John McCabe (composer)

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John McCabe CBE (born 21 April 1939) is an English composer and pianist. He was a prolific composer from an early age but first became known as a pianist. He has created many different works including symphonies, ballets, and solo works for the piano. He was awarded the CBE in 1985 and still tours as a recitalist (Anon. 2014)[not in citation given].


John McCabe was born in Huyton, Liverpool, Merseyside. A prolific composer from an early age, he had written thirteen symphonies by the time he was eleven (Rickards 2001). After studies in Manchester and Munich he embarked upon a career as a composer and virtuoso pianist (he still tours internationally as a recitalist).[citation needed] He has worked in almost every genre, though large-scale forms lie at the heart of his catalogue with seven symphonies, fifteen concertante works and eight ballet scores to his name (Anon. 2014).

McCabe's style evolved gradually from an initial lyrical constructivism through a serialist phase, with a fascination with repetitive patterns leading to a more complex combination of processes in order to achieve more subtle forms of continuity (Maycock 1989, 386).

He first became known as a pianist, specializing in twentieth-century English music and Haydn. From 1965 to 1968 he was pianist‐in‐residence University College, Cardiff (Kennedy 2006).

As a composer, he first gained attention with the orchestral song cycle Notturni ed Alba (1970). He has written eight symphonies, a number of ballets, string quartets, and solo instrumental music (particularly for the piano). However, it is for his concerti that he is perhaps best known. He has written four for his own instrument, the piano (1966–76), and three for one or two violins (1959, 1980, 2003) as well as one each for viola (1962), harpsichord (1968), oboe d'amore (1972), clarinet (1977), orchestra (1982), trumpet (1987) and flute (1990), and double concertos for viola and cello (1965) and clarinet and oboe (1988).
He has a developing association with the Presteigne Festival.

John McCabe was made CBE in 1985 for his services to music (Rickards 2001; Anon. 2014). He has also spent a considerable amount of time teaching. Among his notable pupils is composer Gary Kulesha.

Career highlights[edit]

Key works[edit]

  • Variations on a theme by Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1964; orchestra)
  • Symphony No. 1, Elegy (1965; orchestra)
  • Notturni ed Alba (1970; soprano, orchestra)
  • Symphony No. 2 (1971; orchestra)
  • Chagall Windows (1974; orchestra)
  • Piano Concerto No. 3 (1977)
  • Symphony No. 3, Hommages (1978; orchestra)
  • Magnificat in C (1979)
  • String Quartet No. 3 (1979)
  • Concerto for Orchestra (1982)
  • String Quartet No. 4 (1982)
  • Cloudcatcher Fells (1982; brass band)
  • Haydn Variations (1983; piano; dedicated to and premiered by Philip Fowke)
  • Fire at Durilgai (1988; orchestra)
  • String Quartet No .5 (1989)
  • Flute Concerto (1990)
  • Tenebrae (1993; piano)
  • Symphony No. 4, Of Time and the River (1994; orchestra)
  • Edward II (1995; ballet)
  • Pilgrim (1998; double string orchestra)
  • Arthur Parts 1 & 2 (1999 and 2001; ballet)
  • Woman by the Sea (2001; piano, string quartet)
  • Labyrinth [Symphony No.7] (2007; orchestra)



  • Anon. 2014. John McCabe. Music Sales Classical: Part of Music Sales Group website (accessed 18 August 2014).
  • Craggs, Stewart R. 1991. John McCabe: A Bio-Bibliography. Bio-Bibliographies in Music, no. 32. Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-26445-7.
  • Foreman, Ronald Lewis Edmund (ed.). 1975. British Music Now: A Guide to the Work of Younger Composers. London: Elek.
  • Kennedy, Michael. 2006. The Oxford Dictionary of Music, second edition, revised. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-861459-4.
  • Larner, Gerald. 1969. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". The Musical Times 110, no. 1514 (April): 372.
  • Matthew-Walker, Robert. 1999. "John McCabe at 60". Musical Opinion 122, no. 1417 (Spring): 138–39.
  • Maycock, Robert. 1989. "Variations on a Form: John McCabe's String Quartets". The Musical Times 130, no. 1757 (July): 386–88.
  • Odam, George (ed.). 2008. Landscapes of the Mind: The Music of John McCabe, with a foreword by Vernon Handley. Guildhall School of Music & Drama Research Studies, no. 6. London: Guildhall School of Music and Drama. ISBN 978-0-7546-5816-0.
  • Rickards, Guy. 1999. "The Piano and John McCabe". British Music: The Journal of the British Music Society 21:35–47.
  • Rickards, Guy. 2001. "McCabe, John". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.

External links[edit]