A biography of composer George Lloyd

We explore the life and music of a British composer who celebrates his 100th anniversary this week

George Lloyd
Published: June 26, 2013 at 4:05 pm

2013 marks the centenary of British composer George Lloyd, whose work features in two Proms this year – including in the famous Last Night. But how much do you know about his music?


On this page, we provide an in-depth introduction to his life and work – which many feel is only now getting the attention it deserves – and a guide to some of the best events taking place around the country to celebrate his centenary.

Born on 28 June 1913 in St Ives, Cornwall, George Lloyd was a composer and conductor who is best known for his symphonic music. Having studied at Trinity College of Music, he composed his First Symphony in 1932 and his opera Iernin, based on a Cornish legend, in 1933-4.

Lloyd's style was inspired by the work of Verdi – a composer whose influence is particularly noticeable in Lloyd's second opera The Serf (1936-8). Lloyd said of his operas, ‘I was trying to express the drama through voice, not just through something in the orchestra.’

During the Second World War Lloyd was assigned to the Royal Marines and was one of only four survivors in a shipping accident, but he was left with shell shock and suffering the effects of oil ingestion.

In 1951 he was commissioned to write an opera for The Festival of Britain – John Socman – but the work wasn't well received.

The composer left London and became a market gardener in Dorset and it wasn't until 1973 that he returned to composing full-time.

Lloyd died in 1998 in London after suffering from ill health for many years. His works have been recorded by Welsh National Opera, the London Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic, pianist Martin Roscoe and violinist Tasmin Little.

Five Essential George Lloyd Works

Symphony No. 5
Lloyd wrote 12 symphonies, but the Fifth is a good one with which to start your exploration of his work. The work was written while the composer was living in Switzerland. He said: 'The summer was wonderful, the hottest in living memory; day after day the sun poured down. I was beginning to write more easily and to think a little more clearly. The five months we spent by the lake were probably the happiest of our lives and I believe something of that got into what I was writing.'
Recommended recording: BBC Philharmonic/George Lloyd. Albany TROY 022

Lloyd's opera based on a Cornish legend was first performed in Penzance in 1934. The work tells the story of a Celtic faery maiden, turned to stone at the dawn of Christianity for her love of a mortal man. She returns to life in the 10th century to love a Celtic nobleman who, entranced, deserts his own wedding for her.
Recommended recording: BBC Concert Orchestra; BBC Singers/George Lloyd. Albany TROY 121-23.

A Symphonic Mass
George Lloyd once said: 'In 1990 I conducted my Twelfth Symphony for a Three Choirs Festival concert at Worcester; as I waited, in the garden of the East End, for my turn, the choir was singing some Delius. The sounds seemed to float from nowhere and blended with a most perfect summer evening; it was a magical moment and I felt that I must try some time to write a choral work with religious overtones. After much searching I fell back on the text of the Mass. I enjoy setting Latin; it is useful for a composer not only because of the fine sounds but because the words can be repeated a dozen times without anyone noticing. There were still a few difficulties for me but I managed to square these with my own beliefs and I called the result A Symphonic Mass to denote that it is non-liturgical.'
Recommended recording: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Brighton Festival Chorus/George Lloyd. Albany TROY 100 (and on iTunes)

This was the last work that Lloyd wrote and the score is inscribed with the words 'Written in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales'. The piece is for chorus, counter-tenor and organ and received its premiere at St Barnabas Church in Oxford in 2000 - two years after Lloyd himself had died. The piece will be performed at this year's BBC Proms by the BBC Singers and Choristers of the Temple Church and conductor David Hill, on 3 September.
Recommended recording: Stephen Wallace (c ten), Jeffrey Makinson (org); Exon Singers/Matthew Owens. Albany TROY 450

A Litany
A large-scale choral work based on 12 of the 28 verses of John Donne's A Litany. Lloyd said: 'In spite of John Donne's catalogue of human frailties and disasters there are verses in the poem that give some hope and these are the verses I have used to end the work.'
Recommended recording: Janice Watson (sop), Jeremy White (ten); Guildford Choral Society; Philharmonia Orchestra/George Lloyd. Albany TROY 200 (and on iTunes)

Five George Lloyd Centenary Events

A Litany
St Bride's Church, London, 27 June, 7pm
EC4 choir and orchestra perform Lloyd's Donne-inspired choral work A Litany at this church on Fleet Street in the heart of London. Tim Crosley conducts a programme which also includes Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp.

Birthday Tribute
Guildhall, St Ives, Cornwall, Friday 28 June, 7.30pm
St Ives, Lloyd’s birthplace, will be celebrating his centenary with a special Birthday Tribute on Friday 28 June at St Ives Guildhall and Promenade starting at 7.30pm with performances of his Symphony No. 10 for Brass from the Cornwall Youth Brass Ensemble and Cambourne Town Band.

Royal Albert Hall, London, 3 September, 10pm
is to be performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Late Night Prom at 10pm Tuesday 3 September. David Hill conducts the BBC Singers and the Choristers of the Temple Church with counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and organist Greg Morris.

HMS Trinidad March
Royal Albert Hall, London, 7 September, 7.30pm
Lloyd wrote this March in 1941 as the official March for the ship on which the composer was serving. The piece was performed at sea but this performance - at the Last Night of the Proms – marks its UK premiere. Marin Alsop conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Also to take place in Truro is the Symphonic Mass at Truro Cathedral to be performed by BBC National Orchestra of Wales on Saturday 23 November at 7.30pm.

A Symphonic Mass
Truro Cathedral, Truro, 23 November, 7.30pm
Martyn Brabbins conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Three Spires Singers in a performance of Lloyd's A Symphonic Mass in the majestic Truro Cathedral in Cornwall.

George Lloyd's HMS Trinidad March


George Lloyd: the film trailer

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