28 October 1938|
|Known for||The Snowman|
Howard Blake OBE (born 28 October 1938) is an English composer whose career has spanned more than 50 years and produced more than 650 works. Blake's most successful work is his soundtrack for Channel 4’s 1982 film The Snowman including the song "Walking in the Air". He is increasingly recognised for his classical works including concertos, oratorios, ballets, operas and many instrumental pieces. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians states: ‘Howard Blake has achieved fame as pianist, conductor and composer.’
Blake was born in London. He did not come from a family of professional musicians, although his mother played piano and violin and his father sang tenor in the church choir. At Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School for boys he sang lead parts in Gilbert and Sullivan operas and was recognised as a good pianist, but few were aware that he was also writing music.
At the age of 18 years Blake won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music as both pianist and composer but found himself at odds with his contemporaries in regard to musical style. He virtually stopped composing and became interested in film and on leaving the Academy briefly worked as a film projectionist at the National Film Theatre. Missing music he played piano in pubs and clubs for a couple of years until being discovered and signed by EMI to make a solo album and work as a session musician on many recordings. This led him to work as an arranger and a composer, a role which gradually became his full-time occupation.
Howard Blake grew up in Brighton, from the age of 11 singing lead roles as a boy soprano and at 18 winning the Hastings Musical Festival Scholarship to The Royal Academy of Music, where he studied piano with Harold Craxton and composition with Howard Ferguson.
In the late 1960s, on the recommendation of Bernard Herrmann, Blake began working as a keyboard player and arranger with veteran screen composer Laurie Johnson on music for the hit ITV television series The Avengers. During the program's sixth and final season in 1968-1969 (which featured John Steed's new partner Tara King, played by Linda Thorson), Johnson was commissioned to write the soundtrack music for the feature film Hot Millions; to enable him to work on the film score, Johnson recruited Blake to take over composing duties for him, and Blake composed the incidental music for ten complete episodes of that series.
Over an active career he has written numerous film scores, including The Duellists with Sir Ridley Scott and David Puttnam, which gained the Special Jury Award at the Cannes Festival in 1977, A Month in the Country with Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth which gained him the British Film Institute Anthony Asquith Award for musical excellence in 1989, and The Snowman, which was nominated for an Oscar after its first screening on Channel 4 in 1982 and has won many other prizes internationally. His famous song "Walking in the Air", for which he also wrote the lyrics, was the success that launched Aled Jones in 1985, whilst his concert version for narrator and orchestra is now performed worldwide as well as the full-length ballet of the same name, launched in 1997 and in 2013 celebrating its 16th consecutive Christmas season for Sadler's Wells at The Peacock Theatre in London. Howard has composed many concert works, including the Piano Concerto commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra for the 30th birthday of Princess Diana in 1991 in which he also featured as soloist: the Violin Concerto to celebrate the centenary of the City of Leeds in 1993; the cantata to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations in 1995, performed in the presence of the Royal Family in Westminster Hall, and the large-scale choral/orchestral work, Benedictus, championed by Sir David Willcocks and the Bach Choir, given its London premiere in Westminster Cathedral in 1989 with Cardinal Hume as narrator and widely performed ever since.
More recent works are Lifecycle - 24 pieces for solo piano - recorded for ABC Classics in 2003; Songs of Truth and Glory, The Elgar Commission for the Three Choirs Festival in 2005; and a first recording of The Land of Counterpane a song-cycle to words by Robert Louis Stevenson recorded in the Usher Hall Edinburgh in March 2007 with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which he conducted. He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and, in 1994, received the OBE for services to music.
He wrote a lot of commercial music successfully in the 1960s, but in 1970 to "get away from it all" he lived in a beach hut in Cornwall for about two months.
In 1980, Blake was commissioned to write an orchestral music score for Flash Gordon, in collaboration with Queen. He was given only 10 days to produce the results, and after completion fell ill due to pneumonia brought on by exhaustion. He recovered however, and he and Queen were jointly nominated for a BAFTA Award. It was however a disappointment to him that the makers of Flash Gordon did not use a good percentage of his score. Two years later he won acclaim for his score for The Snowman. The title song "Walking in the Air" has been reproduced in many forms over the years, remaining popular ever since it was released in 1982. Finnish metal band Nightwish made a cover version of "Walking in the Air". Norwegian avant-garde black metal band, Angst Skvadron, also made a cover of "The Snowman".
- Violin Sonata, Op. 586 (1973/2007)
- Penillion for violin & piano, Op. 571 (1975/2005)
- Piano Quartet, Op. 179 (1974)
- Jazz Dances for violin & piano, Op. 520a (1976/2008)
- Sinfonietta for brass, Op. 300 (1981)
- Suite for strings - A Month in the Country, Op. 446(1992)
- The Passion of Mary, Op. 577 (2006) dramatic oratorio
- Benedictus, Op. 282 (1980) dramatic oratorio
- Lifecycle, Op. 489 (1996) 24 piano pieces in all 24 major and minor keys
Selected film scores
- An Elephant Called Slowly (1969)
- Some Will, Some Won't (1970)
- All the Way Up (1970)
- The Duellists (1977)
- The Odd Job (1978)
- The Riddle of the Sands (1979)
- S.O.S. Titanic (1979)
- Flash Gordon (1980)
- The Snowman (1982)
- Amityville 3-D (1983)
- The Lords of Discipline (1983)
- The Hunger (1983) (Music director)
- A Month in the Country (1987)
- Granpa (1989)
- The Bear (1999)
- My Life So Far (2000)
- Clarinet Concerto (commissioned by Thea King and premiered by her and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer 1984)
- Violin Concerto "The Leeds" (commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the City of Leeds, premiered Edinger/Daniel/ENP 1993)
- Piano Concerto (commissioned by The Philharmonia to celebrate the 30th birthday of Diana Princess of Wales, composer as soloist 1991)
- Diversions for cello and orchestra (a cello concerto in 8 movements with a cello part edited with Maurice Gendron 1985)
- Flute Concerto (for flute and string orchestra commissioned by Gabrielle Byam Grounds 1996)
- Toccata (a celebration of the orchestra) commissioned by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for their 30th anniversary 1976
- Oboe Concerto (for oboe and string orchestra, composed for David Powell 1971)
- Heartbeat (for tenor saxophone, big band and orchestra, commissioned by the BBC and first performed with soloist Ian Dixson 1990)
- "Complete List of Published Works by Howard Blake". Retrieved 2013-04-09.
- Rob Barnett (2009). "Howard Blake - A survey of his music on CD". Musicweb-International. Retrieved 2013-04-09.
- Bob Briggs (2008). "Seen and Heard interview with Howard Blake". Musicweb-international. Retrieved 2012-12-25.
- "Howard Blake Autobiography".
- "Midweek". Midweek. 2007-12-05. BBC. Radio 4.
- Howard Blake official website - Film and TV Scores