Composer  Alun  Hoddinott
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Composer Alun Hoddinott was born in Bargoed in 1929. His compositional talents developed early, and he won a university scholarship at the age of 16.

After graduating from Cardiff University, he studied for some years with the Australian composer and pianist Arthur Benjamin.

Hoddinott was awarded the Walford Davies prize for composition when he was 24, and achieved his first national success a year later, when his Clarinet Concerto was given its first public performance at the Cheltenham Festival by Gervase de Peyer and the Hallé Orchestra, under Sir John Barbirolli.

In 1951 he was appointed lecturer in music at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. He later became lecturer at Cardiff University and was made professor and head of department there in 1967.

Among his many awards were the John Edwards Memorial Award (he was the first recipient), the Arnold Bax Medal for composers, the Hopkins Medal of the New York St David's Society and the CBE. He was an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music, and a fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music.

Hoddinott achieved a mastery of composition which embraces almost every musical medium. His strong creative urge, stimulated by a tremendous variety of eminent performers, is reflected in a substantial body of works. Essentially chromatic, his music often showed a dark Celtic intensity, manifested in his nocturnal slow movements.

As former professor of music at Cardiff University, and artistic director of the Cardiff Festival (which he co-founded with his friend, the pianist John Ogdon), he had considerable influence in awakening interest in contemporary music in south Wales. He also formed close and regular contacts in both the USA and Germany.

In 1997, during the Machynlleth Festival, he was given the Glyndwr Award for an outstanding contribution to the arts in Wales. In 1999 he received a lifetime achievement award from the Arts Council of Wales, along with fellowship of the Welsh Music Guild, and a medal from Queen Elizabeth II at the official opening of the Wales Millennium Centre.

In 2004, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales undertook a year-long season of Hoddinott's work to celebrate the composer's 75th birthday.

hoddinottIn 2005, he was made a fellow of the Welsh Music Guild in recognition of both his major contribution to Welsh music and also his support and membership of the Guild for over 50 years. That same year he produced a fanfare to be performed at the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.  He had previously composed music to mark the prince's 16th birthday. [Hoddinott with Prince Charles in photo at right]

On 1 March 2007, following the world premiere of his song cycle Serenissima, at Cardiff's St David's Hall, it was announced that the new recording space and performance hall of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales was to bear Hoddinott's name, making him the first Welsh composer to have a major concert venue named in his honour.

BBC Hoddinott Hall, which opened in the Wales Millennium Centre in 2008, allows an audience of up to 350 to enjoy performances involving the full orchestra and chorus that were not able to be staged at BBC Wales' studios in Llandaff.

Hoddinott's work has been performed all over the world by luminaries ranging from Sir Geraint Evans and Dame Gwyneth Lewis to Mstislav Rostropovich and John Ogdon.

Alun Hoddinott died on Wednesday 12 March 2008 at Swansea's Morriston Hospital.

--  BBC Wales Music (with additions)   

In June of 1994, a couple of months before his sixty-fifth birthday, I contacted the composer and asked if he would mind speaking with me on the telephone.  He accepted immediately and I made the call from Chicago..........

Alun Hoddinott:    It’s amazing that one can do an interview at this distance, isn’t it?

Bruce Duffie:    It is.  And it sounds like we’re talking next door to one another.

AH:    There seems to be no time lag.

BD:    Right.  It’s very clear and it’s immediate, so it’s wonderful.  It makes my job rather interesting.  I can chat with people no matter where they are.

AH:    [Laughs]  It must be.

BD:    As a matter of fact, the other side of this particular cassette that I’m using has an interview with Peter Sculthorpe.  [See my Interview with Peter Sculthorpe.]

AH:    You phoned him in Australia?

BD:    Yes.  I talked to him several months ago and did a sixty-fifth show for him!

AH:    Aha!  He’s a very interesting composer, isn’t he?

BD:    Yes, he is; as are you!

AH:    [With an almost audible blush]  Oh, well...

BD:    I want to talk about a lot of things, so we will just get at it.  A number of recordings of your music have been made.  Are you basically pleased with them?

hoddinottAH:    Yes.  I’m even more pleased with the more recent recordings, because obviously recording technique has improved.  Some of my first recordings were made in the early 1960s and went onto vinyl disks, of course.  I think that the new developments in compact disks make for a much better quality sound now.

BD:    Is it because it’s clearer and you can hear more detail?

AH:    Yes.  One thing I’ve found very interesting with the Nimbus Records is they simply use one microphone.  I find the results of that are quite startling.

BD:    You mean a single stereo mike?

AH:    Yeah.  I think it’s a specially designed one that they’ve done themselves, but it picks everything up and gives a very balanced sound.  With the old recordings, you had several microphones dotted around the orchestra, so that the level of sound could be controlled sectionally.  Sometimes that leads to a bit of distortion.  But I find the concept of a single microphone gives you a much better balance and overall picture of the music.

BD:    So you really have to rely on the conductor to get the balance right, and then with the correct placement of the single mike, it’ll be correct?

AH:    Yes.  And the other thing that I find is good about the Nimbus sessions is that they make the record as though it were an actual performance.  It
’s not, “Let’s do five minutes, and then the next five minutes,” and so on, but the orchestra or the soloist plays — whoever it is — plays through the work entirely as though it were a concert performance.  I think this gives a better structural sense to the music.

BD:    Do you really prefer, then, having people listen to it just once?

AH:    Yeah, yeah.

BD:    Is there any chance that recordings can become too perfect with the cut and splice?

AH:    I think so.  It’s fine to sit down and listen to a perfect recording, but the performance is only one interpretation.  With different performers, you can get different interpretations which are all valid.  The other thing that one does miss with the recording is the sense of atmosphere that you get in a concert hall, which I believe is part of the performance.

BD:    When you’re writing the piece, do you include areas for interpretation?  Do you want some leeway left for the performer to add his or her own idea?

AH:    Oh, yes.  One thing I think that my music does need is a very sympathetic interpretation, because I rely quite a lot on a rubato feeling in the music.  One of the problems that’s always been there is one of notation.  Notation can never be perfect.  Lots of composers have tried different forms of notation, but it is just notes-on-paper; they’re simply an indication of how the music should sound.  Different people feel the music in different ways, and different kinds of interpretation are equally valid.  So I prefer to have different interpretations of a piece.  Some, obviously, can be a little bit too mannered [both laugh] but usually the difference is nice.  I like it.

BD:    Do you litter your scores with lots of indications, or do you leave it mostly up to the interpreters?

AH:    No, I put very few indications in the score.  I think that the more an interpreter feels the way the music should go and feels the shape of the contour, the better his performance is going to be.  We’ve got any number of performers who are perfect executors.  You know what technique is like today
anybody can do anything, as it were.  So I would rather allow the performer to get the feel of the music.  I wrote a piano sonata last year, and I was speaking to the pianist only last night.  He’s given about a dozen performances, and said that only now is he beginning to feel that he’s interpreting it.  So it’s a very interesting problem.

BD:    Hasn’t this been true for most music since about the time of Bach
that the more you get into it, the more you have a good feeling about it?

AH:    Oh, I think so.  And I do feel that this is one of the problems with new music
contemporary music.  It simply isn’t played enough.  If one had the same number of performances as are given to, say, the music of Mozart or Beethoven, everybody would be familiar with the modern idiom and would find it much easier to listen to.

BD:    Is there fault to be laid for this on the performer, or the public, or the impresario?

AH:    I wonder about this.  I think that one problem today is that there’s so many composers.

BD:    Are there too many?

AH:    [Laughs]  Well, I’ve got a feeling that there are, in a way!  I find that there are some disturbing trends in teaching, where it’s almost possible to get ahead and write music
or put notes on paperwithout knowing very much about it.  The whole idea of using computers to write the music, I think, is somehow a wrong concept.

BD:    You don’t like instant music?

AH:    No!  [Both laugh]  I like to feel that there’s a physical contact between one’s hand and the pen and the paper.  Writing music out is physically a very laborious job.  The actually act of having to spend time on it makes you think and rethink as you are going on.  If you just touch a key to get your notes started, you don’t have this thinking time.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    When you’re writing with the pen on the paper, are you always in control of where that pen goes?

AH:    Not always.  In many ways I’m an instinctive composer.  When I’m writing I’m sketching, and then I work from sketches.  But there are certain areas that just seem to happen.  And once the work is planned and all sketched out, there are these areas where one’s instinct or imagination takes over, and you end up with something on the page that perhaps you didn’t quite expect.

BD:    When you’re working with it and tinkering with it and you’re getting it all down, how do you know when it is right?

hoddinottAH:    I like to think that I know when it’s okay!  I’ve got the shape of the pieces in my mind before I actually start with the notes, and I know the kind of sound I want to get.  It’s a question of getting the right notes on paper to give the sound that I’ve heard in my mind, because I do hear what I’m writing.  I think that some of this very complicated music
especially aleatoricis not heard in the mind of the composer, and I have question marks about that.

BD:    Is the writing out of the score no more than just transcribing what you hear in your mind’s ear?

AH:    Not really.  If you take an orchestral score, obviously the finished sound is a combination of what you heard in your mind and the techniques that you acquired to be able to translate that onto paper.  Then one comes across a problem with it; sometimes you can’t quite get the kind of sound you want because you haven’t got the resources available.

BD:    You mean the resources in the orchestra?

AH:    In the orchestra.  There are often times when I’ve wanted to end a phrase or go somewhere and the note isn’t on the instrument.  [Both laugh]  So then you have to use your technical imagination to produce that particular sound.

BD:    Is there a balance to be found between the inspiration of your mind and the technical ability of your hand?

AH:    Often what the best music does have is a balance of technique and intellect, and an emotional content.  In many pieces, one element sometimes outweighs the other, and if this suits the piece, that’s okay.  But I think that an equal balance is something to be aimed at.  This is why one has to really master the mechanical technique of writing music as early as one can, so that as you get older and you acquire this technical mastery, you are able to express your ideas more clearly and more easily, so that you can forget about the technical part.

BD:    It just becomes automatic?

AH:    Well, it should never become automatic, but I think that you can write without having to worry too much about whether it’s going to work or not.  An important element
in any longish piece, anywayis a balance, time-wise.  Music happens in time; it takes a certain amount of space of time.  You have to balance the different sections of a piece so that it works in time.  Very often one hears pieces where the movements don’t balance each other out in terms of time, and you’re aware of this as the piece progresses.

BD:    Before you even start the piece, are you aware of how much time it will take to perform the piece?

AH:    Not in tremendous detail, but I am aware whether it’s going to be a short piece or a long piece.  The other thing is that you start off with your initial material, and sometimes you work it out where it’s exhausted in a fairly short space of time, or it needs a longer time to work itself out.  Schoenberg called it foreground music and background music.  This is interesting.  I’ve found in some pieces that I’ve got a bit of background which is not very important in a particular context, but I can use it in another piece and bring it into the foreground.  I find this is quite a fascinating thing to do.  It’s like the technique that painters have of painting series of works; just a different way of looking at various things.

BD:    Once you’ve finished a piece, do you ever go back and revise it?

AH:    Very infrequently.  If I were writing the piece again I would write it differently, but you’re writing the work there, and that’s how you felt; that’s how it came out.

BD:    Better to write a new piece, then?

AH:    Better write a new piece.  One should be technically competent so that the whole thing works and one doesn’t have to go back and revise it.  I think all the revision in a piece should be done before you finalize it.  But sometimes I’ve been dissatisfied with a work, and after a performance I’ve laid it on one side for a little and gone back to it and tidied it up.  But not very often.

BD:    And then you’ve become satisfied?

AH:    Sometimes, and sometimes not.  Sometimes the material of the piece is a bit intractable, or it’s just not good enough, and then I just put in on the shelf.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    I assume that most of the works you write are on commission?

AH:    Yeah.

BD:    When you are given a commission, how do you decide whether to accept it or turn it aside?

AH:    Let me answer that in a different kind of way.  When you’re a young composer, you have to accept commissions as they come, and write what the commissioner wants.  The important thing about a commission — apart from the financial side — is the fact that you’ve got a performance date.  For young composers, performance is of vital importance.  Young composers must get performances early on in their career, so that they learn from this.  But what I’ve found is that as one becomes more established, you can say, “I would like to write this kind of piece,” in response to the commission.  Obviously, if a violinist gives you a commission, you write a violin piece, but I think that one can determine the kind of piece that is needed.  So it’s a bit of both.  One writes in response to a particular commission, but the kind of work that appears is up to me.

BD:    You’ve written sonatas and symphonies and operas and songs.  Do you try to balance it so that you go from one to the other, or does it come in clumps?

hoddinottAH:    No, it tends to come in, as you say, in patches.  With writing operas, I wrote five in about, oh, I suppose, seven or eight years because I particularly wanted to do it at that time.  And when I was writing the operas, I didn’t write much else.  I haven’t written an orchestral piece now for about five or six years because I really haven’t felt like doing it.  I’ve been writing more instrumental pieces now.  And I like writing for my friends, so if one of them asks me to write a piece for a concert that he’s giving, I’ll do it.

BD:    But then are you looking forward to getting back to another symphony, perhaps?

AH:    One day, perhaps, but I find that I get problems, sometimes, with titles.  Symphony Number Ten sounds just a bit boring, so for the last few large orchestral pieces I’ve tended to go away from just a plain title, and call them something else.  Anything can be a symphony now; you can say it’s a symphony or a concerto for orchestra...

BD:    Is this to put the audience more in a different frame of mind when they sit down to listen to it?

AH:    I think it could be important because if an audience is listening to a symphony, they’ve got the whole weight of the nineteenth century symphony in their minds already.  Probably they’re expecting a new symphony
if it’s called Symphonyto be something like what’s been written over the last two hundred years — not in sound, but in shape and size, and that sort of business.  So if you’ve got an orchestral work which could be called Symphony but is called something else, I think that they take to it a little quicker.

BD:    Is there, perhaps, too much pressure upon all composers today to turn out masterpieces?

AH:    This is the way that critics write.  Who can tell what is a masterpiece or not?  We’ve only known pieces from the past by constant repetition.  There could be a lot of pieces from 1800 that are as good as anything we know and call masterpieces, but they simply haven’t been heard.  I’m always amazed at the amount of music from the past that we don’t hear.  With the great composers, it’s only a small part of the output that we hear, in comparison with their entire work.  How often do we hear the more obscure pieces by Beethoven or Bach or Mozart?

BD:    I’ve thought about this in the opera house more particularly, but in the concert hall, also.  We should take the hundred best-known pieces and banish them for ten years.

AH:    Yes, I think that would be a very good idea!  [Laughs]  A very good idea.

BD:    But could we convince the audiences to still come?

AH:    This is a problem these days.  In the past, music hasn
’t faced the huge tidal wave of pop music that we encounter all the time now.  Background music is on tap all the time, and has gradually changed to being pop music.  You might hear some very gentle eighteenth or nineteenth century music played as a background in a restaurant or in a public building.

BD:    You don’t want Vivaldi in an elevator?

AH:    [Laughs]  Well, it would be better than some of the stuff you hear!  It’s the same with background music to films; you are not aware of what is being played, but you become accustomed to the sound of it.  Then, if you go to a concert hall, you say, “Ah, well, that’s a familiar sound.”  But now the sound that is being made familiar to everyone is the sound of pop music.  This is an added complexity to musical life today.

BD:    Then let me hit you with the big philosophical question.  What is the purpose of music?

AH:    I think that it exists on many levels.  The first obvious level is sheer entertainment value.  Whatever kind of music it is, there is the entertainment value.  I also think that people do need something more serious to listen to.  Why do people want to look at paintings, or why do they go to the theater?  I think that one has to have some kind of intellectual and emotional stimulation.  Otherwise, life is pretty animalistic.

BD:    In your music in particular, is there a specific balance point between the artistic and the entertaining?

AH:    Different works have got a different appeal.  Some pieces I’ve written are purely entertainment pieces, and are of a lighter kind of nature; pieces like my suites of Welsh Dances and so on.  Other pieces have a more introspective nature to them, so different pieces have got different viewpoints, different feelings to them.

BD:    You’re a Welsh composer.  Is there anything particularly Welsh about your music, aside from the Welsh Dances you just mentioned?

AH:    This is something that somebody else has to answer because I just write the music that I feel I want to write.  I don’t write any consciously Welsh music in the same way as Bartók consciously wrote Hungarian music.  So I don’t know; there haven’t been that number of Welsh composers in the past, so there’s not really much of a tradition.  The only tradition we really have of art music, composed music, is from the beginning of the twentieth century.  And because there are quite a number of Welsh composers now, it’s only now that there’s beginning to be seen a kind of a common link.  It takes a long time to feel these things.

BD:    Are you optimistic about where music is going these days?

AH:    Yes, I think so.  I do think that over the past fifty years, composers made life very difficult for performers and listeners.  There is a period, say from about 1930 to about 1960 or so, where the intellectual concept of music became too important with some composers.

BD:    Was this a mistake, or was it just something we had to go through?

AH:    I think that is a process of evolution.  One always has composers reacting against their predecessors.  After the late nineteenth century, there was bound to be a reaction, as well as a development of certain characteristics.  One has these reactions all the time, and now, particularly with young people, they have reacted against the complexities of the music by Webern or Schoenberg.  This is why you have minimalist music, which I think has gone too far!  There’s not enough intellectual content in that.  So there will be a reaction against that, and it just goes on; it’s all very healthy, and it’s very interesting to see.  What one can’t do is predict where it’s going to go next.

BD:    [Laughs heartily]  Well, that wipes out my next question!

AH:    Oh!  [Also laughs heartily]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You have written quite a bit of vocal music.  Tell me the joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice.

hoddinottAH:    I find vocal music is the most difficult music for me to write because I don’t like experimenting with vocal technique.  There’s quite a lot of that thing going on, and a voice is limited in what it can do physically; then, of course, every singer is different, so every performance you get of a vocal piece is going to be different.  There are distractions with vocal writing.  One is words, of course.  I find that nearly all the best words have been set, anyway!  But the diction of singers is not terribly clear.  How often do you go to a song recital and hear the words that are being sung?  That’s quite a problem.  Balance is another problem.  On the other hand, when you do get a beautiful singer who projects the words and the music, the experience is one of the best you can get.

BD:    Is it all worth it?

AH:    I find it so, although I have to say that after writing several vocal pieces, I turned back to a string quartet with extra enjoyment!  [Both laugh]  The other thing is with choral pieces particularly, it’s difficult to write very chromatic music, because the voice simply can’t skip around to produce the words and produce the beautiful sound.  So there are problems.  I find it very interesting to perceive what the most often sung choral pieces of the twentieth century are, pieces like Carmina Burana, which might be difficult but they’re essentially diatonic.  This seems to be the kind of music that the voice copes with better.

BD:    Does that mean you don’t have to have quite such beautiful sounds in an orchestral piece or a clarinet sonata?

AH:    The thing is that the fingers can go around anything, you know.  And the standard of performance these days is really terrific!  If you’re asked to write an instrumental piece, you can simply forget about anything like technical difficulties for the performers.  They can get their hands around anything!

BD:    The technical ability certainly has continued to grow.  Has the musical ability also continued to grow?

AH:    I think this stays on a fairly even level.  If one hears recordings of someone like Kreisler, for example, I think this is the most beautiful violin playing I’ve heard, and nobody is every going to surpass that!  This can lead you into very interesting thought
what if we had recordings of people like Paganini and Liszt?  What would they have been like?  Or what would Bach have been like as an organist?  For example, if you take the solo violin sonatas of Bach, these are among the most difficult things ever written!  But Bach would never have written them if they couldn’t have been played!  So someone must have been able to play them then.  And I think you can say the same with the Paganini Caprices or the Concertos.  These are still amongst the most difficult pieces written for the players.  Obviously, Paganini could play them, so  [laughs]  it was always there, as it were.  What has become so fabulous these days is the cohesion of a great orchestra.  I think this has reached a peak now that it didn’t before.  But then Berlioz, who is the first great orchestral writer, wrote these wonderful pieces, and they must have been played at least to a certain degree of competence, or he wouldn’t have written them.

BD:    You say the orchestra has become a virtuoso instrument.  Is it your obligation, then, to exploit all the virtuosity of the orchestra every time?

AH:    No, I don’t think so, because if you are going to do that, every piece becomes a fireworks piece.  One trend today is towards a bit of simplification, but still using all the colors of the orchestra.  The thing about orchestral writing is that so many composers in all of the twentieth century have written such startling virtuoso pieces for the orchestra, that I think that phase has passed.  When you think of someone like Elliott Carter, for example, he writes astonishingly virtuoso pieces almost every time he writes a piece.  [See my Interview with Elliott Carter.]  But he’s obviously taking that virtuosity for granted.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You’re about to hit your sixty-fifth birthday.  Are you at the point in your career that you expected to be at that age?

hoddinottAH:    [Laughs]  I don’t know.  I don’t think about it much.  I just go on from day to day, writing as I have to!  There are obviously some disappointments; some pieces haven’t worked particularly well, and then there are other pleasures.  Next month, for example, at the Cheltenham Festival, my Clarinet Concerto is being played, exactly forty years after it was written.  It was first played there in 1954, so one gets some pleasure in thinking that a piece has stayed in the repertoire for forty years!

BD:    One last question
is composing fun?

AH:    I would say not really because it’s hard physical work, apart from being hard intellectual work.  I wouldn’t call it fun, but I would call it pleasure.  For me the real pleasure is to see the last bar in a work, and to look back over it and think, “Well, that’s not bad.”  But I wouldn’t say that it’s fun.  Listening to a piece can be fun, and it’s fun working with performers, but writing is hard labor.

BD:    Let me just thank you for all of the hard labor that you have given us!

AH:    One goes on and hopes that someone is getting or deriving some pleasure out of listening to the pieces that I’ve written.  If I felt that no one was getting anything out of it, then I would think twice about writing.  But as long as someone is deriving some pleasure or benefit, either from listening to the pieces or playing them, then I shall go on writing.

BD:    I’m very glad to hear that.

AH:    Thank you very much indeed.  It is a pleasure to be doing this, and it’s very nice of you to think of doing it.

Alun Hoddinott

Prodigy who became a prolific composer and patriarchal figure in Welsh music

The composer Alun Hoddinott, who has died aged 78, was the genial father-figure of Welsh music: he, more than anyone, directed its postwar path to full professionalism and creative renewal. A fitting recognition of his unique role in the cultural life of the nation was the announcement on St David's Day last year that the new home of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at the Wales Millennium Centre is to be named BBC Hoddinott Hall - Neuadd Hoddinott y BBC. Its opening in 2009, in what would have been his 80th birthday year, will now be a poignant celebration of the distinguished doyen who was always a modest gentle giant and never the grand old man.

Born at Bargoed, Glamorganshire, Hoddinott began his musical career as a child-prodigy violinist, and in 1946 was a teenage founding-member of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales playing the viola, traditionally a composer's preferred string instrument. Already composing prolifically at Gowerton grammar school, he always said that his musical thinking was that of a string player and never a pianist. It was therefore fitting that his last work was called Music for String Quartet, premiered at London's Wigmore Hall on the day of his death.

hoddinottAlthough he dismissed the idea that he was a prolific composer, Hoddinott was in fact legendary for his capacity to compose at full stretch to tight deadlines, and his vast and versatile catalogue runs to nearly 300 individual works, which include six operas, 10 symphonies and over 20 concertos.

The BBC in Wales gave the first studio performance of his Clarinet Concerto in 1949, when Hoddinott was still a student at Cardiff University. This was the work that brought him international recognition when it was publicly premiered at the 1954 Cheltenham festival by Gervase de Peyer, the Hallé Orchestra and Sir John Barbirolli, with a Proms performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent the following year.

The fluent neoclassical style of this work ensures that it is still played regularly (with a new recording by Robert Plane due for imminent release), but by 1954 Hoddinott's musical language had developed beyond recognition into the much darker, brooding and aggressively rhythmic idiom which characterised his early maturity. Together with its nocturnal intensity and dense chromatic colouring, there is a distinctive edge to this music which marks it out from anything previously composed in Wales (or the rest of Britain) and which can be heard at its finest in the orchestral Variants of 1966 and the middle-period symphonies (Nos 2, 3, 4 and 5, 1962-73).

Lecturing posts at Cardiff College of Music and Drama (1951-59) and the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire (1959-65) led to a readership at the University of Wales. Then, in the pivotal year of 1967, Hoddinott became professor at what is now Cardiff University, while simultaneously establishing the Cardiff Festival of 20th Century Music (initially with his close friend the pianist John Ogdon).

For the next 20 years, he created a remarkable synergy between the two, which led to the building of a magnificent new music department in 1970 and the enticing to Cardiff not only of leading musical figures like Olivier Messiaen, Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett, Karlheinz Stockhausen and André Previn - but also of the artists Barbara Hepworth and John Piper (among many others) as contributors to a climate of cultural freethinking. It felt as if musical life in Wales had suddenly been catapulted into a different dimension, and the stimulus of having an international composer with all his contacts living and working in the city spearheaded the gradual efforts by the BBC Welsh Orchestra and Welsh National Opera (WNO) to develop into full-scale organisations, despite the lack of adequate buildings.

Hoddinott contributed several challenging new scores to the orchestra's growing repertoire and, in 1973, his first opera, The Beach of Falesá (after Robert Louis Stevenson), was premiered by WNO, the company's first proper full-length commission, with the great baritone Geraint Evans in the leading role. But Hoddinott also commissioned most of his composer colleagues - older, contemporary, younger and both from Wales and beyond - to write new works and gave encouragement and support with typical generosity: Peter Pears once described him in a diary entry as "a Father Christmas of a man".

On his retirement from all administrative duties by 1989, his 60th birthday year saw a prodigious succession of premieres, including two piano sonatas, the Proms orchestral piece Star Children and the Seventh Symphony, culminating in the cello concerto Noctis Equi for Mstislav Rostropovich with the London Symphony Orchestra. Next day this piece was recorded at Abbey Road studios, London, with the composer repeatedly embraced as "Alunchik" by the Russian.

In 1999, he wrote a docu-opera for the touring company Opera Box about the workers' buyout of the Tower colliery, Cynon Valley, four years earlier. Richard Morrison of the Times wrote of the premiere of Tower that this "rumbustiously partisan opera... won cheers in Swansea, even if the London critics sniffed".

Hoddinott was shy and often retiring in public, but warm and gregarious in company and revelled in his friendships. His homes in Cardiff, and later on the Gower peninsula, were ablaze with colourful canvases and sculptures by Piper, Tom Nash, Kyffin Williams and John Elwyn, and his wine-generous hospitality was proverbial. But central to every aspect of his life was his wife Rhiannon, of whom Pears wrote that "her beauty was such that wars could have been fought over her". Her devotion ensured his physical and creative well-being; she survives him, with their son Ceri.

· Alun Hoddinott, composer, born August 11 1929; died March 11 2008

--  Geraint Lewis, The Guardian, Friday 14 March 2008    
(with photo added for this website presentation)    

© 1994 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in Chicago on June 24, 1994.  Portions (along with recordings) were used on WNIB approximately two months later, and again in 1999.  This transcription was posted on this website in 2011.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.