Edwin Roxburgh: Composer

Polyphony Arts is delighted to be working with the award-winning composer Edwin Roxburgh. Contact us to discuss a new commission, a performance or recording of any of his existing works, or to book him as a conductor.

A detailed list of Edwin’s existing works, published by United Music Publishing, can be found here, and you can hear some examples are on this page.


The ‘Great Conjunction’ of Saturn and Jupiter in vertical alignment is in December 2020. This is Edwin Roxburgh’s majestic work for orchestra and electronics, Saturn.

The tone poem Saturn was motivated by the inspiring photographs of the Voyager II spacecraft, during its voyage past Saturn. Whilst the work pays tribute to Holst, basing the harmonic structure on his Saturn chords, the piece also inspires on the remarkable beauty and geometry of the satellites, complemented by the mythological elements linked to the planet.

Saturn is an epic orchestral and electronic space-scape, effortlessly blending Roxburgh’s understanding of Boulez and Stockhausen with a Birtwistle-like sense of ritual. An orbiting soprano saxophone beams down ideas to an orchestral underlay dominated by clattering percussion and mind-expanding electronics; this is an extraordinarily ballsy mission undertaken by HCYO.”  (The Wire, 2006).

How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear

How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear is a piece for narrator and chamber orchestra, ideal for a children’s concert (of any age, from nine to ninety!), with a participatory element in the last movement. This work was commissioned by Menuhin, and has been performed with several famous narrators and recorded with Prunella Scales.

Following a short introduction, a self-portrait of Mr. Lear, six poems are set:
II. The Owl and the Pussycat, describing the strange marriange of night creatures;
III. The Jumblies, “hobbit”-like beings who go to the sea;
IV. Calico Pie, dozens of little animals who pass by and never come back;
V. The Dong with a Luminous Nose, a strange, sad story about a being who loses his “jumbly girl” and becomes rather mad.
VI. Uncle Arly, a carefree person who drifts through life with a cricket companion (and shoes which are far too tight!); and finally,
VII. The Akond of Swat, a vaguely Eastern ruler who is questioned by the orchestra.


Performed by the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra (2003):
Edwin Roxburgh (composer & conductor)
Gwion Thomas (baritone)

Bernard’s Denunciation of Abelard’ is an extract from Edwin Roxburgh’s opera Abelard (libretto by Edwin and Julie Roxburgh ), Act 3, Scene 2. The opera places medieval philosopher Peter Abelard, also a poet, musician and teacher, as its central subject. The above scene represents the denouncement of Abelard by Bernard of Clairvaux; at this point, the libretto is extracted entirely from Bernard’s own letters to the Pope.
As Edwin described:

Abelard optimizes the role of creative thinkers throughout the ages who question authority. In our own time the misappropriation of political, scientific and religious concepts has become a global threat. It is such misappropriation in his own time which Abelard questioned. The reasoning he proclaimed is very much needed in today’s world” (Edwin Roxburgh).


Edwin Roxburgh has pursued his professional life in several areas as composer, oboist, conductor and teacher. As a composer he has won many awards and Fellowships, from the Royal Philharmonic Society as a student to the Elgar Trust Award (a BBC Symphony Orchestra commission) and a British Academy Award for his Oboe Concerto, An Elegy for Ur.

His Fellowships range from the Collard Fellowship to his position at the Royal College of Music (where he taught) as Vaughan Williams Fellow in Composition. Commissions have been constant throughout his life. They disclose a wide variety of stylistic characteristics from Menuhin’s commission for How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear (produced on ITV’s Aquarius with Vincent Price and Diana Menuhin as narrators) to a BBC Proms commission for his orchestral work Montage.

He awaits a performance of his symphonic opera Abelard, published by United Music Publishing under the auspices of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship. Many of his works have been recorded on Naxos, NMC, Metier and Oboe Classics labels.

Following his first post as principal oboist in the Sadlers Wells Opera (now ENO) he became a virtuoso soloist performing UK premieres by composers such as Berio and Holliger. While a member of the Menuhin Festival Orchestra he collaborated with Leon Goossens on the Menuhin Music Guide, The Oboe, now in its fourth edition.

As a conductor he has premiered a vast number of works, originally with the Twentieth Century Ensemble of London, which he founded, and later with several of the principal orchestras of the UK.  This is reflected in his role as teacher at the Royal College of Music until 2003, where he created a department of Twentieth Century Performance Study which included annual orchestral concerts which he conducted for BBC broadcasts. 

He was awarded the Cobbett Medal for Services to Chamber Music in 1980. His role as a director with the Park Lane Group, which promotes young artists in Purcell Room and Wigmore Hall recitals, is indicative of his main philosophy, that all musicians have a responsibility towards the music of our own time and should give as much attention to it as to music of all periods.

Paradoxically, his special subject as a Cambridge student was the Renaissance! His book, Conducting for New Era, was published by Boydell and Brewer in 2014. It is an intensive study of progressive music of the second half of the twentieth century and the conducting techniques required for successful performances. In his Introduction to it, Sir Andrew Davis compares it with other conducting books and declares that it “surpasses them all”.

Edwin is currently a Visiting Tutor at the Birmingham Conservatoire where he was recently awarded an Honorary Fellowship.


For bookings or further information, please contact us here.