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Roger Marsh

Born: 1949

Nationality: British

Publisher: Novello & Co

Photo © Mick Lynch

Roger Marsh was born in 1949. He studied composition first in London with Ian Kellam, and later at York University with Bernard Rands. He spent two years in California on a Harkness Fellowship (1976-78) and then lectured in Music at Keele University until 1988 when he returned to York University. In the autumn of 1993 he was visiting composer at Harvard University. On his return to the UK he co-founded (with his wife, the singer Anna Myatt) the contemporary music ensemble Black Hair, which has become well known for its unusual presentations of new music and music theatre. He is currently Professor of Music at the University of York.

Roger Marsh has written music for all genres: orchestra, small and large chamber groups, and many works for voices, often with a theatrical edge. His first real success was the amplified vocal piece ‘Not a soul but ourselves….’. Recorded by Electric Phoenix and performed by them more than fifty times all over the world, it is an inventive setting of texts from James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ The crazy solo voice piece ‘Dum (A vocal percussive fantasy)’ has also been widely performed by John Potter, Anna Myatt, Alan Belk and many others including the composer himself. In the 1980s several works for voice and ensemble – like The Wormwood and the Gall, A psalm and a silly love song’, and The Song of Abigail, were premiered and broadcast by the ensemble Lontano, with Linda Hirst, Francis Lynch and others. The Song of Abigail, a humourous take on a biblical tale, has been performed by ensembles in the USA (with Lucy Shelton) and Denmark (with Anna Myatt), and remains in the repertoire of Black Hair.

Roger has written a number of orchestral pieces including Stepping Out (1990) for piano and orchestra, composed for the 1990 season of Promenade Concerts and first performed by Martin Roscoe (piano) and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lothar Zagrosek. Still, a short, evocative orchestral work with a spiralling saxophone solo at its close, was written in response to a Feeney Trust Commission for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 60th anniversary concert in 1980. Kagura (1991) is a powerful work for large ensemble influenced by Japanese Gagaku music. Commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) it has been broadcast and performed many times (and even in Japan!).

Other music theatre pieces include Love on the Rocks (1989) for four amplified voices and four amplified flutes, with tape and live electronic effects. It has been released on Erasmus WVH 156, performed by the voices of Midland Music Theatre, including Marsh himself in the role of Charon, with the Tibia Flute Quartet, The same team also gave three live performances of the same work at Spitalfields Market Opera in 1996. One of the most popular of Marsh’s vocal works is the song Black Hair, which exists in two versions – for voice and five instruments and for voice and piano. Typical of Marsh’s work, it tells a story – in this case a Japanese ghost story form Hearn’s collection ‘Kwaidan’ – simply, directly, and in a haunting and finally chilling manner.
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