Ralph Lyford

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Ralph Lyford
Ralph Lyford.jpg
Ralph Lyford[1]
Born February 22, 1882
Worcester, Massachusetts
Died September 3, 1927
Cincinnati, Ohio
Citizenship United States
Education New England Conservatory of Music
Occupation Composer, Conductor
Known for Castle Agrazant, founding Cincinnati Opera
Spouse(s) Ella Gillis

Ralph Lyford (February 22, 1882 – September 3, 1927) was an American composer and conductor. He rose to prominence as the managing director of the Cincinnati Opera and as a 20th-century advocate for opera to be written and performed in English.

He was married to Ella Gillis, a ballet dancer.


Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, he began studies at age 12 and 6 years later graduated from Boston's New England Conservatory of Music[2][3] Lyford studied under George Whitefield Chadwick at the New England Conservatory of Music, and studied under Arthur Nikisch in Leipzig.[2]

Ralph Lyford assisted Claude Debussy in preparing his Le martyre de Saint Sébastien for its premiere. He served as assistant conductor in the US for the San Carlo Opera Company under the management of Henry Russell.[2] Lyford was associate conductor of the Opera Company of Boston from 1908–1914, working as a member of Max Rabinoff's staff and for a short time assisted in the opera department at the New England Conservatory.[3][4] Later he conducted 3 seasons from 1912-1915 of over 200 presentations of operas with the Aborn Opera Company.[2]

In 1912, Lyford conducted Lucia di Lammermoor at the Opera Company of Boston.[5]

He was hired in 1916 to organize the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and served as the head of that program. In 1920, he founded the Cincinnati Opera.[6][7] In 1925, he was appointed associate conductor under Fritz Reiner. He led the opera during its first formative seasons. [8]During his tenure, he produced and conducted 234 performances of 30 operas including Martha, Hänsel and Gretel, and Lohengrin.[2][9]

Lyford died in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1927 on September 3 of heart disease.[2][10]

During his tenure at the Cincinnati Opera Company Lyford also mentored John Jacob Niles. Niles said, "Ralph Lyford was a great conductor, teacher, humorist and accompanist. He helped me greatly with the problems I had in playing accompaniments." [11]


Ralph Lyford wrote mainly orchestral music, including a piano concerto. He wrote the opera Castle Agrazant,[12][13] which won a Bispham Memorial Medal Award in 1926.

Ralph Lyford and wife, Ella Gillis


1882 Born in Worcester, Massachusetts
1894-1900 Studies at the New England Conservatory of Music, graduates 1900
1907-1908 assistant conductor of the San Carlo Opera Company
1908-1914 works as assistant conductor of the Opera Company of Boston
1916 Hired to organize the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music
1916-1927 works in Cincinnati at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music
1920 Founded the Summer Opera Association, progenitor of the Cincinnati Opera
1925 Appointed associate conductor of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music
1926 won a Bispham Memorial Medal Award for Castle Agrazant
1927 Died


  1. ^ "Ralph Lyford Asst Conductor Boston Opera Mrs " " (Ella Gillis) of Ballet". Bain News Service. Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hipsher, Edward (1927). "Ralph Lyford". AMERICAN OPERA and Its Composers. Theodore Presser Co. Retrieved 2010-10-07. 
  3. ^ a b "Who's Dancing Now". PBS. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  4. ^ "To Celebrate Anniversary". The Harvard Crimson. 1912-03-06. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  5. ^ "Joseph Urban Papers, 1893-1998". Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  6. ^ Hutton, Mary Ellyn (2007-11-15). "Opera "Fusion" in Cincinnati". Retrieved 2009-04-06. 
  7. ^ Koff, Stephen (1983-06-01). "Classical Acts". Cincinnati Magazine. Retrieved 2009-04-06. 
  8. ^ Joseph E. Holliday. "Grand Opera Comes to the Zoo" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-12-27. 
  9. ^ "Wagner in Cincinnati". Cincinnati Opera. Retrieved 2012-01-23. 
  10. ^ Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors. Wisen-Hart Press. Ohio Federal Writers' Project. 1943. ISBN 978-1-60354-051-3. Retrieved 2009-04-06. 
  11. ^ Pen, Ron (2010). I Wonder as I Wander. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2597-8. Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  12. ^ Everest Freer, Eleanor (1922). "Opera in the United States.". The Drama. 12. Dramatic Publishing Co. p. 351. Retrieved 2009-04-06. 
  13. ^ "Prize Opera is Given.; "Castle Agrazant" by Ralph Lyford Presented in Cincinnati.". New York: The New York Times. 30 April 1926. Retrieved 2009-04-11. 

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