Lyell Cresswell

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Lyell Cresswell
Lyell Cresswell in 2011
Cresswell in 2011
Background information
Birth nameLyell Richard Cresswell
Born(1944-10-13)13 October 1944
Wellington, New Zealand
Died19 March 2022(2022-03-19) (aged 77)
Edinburgh, Scotland
RelativesMax Cresswell (brother)

Lyell Richard Cresswell (13 October 1944 – 19 March 2022)[1] was a New Zealand composer of contemporary classical music. He was the younger brother of philosopher Max Cresswell. Cresswell studied in Wellington, Toronto, Aberdeen and Utrecht and lived and worked in Edinburgh from 1985 on.[2] Although he lived more than half his life away from New Zealand, he regarded himself as a New Zealander.[2]

Cresswell died from liver cancer, complicated by COVID-19.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Cresswell was born in Wellington in 1944, the younger brother of Max Cresswell; his family belonged to the Salvation Army.[2] He played the trumpet, euphonium and tuba. He studied at Victoria University under David Farquhar, Douglas Lilburn and Frederick Page, gaining a first-class honours degree in composition.[2] In 1969 he went to Toronto to study for a masters degree and three years later in 1972 to Aberdeen to study for a PhD.[4][2]


Cresswell taught and composed at Glasgow University and worked in arts administration in Cardiff but from 1985 he lived and worked in Edinburgh as a freelance composer, taking commissions for works.[2]

Cresswell wrote music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, choir, voice and solo instruments. His works include several concertos. In 1983 he was commissioned to write a work for the 100th anniversary of the Salvation Army in New Zealand; O! for Orchestra was premiered by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.[2] His concerto for accordion, Dragspil (Icelandic for "accordion"), was commissioned for the BBC Proms and premièred by James Crabb and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the 1995 season.[5]

In 2001, the Scottish Arts Council granted him the Creative Scotland Award and commissioned a work, in collaboration with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, exploring the issues of exile and identity. His composition Shadows Without Sun combines elements of oratorio, opera, music theatre and cantata. It requires orchestra, singers, speaking voices and recorded voices. The work intertwines the story of exiles living in both Scotland and New Zealand with the story of Cassandra.[6] The Money Man, 2010, was written in collaboration with librettist Ron Butlin with whom Cresswell regularly worked.[7]

Cresswell found inspiration from visual arts and literature.[2] Links between painting and music were explored in the piano work The Art of Black and White.[2] In 2013 he collaborated with writer Fiona Farrell to write the song cycle The Clock Stops; performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra it was inspired by the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.[2]

Cresswell's music is recorded on the Naxos Records label.[4]

He died in Edinburgh on 19 March 2022, from liver cancer complicated by a COVID-19 infection. He was 77.[2][8]


List of compositions[edit]


  • Concerto for cello (commissioned for Musica Nova, Glasgow, 1984)
  • Concerto for accordion, Dragspil (BBC Proms, 1995)
  • Concerto for orchestra and string quartet (commissioned by the City of Aberdeen, 1996)
  • Concerto for trombone, Kaea (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, 1997)
  • Concerto for violin and soprano (commissioned by the BBC, 2001)
  • Concerto for chamber orchestra (SCO, 2002)
  • Concerto for piano (2009) (dedicated to Scottish composer Edward Harper and commissioned by pianist Steven de Pledge)

Other orchestral[edit]

  • Salm (1977)
  • O! for Orchestra (1983)
  • A Modern Ecstasy (1986)
  • Voices of Ocean Winds (Radio New Zealand, 1989)
  • Ylur (St Magnus Festival, 1991)
  • Ara Kopikopiko (2005) – written with the Elgar Bursary
  • I Paesaggi dell’anima (Landscapes of the soul), 2008


  • Le Sucre du Printemps, for clarinets


  • The Voice Inside, for soprano, violin and orchestra
  • The Clock Stops (2013)


  • Shadows Without Sun (2003)
  • The Money Man (2010)


  1. ^ "Highly-regarded composer Lyell Cresswell dead at age 77". RNZ. 20 March 2022. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Kerr, Elizabeth (8 April 2022). "Obituary: Lyell Cresswell, composer who always aimed to strike a chord". Stuff. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  3. ^ "Obituaries: Lyell Cresswell, New Zealand-born composer who made home in Scotland".
  4. ^ a b Dart, William (7 February 2010). "Nothing left to chance except interpretation". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  5. ^ Williams, Nicholas (9 August 1995). "Proms: CRESSWELL'S 'DRAGSPIL' Royal Albert Hall, London". The Independent. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  6. ^ Walker, Lynne (30 December 2003). "Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Lyell Cresswell, SCO/Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Glasgow". The independent. Retrieved 25 June 2010.[dead link]
  7. ^ Smith, Rowena (16 May 2010). "Five:15". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  8. ^ Tribute to Lyell Cresswell
  9. ^ a b "Lyell Cresswell". NMC Recordings. Retrieved 25 June 2010.
  10. ^ "Recipients". Royal Philharmonic Society. Retrieved 10 April 2022.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]