Edwin London, Composer, 1929 - 2013


Edwin Londons music speaks boldly and clearly, with a contemporary American accent. His eclectic style blends elements of pop culture with classical techniques. His sensitivity to text produces a smooth synthesis of words and music. His witty sense of humor lightens a serious and sometimes dark view of today's world.

Best known as founding music director of the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, London is an inveterate punster who has fun playing with words, especially in titles. Tala Obtusities, his musical play on words by Charles Dickens, makes reference to one of the English author’s most famous novels. Psalm of These Days, I-V, a series of psalm settings, takes its name from an old Sophie Tucker song. In Heinrichs Shoes, London's 1993 orchestral fantasy, is based on the St. John Passion by 17th-century German composer Heinrich Schuetz.

Nearly half of London’s more than 70 works incorporate lyrics. He has written operas, songs and choral works reflecting a literary taste that ranges from Elizabethan plays to modern poetry. He threads musical quotations from European masters and Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths into the fabric of his pieces. His 1959 overture to The Imaginary Invalid quotes Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Santa Claus, the opera he wrote as his doctoral thesis in 1960, integrates familiar Christmas carols. Civil War tunes show up in his 1976 opera, The Death of Lincoln. Other important influences include jazz rhythms, the dissonant lyricism of Alban Berg, the neoclassicism of Stravinsky and the advanced instrumental techniques of 19th- and 20th-century virtuoso performers.

Born in Philadelphia in 1929, London grew up listening to the lush sonorities of the Philadelphia Orchestra. As a child, he studied French horn, then switched to trumpet. In 1946, he joined the Air Force and played French horn in a military band. After earning a degree in French horn at Oberlin College, he began his performing career with Orquestra Sinfonica de Venezuela and the Oscar Pettiford Jazz Band.

London continued his education at the University of Iowa, where he completed a master’s degree in conducting and a doctorate in composition. His principal teachers were P. G. Clapp and Philip Bezanson. He also studied composition with Luigi Dallapiccola, Darius Milhaud and Gunther Schuller. London’s music, published primarily by C. F. Peters Inc., has been recorded on several labels and performed by ensembles across the United States and in Europe.

London taught at Smith College from 1960 to 1969, then joined the faculty at the University of Illinois. There, he founded Ineluctable Modality, a choral ensemble specializing in new music. From 1978 until his retirement in 2004, he was a faculty member at Cleveland State University, where he formed the award-winning Cleveland Chamber Symphony in 1980.

Widely honored for his work as a composer, conductor, music director and champion of contemporary American music, London has won numerous awards, including the 2001 Ditson Conductor’s Award and the 1982 Cleveland Arts Prize for composition.

—Wilma Salisbury

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 • info@clevelandartsprize.org