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Howard Blake (1938)

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Howard Blake, OBE is an English composer , particularly noted for his film scores, although he is prolific in several fields of classical and light music. His most popular work includes music for The Bear and The Duellists but he receives most acclaim for the orchestral scores he provided for the 1980 film Flash Gordon and his highly successful work for the Channel 4 production The Snowman in 1982.


 early life
Blake did not come from a family of professional musicians although his mother played piano and violin and his father sang tenor in the church choir. At grammar school he sang lead parts in Gilbert and Sullivan operas and was recognised as a good pianist, but few were aware that he was also writing music.

At the age of 18 years Blake won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music as both pianist and composer but found himself at odds with his contemporaries in regard to musical style. He virtually stopped composing and became interested in film and on leaving the Academy briefly worked as a film projectionist at the National Film Theatre. Missing music he played piano in pubs and clubs for a couple of years until being discovered and signed by EMI to make a solo album and work as a session musician on many recordings. This led him to work as an arranger and a composer, a role which gradually became his full-time occupation.

 music career

The most recent edition of Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians stated: ‘Howard Blake has achieved fame as pianist, conductor and composer.’ He grew up in Sussex, from the age of 11 singing lead roles as a boy soprano and at 18 winning the Hastings Musical Festival Scholarship to The Royal Academy of Music, where he studied piano with Harold Craxton and composition with Howard Ferguson. Over an intensely active career he has written numerous film scores, including 'The Duellists' with Sir Ridley Scott and Lord David Puttnam, which gained the Special Jury Award at the Cannes Festival in 1977, 'A Month in the Country' with Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth which gained him the British Film Institute Anthony Asquith Award for musical excellence in 1989, and 'The Snowman', which was nominated for an Oscar after its first screening on Channel 4 in 1982 and has won many other prizes internationally. His famous song Walking in the Air, for which he also wrote the lyrics, was the success that launched Aled Jones in 1985, whilst his concert version for narrator and orchestra is now performed worldwide as well as the full-length ballet of the same name, launched in 1997 and in 2008 celebrating its 11th consecutive Christmas season for Sadler’s Wells at The Peacock Theatre. Howard has composed many concert works, including the Piano Concerto commissioned by The Philharmonia Orchestra for the 30th birthday of Princess Diana in 1991 in which he also featured as soloist: the Violin Concerto to celebrate the centenary of the City of Leeds in 1993; the cantata to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations Organization in 1995, performed in the presence of the Royal Family in Westminster Hall; and the large-scale choral/orchestral work 'Benedictus', championed by Sir David Willcocks and the Bach Choir, given its London premiere in Westminster Cathedral in 1989 with Cardinal Hume as narrator and widely performed ever since.
More recent works are ‘Lifecycle’ - 24 pieces for solo piano - recorded for ABC Classics in 2003; ‘Songs of Truth and Glory’ , The Elgar Commission for the Three Choirs Festival in 2005; and a first recording of ‘The Land of Counterpane’ a song-cycle to words by Robert Louis Stevenson recorded in the Usher Hall Edinburgh in March 2007 with The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which he conducted. He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and in 1994 received the OBE for services to music.

He wrote a lot of commercial music successfully in the 1960s, but in 1970 to "get away from it all" he lived in a beach hut in Cornwall for about two months.

In 1980 Blake was commissioned to write an orchestral music score for Flash Gordon, with his own contrasting scores, as well as some written by Queen, transcribed for orchestra by Blake. He was given only 10 days to produce the results, and after completion fell ill due to bronchitis brought on by exhaustion. He recovered however, and his work was nominated for a BAFTA award. It was however a disappointment to him that the makers of Flash Gordon did not use a good percentage of his score. Two years later he won acclaim for his score for The Snowman. The title song Walking in the Air has been reproduced in many forms over the years, remaining popular ever since it was released in 1982. Finnish metal band Nightwish made a cover version of "Walking in the air". Norvegian avant-garde black metal band Angst Skvadron also made a cover of "The Snowman".

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Howard Blake", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.