Buxton Daeblitz Orr, composer, born 18 April 1924, married (1) Isabelle Roberts, 1955 (2) Jean Latimer, 1968, died 27 December 1997.

Buxton Orr's substantial catalogue of expertly crafted compositions ought to be part of the standard concert repertoire; instead, they are known to a small cohort of admirers and to an entire generation of pupils who have made sure that his music remains a living proposition.

Orr was born in Glasgow in 1924, into an artistic family: his mother, Marie Daeblitz, was for years a mainstay of the Glasgow Citizens' theatre company, and his maternal grandfather, Richard Daeblitz, an immigrant from Germany, led the second violins of the Scottish Orchestra under conductors of the stature of Nikisch, Richter, Richard Strauss and other names of like renown. Buxton, whose voice never lost its Scottish burr, would hear stories of these great men at his grandfather's knee.

Orr was initially intended to follow a career in medicine but, like Robert Simpson just a few years earlier, abandoned it for music. Between 1952 and 1955, now established in London, Orr studied composition with Benjamin Frankel, with whom he was later to work on a number of film and television scores; he also took conducting lessons with Aylmer Buesst. It was following in Frankel's film-music footsteps that Orr first came to public notice, even if marginally, first with the scores to a number of Boris Karloff and other horror films and then, with the score to the film of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn and directed by Sam Spiegel. The first of his serious works to attract genuine, widespread attention was his one-act opera The Wager, completed in 1961 and premiered by the New Opera Company at Sadler's Well that year.

Orr's composing career progressed alongside growing prominence as a teacher. He took up an appointment at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1965, where he was to remain for the next quarter-century, giving up teaching to devote himself to full-time composition only in 1990. Orr's commitment to teaching was whole-hearted: he founded, for example, the Guildhall New Music Ensemble in 1975 to allow his students to play "difficult" contemporary scores by composers such as Birtwistle and Stravinsky. Indeed, teaching was never a dry, academic experience for Orr: harmony and counterpoint weren't taught by standing up and talking about them; instead, his pupils got to know their theory from the music itself, from the understanding that comes with performing.

The breadth of his interests is confirmed in his ten-year conductorship, from 1970 to 1980, of the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra (founded by Barry Guy, an Orr pupil), with which he toured England and the Continent, taking the group to the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1972.

But despite his music-making and the hundreds of students who passed through his hands at the Guildhall, it is for his own music that Buxton Orr will be remembered – if it is given a chance to be heard. His earliest works are quite close to the soundworld of Britten, but it was another Benjamin who was soon to prove more influential: his teacher, Ben Frankel, from whom Orr adopted a kind of tonally directed use of the twelve-note row, contrapuntally organised to produce music with a real sense of purpose.

His first love was the human voice and, by extension, the stage: apart from The Wager (recently revised for chamber orchestra in the hope of stimulating further performances), there are several music-theatre pieces, The Unicorn (1981), The Last Circus (1984) and Ring In The New (1986), for the last of which, with Michael Bawtree, Orr won the 1988 Seagrams Prize of the America National Music Theatre Network, during his stay as composer-in-residence at the Banff Centre for Fine Arts in Alberta, Canada. There are six song-cycles for voice and piano or instrumental ensemble, as well The Knight and the Lady (1978) for solo voice, and The Echoing Green (1961), after Blake, for children voices and piano or orchestra.

His orchestral works likewise show his concern for his audience. In compositions intended for serious listeners, such as the forty-minute Sinfonia Ricercante of 1987, Orr deployed his considerable technique to produce music that would satisfy the most demanding intellect. Yet in others, like the plain Triptych (1977), the Fanfare and Processional for strings (1968) or the Carmen Fantasy for cello and orchestra (1987), his sense of humour guaranteed works of immediate appeal. (In fact, A Carmen Fantasy began life as the first of a series of four operatic fantasies for cello and piano; the others are Portrait of the Don (on Don Giovanni, 1987), Catfish Row (on Porgy and Bess, 1997) and Tales from Windsor Forest (on Falstaff, 1997).)

A consistent feature of Orr's surprisingly large output is his music for brass or wind band, some ten in total and composed across his career. There are two concertos, for trombone (1971) and for trumpet (1976), both with brass band, and a number of other pieces, not least A John Gay Suite for symphonic wind band (1972), Tournament for ten solo brass (1985) and the recent Narration for symphonic winds (1993), drawn from music for The Alchemist, an opera on which Orr was still working at the time of his death. (He left part of the first act orchestrated and the rest complete in piano score. After Benjamin Frankel's death Orr orchestrated the piano score of Frankel '92s opera Marching Song; The Alchemist now requires another composer to perform Orr the same service.)

There is also a substantial corpus of chamber music, including two string quartets, three piano trios (the only "serious" Orr to have been recorded on CD), a recent string trio, and most of the series of six Refrains, composed between 1970 and 1992 for a variety of instrumental forces; these are basically extended rondo structures in which, as the composer put it, "a recurrent idea is used to bind together a total structure".

But a dry list of compositions doesn't give a picture of the man, of the delighted twinkle in his eye when he was discussing something he held important (I once sat virtually speechless through a dinner where Orr and Hans Keller discussed, with genuine passion, the significance of a particular gesture in a single bar in the slow movement of a Mozart piano concerto). And he never lost that Scottish ability to draw the humour from misfortune. He told with glee of attending a performance of Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House when he was suddenly stricken with the most appalling upheaval in his stomach. Fearing the worst, he swiftly pushed his way past the knees and baleful glares of the stalls audience to try to get out in time. And, Orr would ask with a grin, what do you think the sailors' chorus on stage was singing at this point? "Heave! Oh, Heave!"

It is time that the classical world caught up with the music of Buxton Orr. That recording of the Piano Trios appeared around a year ago on the Marco Polo label, and A John Gay Suite is due out before too long from Naxos, the sister, budget label of Marco Polo; A Celtic Suite for strings (1968) has also been recorded by Black Box. But that will hardly give an adequate picture of Orr's ability as a composer. Two CD programmes – a coupling of the Sinfonia Ricercante and Triptych and, less ambitiously, a disc of the two String Quartets and the String Trio – push themselves forward as an obvious place to start.

Martin Anderson

The composer Buxton Orr (b.Glasgow, 1924), died on 27th December, in a hospice near his Hereford home, following a short illness. He would have been 74 in April.

Orr gave up a career in medicine in the early 1950s to study composition with Benjamin Frankel - with whom he was to have a lasting friendship and professional association - and conducting with Aylmer Buesst. His early professional work was in films (mainly of the horror genre, such as "Grip of the Strangler", "Corridors of Blood" and "Suddenly Last Summer") and in the theatre (including the original production of "Flowering Cherry".

Later, his compositions embraced songs, chamber music, works for brass and wind band, orchestral music and a one-act opera "The Wager", staged by the New Opera Company at Sadler's Wells in 1961 and subsequently broadcast. In 1965 he joined the staff of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and in 1975, founded the Guildhall New Music Ensemble. Between 1970 and 1980 he was conductor of the London Jazz Composer's Orchestra, touring England and Europe where, among other venues, he participated in the 1972 Berlin Jazz Festival. Orr received various commissions for new works from, among others, Glasgow University, the Saltire Society, the Park Lane Group, the BBC (1979 Bath Festival), radio Scotland, the City of London Festival and Merseyside Arts.

His interest in music-theatre led to writing "Unicorn", "The Last Circus" and "Ring in the New", the latter during his period as Composer-in-Residence and Associate Director of the Music Theatre Studio Ensemble at the Banff Centre for Fine Arts in Canada, and for which he and Michael Bawtree were awarded the Seagrams Prize of the American National Music Theatre Network in 1988. In 1990, Orr gave up regular teaching to devote more time to composition and moved to the Wye Valley, near the English-Welsh border, where he lived until his death last month.

The composer's fluency and invention resulted in an interesting range of works, from the lighter "A John Gay Suite" (1972) for Symphonic Wind Band, to the expansive and cerebral "Sinfonia Ricercante" (1987) for full orchestra, the latter demonstrating his preoccupation with serial procedures in his serious output, which, in part, he had acquired during his studies and association with Frankel. Like many fine composers, his work is grossly underrepresented in the recording catalogues, with, thus far, only one entire CD (his three Piano Trios, on the Marco Polo label and played by the York Trio) given over to his music.

Buxton Orr's background was not only musical: his close relations numbered among them the Actresses Phyllida Law and her daughter Emma Thompson.

He is survived by both his first and second wives and, although he had no children, was much loved by all those younger composers and musicians whose talent and careers he helped to foster during many dedicated years of teaching and advice. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him well and enjoyed his kindness and friendship.


BUXTON ORR 1924-1997 - A personal reminiscence

It is with great sadness that I set about writing this obituary for Buxton Orr who died on December 27th aged 73 after a short illness. I wanted to share a few memories as a brief memorial which may be shared by the many thousands of students that went through his hands whilst he worked at the Guildhall School of Music (1965-1990). I was one of a handful of young composers on the Advanced Composers Course at the Guildhall. This ran as a post-graduate year for composers from all backgrounds. Buxton was, I believe, one of the movers behind establishing it and he had a weekly input. His method of teaching was hands on : "Let's take a difficult piece and put it together." I remember attempting the piano part of a piece by David Bedford and making a complete mess of playing inside the piano. Buxton was very calm and gave me extra time and many hints. We met again when I wrote to him in 1987 just in case he had written anything for children's voices. As it happened he had: the unperformed The Echoing Green. The piece proved to be a great success when it was performed at St. Helen's School, Abingdon. If Britten's name had been attached to it, the piece would have been performed countless times by now.

In the same programme I put on my Five Introits for girls voices, and Buxton was most kind in his remarks and support as I attempted to get the work published. I continued in contact with him, and possess a wealth of correspondence. I also sent him a tape of some half a dozen of my works which he kindly analysed, one-by-one, making very helpful remarks. My own style being different from his in every way imaginable, yet he was able to see beyond the notes, as it were, to what was really being said. He had had the tape only 2 weeks yet he wrote back (5/2/93) apologising for the delay!

I saw him on and off but the last time was in April 1997 when we spent the whole afternoon looking through his projected opera The Alchemist which remained partially unorchestrated on his death. There was another work: Piccolo Sinfonia on the computer. He was able to give me a flavour of this piece. I wonder if it was ever completed. In both of these pieces he was experimenting in new directions with his own, personal style of twelve tone music.

Buxton wrote the programme notes free of charge for the CPO Frankel series. Benjamin Frankel was Orr's teacher. His music, at one time totally unfashionable, is now enjoying much wider exposure. Buxton and other equally enlightened musicians have made such an effort to resurrect Frankel's music greatly to our benefit.

Buxton was a generous and open man, who so very much wanted to communicate through his music. When this happened he was in his element and it did not matter what the medium or the performers. Some of his works are being recorded and known. These include the John Gay Suite, Celtic Suite and the film music. It is a great sadness that he will not be around to enjoy the success of his music.

Gary Higginson

ENQUIRIES ABOUT BUXTON ORR'S MUSIC should now be directed to his musical executor:

E.D. Kennaway, 218a Finchley Rd, London NW3 6DH. ( 0171 435 2897. Fax 0171 419 2404).

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