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Hugh is a Composer based in South London and his Suite for Piano Duet South of the River evokes different emotions reflecting places in the area where he lives. The six pieces that make up the suite produce some sensuous soundscapes as well as high energy pieces.
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cd cover South of the River
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Sarah Walker, Robert Coleridge (piano)
Francesca Hanley (flute)
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Preview a section of PAPILLION WALK Sarah Walker and Robert Coleridge
or try UNITY with Francesca Hanley and Sarah Walker.



Biographical Notes


Hugh Shrapnel was born in Birmingham in 1947. His father is the writer and journalist Norman Shrapnel; his mother, Myfanwy, is an artist and his brother, John a well-known actor.

Music was important to Hugh from an early age through hearing his father - a keen violinist - playing. His musical appetites were whetted by his grandfather's large collection of old 78 records - everything from Bach, Mozart and Beethoven through 19th century operatic highlights to Vaughan Williams and Gershwin's 'American In Paris'.

In his early teens Hugh's interest in contemporary music was aroused by hearing Schoenberg's Serenade on the radio. Soon after he became acquainted with other 20th century classics and the works of Varese, Messiaen, Boulez, Stockhausen and Berio. He started oboe and piano lessons and began to compose: short piano pieces and songs in the style of Bartok, Stravinsky and Webern. At the age of 16 or so he wrote the music for a children's pantomime Rumplestiltskin, written by a school friend.

In 1965, Hugh met the composer Elizabeth Lutyens at the Dartington Summer School of music and had several private lessons with her. However, over a period of time he came to realise that the Schoenbergian twelve note tradition was not for him.

In 1966 Hugh entered the Royal Academy of Music studying oboe and composition with Norman Demuth - who thought Hugh's music was too way out for words. At the same time he also had lessons with the Australian composer David Lumsdaine who was very helpful and stimulating. It was through his instigation that Hughs work,Mobile for chamber ensemble, was performed in1968 at an Society for the Promotion of New Music concert by the Leonardo Ensemble at the Wigmore Hall and received excellent reviews.

Subsequently along with Chris Hobbs and Richard Reason, Hugh studied with Cornelius Cardew who was to become a great influence as he did on a whole generation of young British composers and performers. While at the Academy, Hugh received the Lady Holland Prize for composition.

Through Cardew, Hugh got to know the music of the American 'experimental' composers - Cage, Woolf, Feldman, Riley, La Monte Young who all made a great impression.

The late 1960s were a heady ferment of new music activity. During these years Hugh became involved with numerous concerts and 'events', playing works by La Monte Young, Christian Woolf and Cardew including the first British performance of Terry Riley's 'In C', while working together with other experimental musicians, as well as Cardew himself, John Tilbury, John White, Howard Skempton, Chris Hobbs, Michael Parsons, Michael Chant, etc. Hugh attended Cardew's experimental music class at Morley College which sowed the seeds for the Scratch Orchestra which Cardew founded with Michael Parsons and Howard Skempton in 1969.

The Scratch Orchestra opened up far reaching new perspectives which still have a relevance today. It represented a large and enthusiastic community spirit which seemed to embrace everything including environmental sonic landscapes, Victorian parlour songs, popular classics, theatre and mime, folk music, music hall, expeditions - both real and imaginary. Everything seemed possible and many barriers were broken down.

During these years Hugh wrote many 'experimental' pieces from multi-media 'environmental 'works to pieces using a very restricted number of pitches (often just the, white' notes) including the 4 hour Cantation II for multiple pianos which was performed at the Portsmouth College of Art in 1970.


In 1969 Hugh joined the Promenade Theatre Orchestra with John White, Chris Hobbs and Alec Hill, writing many pieces for its unusual instrumental line up of toy pianos, reed organs, wind instruments and miscellaneous percussion. Hugh also formed the Shrapnel Wood and Metal Band which gave exuberant (if sometimes rather raucous) renditions of Sousa marches, Gershwin songs, pieces by Tchaikovsky and Esra Reed. It made its debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Scratch Orchestra's historic 'Beethoven Today' concert in 1970.

In the early 70s Hugh, among many other 'experimental' musicians, began to move away from the musical avante garde and take up Marxist-Leninist ideas and evolve a music in support of working class struggles. During the course of this, he began to take a strong interest in folk and popular music traditions from England, Ireland and many other countries. This has made a lasting impression on him right up to the present day.

From 1974 Hugh played oboe (and occasionally sang!) in People's Liberation Music, a folk rock band specialising in songs of struggle from the British working class with Laurie Baker, Cornelius Cardew, John Marcangelo, Keith Rowe, Vicky Silva amongst others. He also joined the Progressive Cultural Association in 1976 working with Cardew and others on developing new music and art in support of the working class struggle of the time. Hugh began to write songs and instrumental pieces on working class and anti-fascist and anti-war themes. In 1981 Hugh composed the first version of 'Scenario' for 2 pianos - the first of a series of instrumental compositions combining melodic material from various 'popular' sources with the exploratory idiom of the experimental years.

During this time (from the mid 70s onwards) Hugh taught music in comprehensive schools in Lambeth and Birmingham. He returned to college in 1984 gaining a B Mus degree at Goldsmiths and winning the Barnard and Hales Prize. In the late 80s he led classes in experimental music in community centres in Kings Cross and Brixton; he was a tutor in composition and song writing evening classes at Sutton College and Goldsmiths together with a job at Lewisham Council.

In 1991 he was commissioned by the Wise-Taylor Partnership to write a work 'Unity' in collaboration with visual artists Caroline Wilkinson and Craig Bell for the exhibition 'Unity' put on at the Slaughterhouse Gallery in London. In 1992, Hugh formed the Redlands Consort with Michael Newman, Simon Allen and Francesca Hanley which has put on many concerts of new and experimental music together with arrangements of English Renaissance Music and folk music from around the world. The Redlands Consort put on a very successful Cage Memorial concert at the Conway Hall in 1993 (which included the first performance of Hugh's ,7 Canons In Memoriam John Cage for 2 percussionists). The group also played in the 25th Anniversary of the Scratch Orchestra day at the ICA in November 1994

In recent years Hugh has worked closely with the composer and pianist Robert Coleridge putting on many joint concerts of their own works as well as works by other British composers . They recently formed Amethyst - an electronic keyboard ensemble, with pianist Sarah Walker which has put on several concerts of works by John White and Howard Skempton as well as Terry Riley, Shrapnel and Coleridge. Between 1994-97 Hugh was Composer in Residence at Musicworks in South London.

Over the years , Hugh has written many works in a wide variety of genres. In May 1996 a very successful concert of his works was put on at the Blackheath Concert Halls. Hugh is an executive member of the Composers Guild and member of the Performing Rights Society. His music is published by Forward Music, Universal Edition and SFA Music


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