Arthur William Oldham OBE (6 September 1926 – 4 May 2003) was an English composer and choirmaster. He founded the Edinburgh Festival Chorus in 1965, the Chorus of the Orchestre de Paris in 1975, and the Concertgebouw Orchestra Chorus in Amsterdam in 1979.[1] He also worked with the Scottish Opera Chorus 1966–74 and directed the London Symphony Chorus 1969–76.[2] For his work with the LSO Chorus, he won three Grammy Awards. He was also a composer, mainly of religious works, but also a ballet and an opera.[1]


Arthur Oldham was born in London in 1926. When he was age 14, his mother committed suicide by gassing herself in an oven,[1] and he was brought up in Wallington, at that time in Surrey.[3][4] He won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition under Herbert Howells. He then became Benjamin Britten's only private pupil[2][5] at Aldeburgh between 1945 and 1951.[6] (He claims that the bar lines on the manuscript of Peter Grimes were his work.[4]) He and Britten came into conflict over their ideas about choral music, but they later worked together in Edinburgh on Britten's Voices for Today, Op. 75, and the War Requiem.[1] Until 1968 the only published vocal score of Britten's The Little Sweep was the piano duet and percussion version prepared by Arthur Oldham.[7]

He was appointed musical director of the Ballet Rambert in 1945, aged only 19. His music first came to public notice in 1946, when his ballet Mr Punch was performed by the Ballet Rambert at Sadler's Wells, and was included in the Rambert's 1947–48 tour of Australia and New Zealand.[1] Several of his own pieces were heard at early Aldeburgh Festivals.[6] He also composed for the Royal Ballet for a time.[8]

He arranged Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (a work for string orchestra) for full orchestra, for the ballet Le Rêve de Léonor, choreographed by Frederick Ashton. This had its first performance on 26 April 1949 at the Prince's Theatre, London, by the Ballet de Paris de Roland Petit.[9]

In 1952, after Edmund Rubbra pulled out of the project, Oldham provided a variation for Variations on an Elizabethan Theme, a collaborative work with other contributions by Lennox Berkeley, Britten, Imogen Holst, Humphrey Searle, Michael Tippett and William Walton.[10][11] That year, his modern treatment of Thomas Arne's pastiche opera Love in a Village was staged by the English Opera Group. Criticism of the work led to a nervous breakdown and his working outside music for some time.[2]

He then became a Roman Catholic and was employed as a teacher at Scotus Academy and choirmaster at St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Edinburgh.[3] He introduced Scottish pre-Reformation music such as Robert Carver's 19-part motet O Bone Jesu. Britten's Missa Brevis had its first performance in Scotland under Oldham's direction.[12] His work at the Cathedral was noticed by people such as Carlo Maria Giulini and Georg Solti.[2][5]

The first performance in Scotland (and one of the earliest in the United Kingdom[1]) of Mahler's Symphony No. 8 "Symphony of a Thousand" was scheduled for the opening night of the 1965 Edinburgh Festival, with the Scottish National Orchestra, but a suitable choir was lacking. Lord Harewood and Alexander Gibson approached Oldham to create one and train the singers, and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus was born.[2][5] Under his direction for the next 12 years, the chorus went on to participate in major works such as Verdi's Requiem (under Giulini), Tippett's A Child of Our Time (under Gibson), Bach's Magnificat (under Herbert von Karajan), Prokofiev's Seven, They are Seven (under Gennady Rozhdestvensky], Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony (under Leonard Bernstein), Brahms's A German Requiem (under Daniel Barenboim), and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms (under Claudio Abbado).[2] He was instrumental in the first Scottish performances of Britten's War Requiem, under Alexander Gibson.[5] He also continued with the St Mary's Cathedral Choir until 1971.[12]

Oldham was the recipient of the 1973 St Mungo Prize, awarded to the individual who has done most in the previous three years to improve and promote the city of Glasgow.[13]

He also worked with the London Symphony Chorus between 1969 and 1976, winning three Grammy Awards.

He left for Paris in 1977 to create the Orchestre de Paris's Chorus at Daniel Barenboim's request.[14] For his farewell appearance in Edinburgh he wrote Psalms in Time of War, which was performed at the 1977 Edinburgh Festival.[1] His first project with the Paris chorus was Berlioz's Te Deum, under Barenboim, for which he had auditioned 1,700 people to create a chorus of 200 singers.[1] From 1987 to 1994 he commuted weekly between Paris and Edinburgh, working with both choirs. In 1992, the Edinburgh Chorus presented Schoenberg's Moses und Aron.[1][5] From 1994, he worked with the Orchestre de Paris Chorus exclusively. He celebrated 20 years with the chorus in 1996 with a new work, The Will of Villon.[1] He retired from that chorus in 2002.[1]

Arthur Oldham died in Villejuif in 2003, aged 76.[1] Fauré's Requiem was performed in his memory.[5] He was married twice, and left 2 sons and 2 daughters.[1]

The Arthur Oldham/Michael Lester-Cribb Memorial Fund has been created to honour the joint work of Oldham and Michael Lester-Cribb, the Edinburgh Festival Chorus's pianist.[15]

Grammy AwardsEdit

Arthur Oldham shared the credit for three Grammy Awards for his work with the London Symphony Chorus:


This is an incomplete list of Arthur Oldham's compositions:

  • Mr Punch, ballet
  • arrangement of Thomas Arne's opera pastiche Love in a Village
  • Psalms in Time of War
  • The Will of Villon
  • Blind Audlay's Carol (commissioned by the Purcell Singers for the Aldeburgh Festival)[3]
  • The Land of Green Ginger, a musical for children[3]
  • A song cycle on poems by Alexander Montgomery (commissioned by Peter Pears)[3]
  • Hymns for the Amusement of Children[16]
  • Now's the Time for Mirth and Play, unison voice.organ[17]
  • Two Hymn Tunes, SATB/organ[18]
  • Remember O thou man, carol[19] (This has been recorded a number of times.[20])
  • Three Chinese Lyrics, song cycle[21] (recorded by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten[22]
  • Circus Parade[23]
  • Angels from the Realms of Glory (arrangement)[24]
  • Hymn of dedication[25]
  • I sing of a maiden[26]
  • Saint Francis[27]
  • Laudes Creaturarum (recorded by the St Mary's Cathedral Choir and the Scottish National Orchestra.[12]
  • Missa Sancti Thomas More, 4 (SATB) part mass setting


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Arthur Oldham". The Independent. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Obituary: Arthur Oldham". the Guardian. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e Conrad Wilson, Arthur Oldham, jstor
  4. ^ a b "Edinburgh Festival: The master of chorus masters: The man at the back - Arthur Oldham, for 30 years master of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus - is bowing out. Sabine Durrant talked to him before his final performances". The Independent. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Arthur Oldham Composer, teacher, and founder of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus who was renowned here and abroad". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Oldham, Arthur - NMC Recordings". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  7. ^ "Britten-Pears Foundation - Home". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  8. ^ "CriticalDance Forum • View topic - Arthur Oldham Obituary". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  9. ^ "Benjamin Britten". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  10. ^ "Themes and Variations by BBC Symphony Orchestra, None: Music". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  11. ^ "Letters from a Life: 1952-1957". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  12. ^ a b c "St Mary's RC Cathedral". Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  13. ^ "AP Somervillen". A P Somerville. The Glasgow Story. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  14. ^ New York Times, 12 May 2003
  15. ^ "National Youth Choir of Scotland" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2010.
  16. ^ Oxford University Press Archived 6 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "Arthur Oldham: Now's The Time For Mirth And Play Unison/Organ". Musicroom. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  18. ^ "Arthur Oldham: Two Hymn Tunes Satb/Organ (1. Charity 2.Dunbar) - Satb/Organ Accompaniment Vocal Score - Sheet Music & Songbooks -". Musicroom. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  19. ^ "Christmas Carols at Westminster Abbey". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  20. ^ "Arthur Oldham". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  21. ^ The Lied and Art Song Texts Page
  22. ^ [1])
  23. ^ "Circus parade. Thirteen short pieces for piano grades 2-3. By Arthur Frackenpohl". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  24. ^ "Angels from the realms of glory. w James Montgomery, m Henry Smart, editing & arr.: Walter Ehret". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  25. ^ "Hymn of dedication. For tenor solo and SATB. Words: Ronald Duncan, music: Arthur Oldham". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  26. ^ "I sing of a maiden; a Christmas madrigal. For 4-part chorus of women's voices, a capella (SSAA) or men's voices (TTBB) Musical setting: John David Kraehenbuehl". Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  27. ^ "Saint Francis in ecstasy, detail: upper left corner. No. 12. By Giovanni Bellini, renewable matter: The Frick Collection". Retrieved 30 July 2015.