allen, Sir Geraint Evans, Osian Ellis and Mstislav Rostropovich, Hoddinott was always keen to encourage music making in young people, writing various works for youth orchestras and student ensembles. He also contributed music for important royal occasions, and he was presented with several honorary awards, professional accolades and prestigious prizes in recognition of his achievements. He was appointed CBE in 1981.

In addition to being one of Wales’ pre-eminent composers, Hoddinott was a significant champion of the arts in general, contributing significantly to the profile of Welsh writers, artists and musicians. As one of his former colleagues and successors as Head of the Cardiff School of Music, I am profoundly aware of his lasting influence. Wales has lost one of her ‘crown jewels’, but Hoddinott’s legacy will live on, as will also his music.

 

Professor Robin Stowell, Cardiff School of Music