Alastair Borthwick: Composer

Alastair Borthwick: Composer
Alastair Borthwick: Composer


Alastair Borthwick is a composer and musicologist, based at the University of Hull (UK), where he is a professor. He originally trained as a physicist at Imperial College London, while studying composition privately with John Lambert next door at the Royal College of Music. Music soon became the main focus of his activity, and a PhD in music (funded by the British Academy) from King’s College London followed.

Apart from a book and various essays on musicological topics, his work includes music for soloists, instrumental ensembles, choirs and orchestras, which has been performed across the UK and Continental Europe, Turkey, China, Hong Kong and the USA.

Commissions have been funded by organisations including Arts Council England, Performing Rights Society, and Beijing Modern Music Festival. They have ranged from concert to liturgical and film music. Current projects include a wind-music project and a series of liturgical music pieces (most recently a setting of the canticles, performed in the USA and at the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music).

He also likes running, cycling and swimming and so is open to projects that bring music and sport together in new ways, but it hasn’t happened yet! He runs marathons all over the world, most recently the London Marathon in 2019.

Contact Katie Beardsworth for enquiries about commissions or performances of existing works.

sample compositions


Lear Settings (2009) for soprano and chamber orchestra. 3-part animation by Rozi Fuller. Music for parts 1 and 3 by Borthwick. Arts Council England funded project. Film premiered at Bradford Animation Film Festival 2009. Details about the project can be found here:

Extract from The Jumblies from Alastair Borthwick’s Lear Settings
Extract from The Dong with the Luminous Nose from Lear Settings (1)
Extract from The Dong with the Luminous Nose from Lear Settings (2)

Equiano’s Lament (2007) for soloists, choir and orchestra. An oratorio about a slave who became a free man. Arts Council England funded commission for Hull Sinfonietta and University of Hull Choir and Orchestra. Premiered at the Wilberforce International Conference, Hull City Hall.

Extract from Equiano’s Lament by Alastair Borthwick (1), featuring the words of William Wilberforce and Equiano, pictured.
Extract from Equiano’s Lament by Alastair Borthwick (2).


Sighs Resound (2017) for piano, flute and oboe. City of Culture Commission for the Ellipsis Trio.

Snake Lines (2014) for pithkiavli, piano, guitar and electronics. Performed at the Museum of Archaeology in Nicosia, Cyprus. Erasmus funded. Revised and performed in Hull (2016).

Helical Time (an open ended song cycle for combinations of baritone voice, violin, piano and trumpet with instrumental pre-/inter-/post-ludes):

‘Time Being’, for baritone voice and piano. Duration: 4 mins. In Tsang, L. & Venables, P. (eds) Finding Ursula Vaughan Williams: An Anthology of New Songs for Voice and Piano, with an Introduction by Lee Tsang (York: University of York Music Press, 2010). Performed as part of Ursula Vaughan Williams: In Memoriam which featured 12 new commissions.Lee Tsang (baritone); Peter Sproston (piano). Beverley Minster and Middleton Hall. April 2010, Chinese University of Hong Kong 2013. ISMN M 57036 187 8.

‘Days’, for baritone voice, piano, trumpet and violin (a setting of the poem by Philip Larkin). Performances (as part of the whole ‘helix’) in Hull and Chinese University of Hong Kong, March 2013.

Angel (2012) for arpeggione and electronics. First performed by Nicolas Delataille, University of Hull.

Exspecto Vitam (2008) for piano. First performed by Julian Jacobson (Hull, London).

Extract from Exspecto Vitam

In Memoriam – CAthErinE DAlE (2006) for piano. Commissioned for the Beijing Modern Music Festival, 2006. Premiered by Xiang Zou.

Extract from In Memoriam

Lacuna Lullaby (1996) for cello and piano. Score held by British Music Information centre. Premiered by players from the London Sinfonietta at the Royal Festival Hall 1997 as part of the State of the Nation Festival.

Extract from Lacuna Lullaby (1)
Extract from Lacuna Lullaby (2)


Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (2018). First performed at Duke University Chapel, USA, February 2019, and at the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, May 2019 .

Magnificat, performed at Duke University Chapel (February 2019).
Nunc Dimittis, performed at Duke University Chapel. 22’25

Alastair Borthwick has recently had three choral pieces published for Advent and Christmas, composed in 1996, 2005 and 2018. In collaboration with Chichester Music Press, he’s gradually making music he’s composed over three decades more easily available to choirs and ensembles.

You can listen and buy these fascinating works by visiting the links below:

Telling God’s Story (2005) for SATB. Runner up in BBC/St Martin in the Fields carol competition, 2005. First performed by Hull University Chapel Choir, December 2005. Listen and buy a copy here.

Advent Canticles (2018) for SATB and organ. First performed at Duke University Chapel, USA, February 2019. Listen and buy a copy here.

Ho Logos (2002) for SSAATTBB. Recorded by Royal Holloway Choir, London. CD RR1016. Listen and buy a copy here.

Peace (1997) for for SAB. Text by Henry Vaughan. First performed by the University of Hull Chapel Choir at Beverley Minster.

The May Magnificat (1996) for SSAA. Text by G.M. Hopkins. First performed by the University of Hull Motet Choir.

Eternity (1996) for SATB. Text by William Blake. First performed by the University of Hull Chapel Choir.

Me (scored for SATB). First performed by Beverley Minster Choir, 28 January 1996. Duration: 5 mins.

Three Poems by ee cummings (1991) for SATB, including a commission by the choir Cantico for a six-concert tour of the North West of England.



Music Theory and Analysis: The Limitations of Logic (New York: Garland, 1995). pp. i-xiii:1-268

“Borthwick’s book … adds an important voice to current and future discussions and reexaminiations of music-analytic practice.” – John Covach, Notes, June 1996.

“Borthwick is an extremely acute analyst, equally strong on Beethoven, Tippett, Schoenberg, Varese, and Penderecki. Indeed, his best feature is that his theory applies equally well to tonal music and to modernism.” – Raymond Monelle, Music and Letters, Feb 1996.


“The Four Piano Sonatas: Past and Present Tensions”, in The Cambridge Companion to Tippett, eds. Gloag and Jones (Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 190 – 205.

“Musical Time and Eschatology”, in Resonant Witness, ed. J. Begbie (Eerdmans, 2010), pp. 271-294.

“British Music since Britten”, in Musicology and Sister Disciplines, edited by David Greer (Oxford University Press, 2000).

“Logic, Cognition and the Art of the Arbitrary”, in Music, Mind and Science, edited by Suk Won Yi (Seoul National University Press, 1999), pp. 82-98.

“Tonal Elements and their Significance in Tippett’s Sonata no.3 for Piano”, in Tippett Studies, edited by David Clarke (Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 117-144.

An “enlightening essay … which uncovers conclusions which seem to emanate naturally from the sound of the music itself – in other words, he has ‘heard’ it well and conveys this understanding in his writing.” – Geraint Lewis, Musical Times, Winter 1999.


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