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Robert Irving (conductor)

Robert Augustine Irving, DFC*, (28 August 1913 – 13 September 1991) was a British conductor whose reputation was mainly as a ballet conductor.

Born in Winchester, England, the son of mountaineer and author R. L. G. Irving, he was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, graduating with a degree in music. He also studied with Malcolm Sargent and Constant Lambert at the Royal College of Music from 1934 to 1936.

During World War II, he served with the Royal Air Force, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and bar.

He then became assistant conductor with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and was conductor and musical director of Sadler's Wells Ballet from 1949 to 1958, working closely with Sir Frederick Ashton on several ballets. Having assisted Ashton in choosing music for his Picnic at Tintagel for New York City Ballet in 1952, Irving helped the choreographer to surmount musical problems in the last act of his Sylvia in September the same year, by interpolating passages from the same composer's La Source. In 1956, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Vic-Wells, now Royal Ballet, Irving arranged music by Alexander Glazunov for a "grand pas de quatorze" by Ashton, Birthday Offering.[1]

In 1954 he introduced and conducted music from Act II of Swan Lake with Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes for television, and in 1958 for BBC television he conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra in Les Sylphides with Nadia Nerina and Philip Chatfield.[2] He conducted the 1957 telecast of Ashton's Cinderella on NBC in the series Producer's Showcase.[3]

From 1958 to 1989, he served as music director of the New York City Ballet, where he worked extensively with choreographer George Balanchine. For many years he conducted the New York City Ballet's annual production of The Nutcracker, a task he repeated in the 1958 US telecast of the ballet.[4]

He died in his birthplace in 1991, aged 78.[5] A small memorial plaque to him may be found on the north-east wall of Winchester College chapel cloisters.


Irving's many recordings of ballet music include:

Non-dance music recorded by him includes:

  • Grieg Peer Gynt Suite No. 2, Op. 55 with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1952 for HMV.[8]
  • Dohnányi Suite in F-sharp minor coupled with Tchaikovsky's Hamlet, Op. 67, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, for HMV in 1954
  • Turina's La procesión del Rocio, Op. 9, and Danzas fantásticas, Op. 22, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, HMV
  • Arnold's Four Scottish Dances, Op. 59, along with Britten's Matinées musicales, Op. 24 and Soirées musicales, Op. 9 for HMV in 1957
  • Irving contributed six tracks to the 1961 EMI LP 'Musical Merry-Go-Round' which attempted to recreate the effect of a revolving sound, using left and right stereo channels.[9]



  1. ^ Vaughan, David. Frederick Ashton and his Ballets, Dance Books, London, 1999, p266.
  2. ^ British Film Institute archive page for Swan Lake 1954, accessed 2 January 2019.
  3. ^ WorldCat entry for Cinderella with Fonteyn, Somes, Ashton, Macmillan, conducted by Irving accessed 3 January 2019.
  4. ^ IMDb: The Nutcracker
  5. ^ New York Times, 17 September 1991
  6. ^ a b c Philip Stuart. Decca Classical, 1929-2009 (Discography). AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music. Accessed 20 December 2016.
  7. ^ Naxos
  8. ^ Stuart, Philip. The LSO Discography. 2009. Available at CHARM website, accessed 2 January 2019.
  9. ^ Anonymous note for LP EMI CSD 1333 Musical Merry-Go-Round. The Sinfonia of London conducted by Robert Irving and Douglas Gamley.