Joseph Horovitz

Born 1926

Joseph Horovitz



The Music Hall Suite (1964) for brass quintet has become a part of the standard brass quintet repertoire. The work, requested by American tuba player Roger Bobo, has been performed by the most well-known brass group in Great Britain, the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. The suite is composed of five movements which depict aspects of the Burlesque Theatre, Music Hall, circus and cabaret.

Horovitz’s best known choral works include his Horrortorio (1959), Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo(1970) and Summer Sunday (1975). He also composed a cantata and the oratorioSamson (1977).

Further, Horovitz’s activities include work with Son et Lumière productions in England and abroad. His output also includes scores for radio and over 70 TV plays and series.

Header image courtesy of Schloss Laudon Chamber Music Festival Other images courtesy of Music Sales Classical and Peter Sheppard Skaerved

After his studies, Horovitz was appointed music director of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, where he composed, arranged and conducted incidental music for several performance seasons.

The Festival of Britain brought Horovitz to London in 1951, where he became the conductor of the ballet and concerts at the Festival Amphitheatre. He also held positions as the conductor of the Ballet Russes, associate director of the Intimate Opera Company, guest composer at the Tanglewood Festival and on the music staff at Glyndebourne. In addition, he had the opportunity to conduct major London orchestras. With these appointments, he toured regularly throughout Great Britain and abroad.

Horovitz’s work has earned him many awards and honours including the 1959 Commonwealth Medal for Composition, the 1961 Leverhulme Research Award to work with Philomusic, two Novello awards, a 1996 Gold Order of the Merit of the City of Vienna and the 2002 Nino Rota Prize, Italy. In 2008, Horovitz was awarded the Cobbett Medal for services to chamber music by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.

Horovitz is an active educator and member of several societies. He has taught composition and analysis at the Royal College of Music since 1961 and from 1969-96 he has been an Executive Council Member of the Performing Right Society.  Throughout the 1980s he was president of CISAC’s International Council of Composers and Authors of Music.

Horovitz’s output includes 16 ballets, nine concertos, two one-act operas, orchestral and brass band works, chamber music and vocal music.

Other notable works by Horovitz include his half-hour one-act comic opera Gentleman’s Island (1958), which features a solo baritone and tenor. The opera is about two shipwrecked Englishmen who share an acquaintance named Robinson and are later offered help from a group of convicts.

One radio presenter described the Fantasia on a Theme of Couperin (1962) for orchestra as a ‘Couperin sandwich’, a term the composer finds very fitting as his own themes surround an original four measure theme from Couperin’s Passacaille in B minor for keyboard; more specifically, the theme is taken from the chromatically rising ground bass. Another work for orchestra is his Sinfonietta for Light Orchestra (1971).

Perhaps his best-known and most frequently performed work is the Euphonium Concerto (1972) for solo euphonium and brass band, likely the first concerto ever written for the instrument. The concerto, commissioned by the National Brass Band Festival with funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain is strongly rooted in the classical form while gracefully recognizing its later modifications. The work captures Horovitz’s melodic passion and includes various folk tunes. The finale begins with a driving rhythmic motive in the trombones and timpani and concludes with a whole tone version of the cheeky theme.

The concerto has been recorded by various brass bands including the Black Dyke Band, the C.W.S. Glasgow Band and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Soloists have included virtuosos David Childs, Steven Mead, Thomas Ruedi and Michael Dodd. Horovitz, himself, has conducted the work on numerous occassions.

Horovitz’s Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano (1981) is perhaps equally as popular as the Euphonium Concerto. This light-hearted and witty piece was written at the request of the clarinettist Gervase de Peyer and the pianist Gwenneth Pryor and premiered by them at Wigmore Hall in London in 1981. The work features a traditional three-movement form and is tonal in nature; the melodies and rhythms are highly influenced by jazz and popular music, as in much of his newer works.

Joseph Horovitz is an Austrian born British composer and conductor, most famous for his light-hearted works which span many genres, most notably for wind instruments.

Horovitz was born in 1926 in Vienna and emigrated to England in 1938, where he later read music at New College, Oxford and lectured in music appreciation; he also gave piano recitals at army camps.

After attaining both bachelor and master degrees in music, Horovitz continued his studies in composition with Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of Music, where he won the Farrar prize. He then went to Paris for a year to study with Nadia Boulanger.

A delightful and lighthearted piece for two cornets (or trumpets) and brass band is theConcertino Classico (1985) which, as the title suggests, is deeply influenced by the classical form and the composersBach, Handel and Scarlatti. The format of the work and the dialogue of the solo parts is reminiscent ofVivaldi’s famous Concerto for two trumpets.

Horovitz’s output also includes five string quartets. The first three quartets are from his student time at New College, Oxford while the fourth was written in 1953 and premiered by the Society for Promotion of New Music at the Wigmore Hall, London by the Alfredo Wang String Quartet. This work is an anomaly in Horovitz’s output, as it is, in Horovitz’s words, “rather dark and disturbing” in a period of mostly light works. He describes the mood of the work further, “in terms of human temperment the quartet moves from security to uncertainty.”

String Quartet No. 5 (1969) was written as a sixtieth birthday tribute to the art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich. The fact that the commissioners, dedicatee, three of the performers and the composer were all Viennese refugees greatly influences the emotional content of this work, which features musical gestures representative of twentieth century Viennese music.