Cambridge Composers : Richard Causton

The series Cambridge Composers focuses on composers who have or had a connection to Cambridge, or the University of Cambridge. Some of them were students here, whilst others are or were teaching composition in MusiCB3 land.

Richard Causton

Richard Causton (Photo: Katie Vandyck)

Richard Causton has been University Lecturer in Composition since 2012. Causton’s most well-known composition teacher was Franco Donatoni. His time studying with the Italian composer (who died in 2000) also informs Causton’s teaching on Italian music since 1950. Causton’s music has been published by Oxford University Press which makes his music widely available. However, one of the ideas of featuring all the composers who currently teach at the University of Cambridge (in addition to Causton, Jeremy Thurlow and John Hopkins) was also to highlight the fact that the Music Collections in Cambridge hold a representative number of scores by these teachers, so a local student can more easily study each of the three composers’ works before making a decision about whom to approach as a supervisor for a composition portfolio.

There are currently 20 items held at Pendlebury Library (please click on the authorized name heading; 16 scores of Causton’s music, and 4 CDs containing at least 1 work by the composer), whereas 4 items are available at the University Library (these are the works which have been catalogued, but many more have been received via Legal Deposit).

Causton’s work with – so far and arguably – the closest connection to Cambridge is the choral work Out of your sleep (for SATB; Pendlebury Library classmark: 863.E.C3). The composition, dedicated to Stephen Cleobury and the King’s College Choir, was premiered in King’s College Chapel on 25 November 2012. The piece is based on a 15th century anonymous carol.

It features a traditional burden, in this case a repetition of ‘Nowell’ (6 times), which is interpolated between the verses. Causton modernises this fairly dreary idea of a ‘refrain’ by only having it after verses 1, 3, 4 and 6, or if you prefer to be a bit more formal about it: AB A AB AB A AB (so a neat mirror form). However, apart from repeating the words ‘Nowell’, the C21 composer varies the syntactic structure of the reprise of the musical materials, so that the following, taken from the ‘Performance Notes’ is probably more necessary and sensible than it might seem: ‘The alto entries in bars 39 and 83 are particularly important and they are a reprise of the opening. They should be clearly articulated and have the same feeling as the opening 3/2 metre’ (New horizons; NH119).

But don’t take my word for this, go to and download the free promotional Christmas Choral Highlights 2014, unzip the file and listen to Causton’s carol. If choral music isn’t your cup of tea, how about an instrumental duo? Seven States of Rain (2003, for violin and piano):


About cg474

Since August 2010 I have been working as a librarian at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK). Since October 2015 I am the librarian at the Faculty of Divinity Library. Between August 2010 and November 2013 I was the Deputy Head of Music at Cambridge University Library and at the Pendlebury Library of Music. Between December 2013 and September 2015 I was the Librarian at the Marshall Library of Economics. Since October 2015 I have been the Librarian at the Divinity Library.
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