Norman Kay (composer)

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Norman Forber Kay (5 January 1929 – 12 May 2001) was a British composer and writer.

Kay, who was born in Bolton, was educated at Bolton School, the Royal Manchester College of Music and the Royal College of Music.[1] Kay composed the incidental music for three serials in the first season of Doctor Who,[1] including the very first, An Unearthly Child,[2] as well as The Keys of Marinus and The Sensorites.

Besides this work, he also provided the music for many of the Out of the Unknown stories and productions such as Late Night Horror in 1968, as well as many other television and film productions. Kay also worked as a music critic for The Daily Telegraph.[3] He was the first British musician to write a study on Dmitri Shostakovich, a work that was well received.[1][3]

Kay died in 2001 of Motor Neurone Disease aged 72.


  1. ^ a b c "Norman Kay obituary". The Guardian. 30 May 2001. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  2. ^ "An Unearthly Child". BBC. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Norman Kay 1929-2001". The Musical Times: 8. Summer 2001. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 

Norman Kay, who has died of motor neurone disease aged 72, was a prolific composer of music for radio, television and film. His two operas for television broke new ground in reconciling the conflicting demands of the two mediums, and he wrote extensively on music subjects. The son of a Bolton textile designer, from an early age he showed astounding talent at the piano, and later the organ. From the age of 14, he could be seen cycling over the hills surrounding Bolton to fulfil his duties as organist and choirmaster.

At Bolton school, he amazed his teachers by reading from full orchestral scores. After studies at the Royal Manchester College of Music, and, as a composition postgraduate at the Royal College of Music under Gordon Jacob, his talent spurred him on to apply for the position of rehearsal pianist at the Royal Opera House.

On receiving the standard rejection letter, Kay presented himself at the stage door anyway, refusing to leave until somebody saw him. The management finally gave in and presented him with a fiendish full score of Alan Rawsthorne's The Wool Ballet. His sight-reading and immense musicality earned him work as a repetiteur and coach, not only at the Royal Opera House and, in 1950, at Glyndebourne, but also opened the door to composition for film and television, initially at the Crown Film Unit. Kay also spent time as chorus master for Glasgow Opera Society (later Scottish Opera), and as a freelance composer of concert and incidental music.

It was at Glyndebourne that he forged a lifelong working relationship with the Welsh baritone, Sir Geraint Evans (obituary, September 21, 1992). Inititially, Kay coached Evans in such pivotal roles as Wozzeck and Figaro and, in return, Evans encouraged Kay to write for the voice. This led to two full-scale cantatas, both commissioned by, and starring, Evans. King Herod was performed to critical acclaim at the 1964 Llandaff Festival, and Daniel was premiered at St David's Hall, Cardiff, in 1984, and later performed in Los Angeles.

Other works were performed at major British festivals; his Passacaglia for orchestra at Cheltenham; his Variations for Strings at Harrogate; and his opera for young people, Robin Hood, at Buxton. Commercial recordings followed, as did broadcasts in Britain, Europe and North America.

The Rose Affair (1968), the first of Kay's two full-length operas for television, was a reworking of the Beauty And The Beast story for the BBC. A Christmas Carol (1980) was written for HTV, and won the Salzburg International Opera Prize. Sir Geraint Evans starred in each, as the Beast and as Scrooge; they were revolutionary in implementing Kay's belief that opera should be sung live when filmed, and not mimed to a pre-recording.

Kay composed his music in such a way that, even for changes of scene, the score is dovetailed - overlaid forward and backward - so that there are no breaks in the musical continuity.

His incidental music for radio, television and feature films ran to more than 500 titles. This prodigious output included scores for many of the early Dr Who programmes, and his music for the BBC-TV mime play, Song Without Words, won him an Italia Prize in 1967; the programme also won the Golden Rose at the Montreux Festival.

As a governor of HTV, Sir Geraint Evans was instrumental in bringing Kay to Wales as the station's head of music, a post he held from 1975 to 1987. Among other achievements at HTV were his video recording of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, starring Evans, with Lillian Watson and Ryland Davies; many classical series, including The Story And The Song; and a long association as music director with the ITV series Highway, starring Sir Harry Secombe (obituary, 12 April 2001).

Kay was also a music critic, first for the Guardian and then the Daily Telegraph (1963–80), and wrote for music journals. His well- regarded study Shostakovich (1971) was the first on the subject by a British musician.

His last piece, Mr Pitfield's Pavane, an elegy for recorder and strings in memory of a fellow Bolton composer, Thomas B Pitfield (1903–99), was first performed at Kay's old college, now the Royal Northern College of Music, in November 2000.

• Norman Forber Kay, composer and writer, born 5 January 1929; died 12 May 2001

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