Howard Ferguson

born on 21/10/1908 in Belfast, North Ireland, United Kingdom

died on 31/10/1999 in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom

Howard Ferguson (composer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Howard Ferguson (21 October 1908 – 31 October 1999) was a British composer and musicologist. He composed instrumental, chamber, orchestral and choral works. While his music is not widely known today, his Piano Sonata in F Minor (Op. 8) and his Five Bagatelles for piano (Op. 9) are still performed. His works represent some of the most important 20th-century music to emerge from Northern Ireland.


Ferguson was born in Belfast. His musical talent was apparent early. The pianist Harold Samuel heard him in 1922 and encouraged his parents to allow him to travel to London to become his pupil. Following studies at Westminster School Ferguson entered the Royal College of Music in 1924 to study composition with R. O. Morris and Ralph Vaughan Williams. He also studied conducting with Malcolm Sargent, and formed a friendship with fellow-student Gerald Finzi.

His early compositions, such as his Octet of 1933 (scored for the same forces as Franz Schubert's octet), met with considerable success.

During World War II, Ferguson helped Myra Hess run the popular, morale-boosting series of concerts at the National Gallery. From 1948 to 1963 he taught at the Royal Academy of Music, his students there including Richard Rodney Bennett and Cornelius Cardew. He regarded Bennett as having an astonishing natural talent, though lacking a personal musical style.

After writing The Dream of the Rood in 1958-9, Ferguson simply gave up composing (saying that in his relatively few works he had 'said' all he wanted to say) in order to concentrate on musicology. His editions of early keyboard music and the complete piano sonatas of Schubert are authoritative.

In his later years he lived in Cambridge.

Selected compositions

  • Op. 1 Two Ballads, for baritone and orchestra (1928-32)
  • Op. 2 Violin Sonata No.1 (1931)
  • Op. 3 Three Mediaeval Carols, for voice and piano (1932-33)
  • Op. 4 Octet, for clarinet, bassoon, string quartet and double-bass (1933)
  • Op. 5a Partita, orchestral version (1935-36)
  • Op. 5b Partita, version for two pianos or piano four hands (1935-36)
  • Op. 6 Four Short Pieces, for clarinet or viola and piano (1932-36)
  • Op. 7 Four Diversions on Ulster Airs, for orchestra (1939-42)
  • Op. 8 Piano Sonata in F minor (1938-40)
  • Op. 9 Five Bagatelles for piano (1944)
  • Op. 10 Violin Sonata No.2 (1946)
  • Op. 12 Concerto for piano and strings (1950-51)
  • Op. 13 Discovery, song-cycle to words by Denton Welch for voice and piano (1951)
  • Op. 14 Three Sketches, for flute and piano(1932, revised 1952)
  • Op. 16 Overture for an Occasion for orchestra (1952-53)
  • Op. 17 Five Irish Folksongs, for solo voice and piano (1954)
  • Op. 18 Amore Langueo, for tenor, chorus and orchestra (1955-56)
  • Op. 19 The Dream of the Rood, for soprano, chorus and orchestra (1958)
  • Love and Reason for counter-tenor and piano (1958)


  • Ferguson, Howard (1997). Music, friends and places: a memoir (London: Thames Publishing)
  • Ridout, Alan, editor (1989). The music of Howard Ferguson: a symposium (London: Thames Publishing)


Ferguson's music has had many distinguished interpreters. These have included Myra Hess, who recorded the Piano Sonata in 1942, and Jascha Heifetz who recorded the first violin sonata in 1966. In addition, a live recording of Discovery, performed by Kathleen Ferrier and Ernest Lush in 1953, has been issued by Decca (475 6060).

More recent recordings include:

  • Hyperion CDA66130 (1984) Piano version of the Partita and the Piano Sonata, performed by Howard Shelley and Hilary MacNamara.
  • EMI 0777 7 64738 2 6 (1986) Concerto for piano and strings and Amore langueo performed by Howard Shelley (piano), Martyn Hill (tenor), the London Symphony Chorus and the City of London Sinfonia, conducted by Richard Hickox.
  • Chandos CHAN 9082 (1992). Contains Two Ballads, the orchestral version of the Partita and The Dream of the Rood. Performed by Anne Dawson (soprano), Brian Rayner Cook (baritone), the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Richard Hickox.
  • Chandos CHAN 9316 (1995). Contains the two violin sonatas, Three Medieval Carols, Four Short Pieces, Love and Reason, Discovery, Three Sketches, and Five Irish Folksongs. Performed by Sally Burgess (mezzo-soprano), Reiner Schneider-Waterberg (countertenor), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), David Butt (flute), Janet Hilton (clarinet), Lydia Mordkovitch (violin) and Clifford Benson (piano).
  • Naxos 8.55729 (2005) Concerto for piano and strings performed by Peter Donohue and the Northern Sinfonia.

External links

  • Howard Ferguson biography and list of works at Boosey and Hawkes
  • Howard Ferguson biography Banbridge District Online
This page was last modified 28.02.2013 19:16:40

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