KENNETH LEIGHTON (1929 - 1988)
Kenneth Leighton was born in the northern English city of Wakefield and started composing at the age of eight. He gained many formative musical experiences while a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral, before he went up to Queens College, Oxford, where he read Classics, and then the BMus. At Oxford his composition teacher was Bernard Rose, and after being awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship, he studied with Goffredo Petrassi in Rome. During his career he held several university appointments at Leeds, Edinburgh and Oxford, and in 1970 returned to Edinburgh as Reid Professor of Music until his untimely death.
Leighton’s compositions include three symphonies. The first of these (1964), a purely orchestral essay, was followed by two including voices (1974, 1984). He was drawn to writing for virtuosi which resulted in several concertos. There are three of these for piano (1951, 1960, 1969), and, amongst others, concertos for violin (1952), cello (1956) and organ (1970). His choral music includes the large-scale The Light Invisible (1958), and the well-known carol Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child (1948). He wrote an opera, Columba (1978), as well as vocal and chamber music, and a fine body of piano works that reflect his skills as a pianist. Characteristics of his music are its lyricism, rhythmic energy, virtuoso writing, and a penchant for instrumental colour.
The legacy of Leighton’s experience at Wakefield Cathedral was profound, and accounts for the reason why he was drawn to compose for the church throughout his career. As he commented: Any natural composer is a product of his background, experience and training. With my upbringing and my boyhood as a cathedral chorister this is perhaps why I respond emotionally to Christian subjects and texts church music is undoubtedly a channel of communication for me; early experiences are of immense and fundamental importance in musical as in all other kinds of development and I therefore speak as one who comes from inside the church.