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Wilfred Josephs

Born: 1927

Died: 1997

Nationality: British

Publisher: Novello & Co

Photo © Valerie Josephs


Wilfred Josephs was born in Newcastle in 1927 and educated at Rutherford School before his early schooling and piano studies were interrupted by wartime evacuation. Although persuaded by his family to enrol as a medical student, he was still able to receive musical tuition from Dr. Arthur Milner. It was as a dentist that he spent his military service. His early obsession with composition was soon vindicated when he won a Gaudeamus Prize with a Piano Trio during this period. He continued his studies on his return to London, where a scholarship enabled him to become a pupil of Alfred Nieman at the Guildhall School of Music. A Leverhulme Scholarship took him to Paris for a year with Max Deutsch.

A growing reputation, based on the success of his burgeoning catalogue of works, made it possible for Josephs to eventually devote all his time to music. Amongst the many prizes and awards won at this time was first prize for the First International Composition Competition of La Scala and the City of Milan and the Harriet Cohen Commonwealth Medal.

Joseph's music showed a recognizable personality from the start. Whilst his works dating from the beginning of the 1950's clearly had their roots in an earlier English style and tradition, lessons with Max Deutsch (a distinguished Schoenburg pupil) were to help him to assimilate the lessons of the Second Viennese School. Other stylistic explorations further diversified his range. In the gradual shift of contemporary music back to practises once regarded as seditious - the expressive use of tonal harmony, and particularly the writing of real tunes - it was inevitable that Josephs' outstanding natural gift should have found himself consistently in the vanguard.

A prolific composer who nearly always wrote to commission, Josephs concert works include 12 symphonies, 22 concertos, overtures, chamber music, operas, ballets and numerous vocal works. Opera North commissioned and performed Rebecca at the Grand Theatre, Leeds in 1983. The libretto for this acclaimed opera was by Edward Marsh, from the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Other important works in Wilfred Josephs' catalogue include Symphony 4 (1967), Symphony 5 "Pastoral" (1971), Symphony 10 "Circadian Rhythms" (1985), Nightmusic (1969) and the Songs of Innocence (1971). To the impressive list of concert works must also be added his enormously successful scores for film and television, including The Great War, I Claudius, Swallows and Amazons, Cider with Rosie, This British Empire and All Creatures Great and Small.

Wilfred Josephs died at his home in London on November 17th 1997.
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