Buxton Orr

Buxton Orr (18 April 1924 – 27 December 1997) was a Glasgow-born Anglo-Scottish composer and teacher.


Originally trained as a doctor, Orr gave up medicine and switched to music in 1952, studying composition at the Guildhall School of Music with Benjamin Frankel and conducting with Aylmer Buesst.[1] Through Frankel's help and influence, Orr became active for a time composing film scores, and his first general recognition as a composer came from the high profile production of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer in 1959, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn and directed by Sam Spiegel.[2] His one-act opera The Wager, was successfully staged at Sadler’s Wells in 1961.

With his return to the Guildhall School of Music as a professor in 1965 Orr soon gained a reputation as an energetic and influential teacher. He founded the Guildhall New Music Ensemble and also conducted the London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra between 1970 and 1980, the latter stimulating his particular interest in improvisation.[3] His pupils included Deirdre Gribbin, Barry Guy, Gary Higginson, Philip Sawyers and Debbie Wiseman.

In 1990 Orr gave up regular teaching to devote more time to composition, and lived with his second wife Jean Latimer in the Wye Valley until his death. A new opera, The Alchemist, was in the process of being orchestrated at his death.[4]

He was not related to the composer Robin Orr (1909-2006).


Orr's music includes works in all genres, including songs, chamber music, works for brass and wind band, orchestral music, opera and music theatre as well as film scores.[5] His style is notable for its interest in structures that evolve through continuous variation, often with his personal take on 12-tone serialism, using tonal intervals and octave doubling. The three Piano Trios (1982, 1986 and 1990), the orchestral Triptych (1977) and the substantial 40 minute orchestral Sinfonia ricercante (1987) are representative examples of this style.[6] Several virtuoso instrumental fantasies on famous themes, such as the Carmen Fantasy for cello (1987 - also re-scored for orchestra), deconstruct familiar material to create new compositions. The others in this series are Portrait of the Don (theme from Don Giovanni, 1987), Catfish Row (theme from Porgy and Bess, 1997) and Tales from Windsor Forest (theme from Falstaff, 1997).[4]

Elements of jazz are present in some works, particularly those scored for brass band, such as the Caledonian Suite (often used as a band test piece), Tournament (1985) for brass tentet and Narration (1993) for symphonic wind ensemble.[1] Refrains III, written for the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, develops Orr's interest in improvisation, even including the conductor as one of the different improvising groups within the total ensemble.[7] It was first broadcast on 6 May 1975 on BBC Radio 3.[8] (There are six Refrains, all written for different forces. Each of them uses a recurrent idea to bind together a structure).

During the 1980s Orr composed three music theatre pieces: Unicorn (1981), The Last Circus (1984) and Ring in the New (1986), and a number of song cycles, including the "caustic" Ten Types of Hospital Visitor (1986), setting Charles Causley.[9] His early film music included Hammer horror scores such as Corridors of Blood (1958) and Dr Blood's Coffin (1961).[10] Some of his stock music was used in several Doctor Who serials in the 1960s.[11]


Film music


  1. ^ a b Miller, Malcolm. "Orr, Buxton". Grove Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.20496. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  2. ^ "Obituary: Buxton Orr". The Independent. 31 December 1997. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  3. ^ "Buxton Orr Chamber music for strings TOCC0103 [GH]: Classical Music Reviews - November 2012 MusicWeb-International". Musicweb-international.com. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  4. ^ a b "Buxton Orr Obituary". Musicweb-international.com. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  5. ^ "Buxton Orr - a Catalogue of Recordings and Works". Musicweb-international.com. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  6. ^ Doran, Mark. Review of Piano Trios Nos 1-3 in Tempo, No 201, July 1997, p 69
  7. ^ "The Music of Buxton Orr by Gary Higginson". Musicweb-international.com. Retrieved 29 July 2020.
  8. ^ "Music in Our Time". 6 May 1975. p. 40. Retrieved 29 July 2020 – via BBC Genome.
  9. ^ Kate Molleson: Buxton Orr: Songs review, in The Guardian, 2 March 2017
  10. ^ Huckvale, David. Hammer Film Scores and the Musical Avant-Garde (2014) p 53.
  11. ^ "Buxton Orr". IMDb.com. Retrieved 29 July 2020.

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