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Ivy Priaulx Rainier (3 February 1903 10 October 1986) was a South African-Britishmarker composer. Although she lived most of her life in Englandmarker and died in Francemarker, her compositional style was strongly influenced by the African music remembered from her childhood. She never adopted 12-tone or serial techniques, but her music shows a profound understanding of that musical language. She can be credited with the first truly athematic works composed in England. Her Cello Concerto was premiered by Jacqueline du Pré in 1964, and her Violin Concerto Due Canti e Finale was premiered by Yehudi Menuhin in 1977.


Priaulx Rainier was born in 1903 in Howickmarker, Natal, South Africa to a father of Huguenot descent and an English mother. One of her sisters was a cellist. She studied the violin at the South African College of Musicmarker in Cape Townmarker after her family moved there when she was aged 10, but moved permanently to Londonmarker at the age of 17, in 1920, when she took up a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Musicmarker (RAM). She studied there with Rowsby Woof and Sir John Blackwood McEwen. She taught at Badminton Schoolmarker, Bristolmarker and also played violin in a string quartet. She had encouragement as a composer from Arnold Bax, and studied with Nadia Boulanger during 1937 in Parismarker but considered herself essentially self-taught.

Priaulx Rainer started composing in 1924 but little came from her pen until 1937, after a long period of recuperation following a serious car accident in 1935. Her first acknowledged work was Three Greek Epigrams for voice and piano. Her first mature work was the String Quartet No. 1 in C minor (1939). It was given a private performance in 1940 but not performed publicly until 1944, at the Wigmore Hallmarker. It was recorded in 1951 by the Amadeus Quartet. The music was used for a ballet, Night Spell, performed by the José Limón company in the USA in 1951 and at Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1957. She often used ostinato-like repetition and alternation in her works, often of a percussive character. These characteristics are apparent in the Viola Sonata and the Barbaric Dance Suite for piano (1949; premiered in November 1950 by Margaret Kitchin). There is also a Suite for clarinet and piano (1943), a Sinfonia da camera for strings (1947; commissioned by a close friend, Michael Tippett; premiered by Walter Goehr), and a Ballet Suite (1950). Her first large-scale work for voices was Orpheus Sonnets for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra.

In 1939 she was appointed a Professor of Composition at the RAM, where she remained until 1961. She was elected a Fellow in 1952. Her students included Nigel Butterley, Jeremy Dale Roberts, Rachel Cavalho and Christopher Small. She and Michael Tippett co-founded the St Ives September Festival, first presented in June 1953.

The first of Priaulx Rainier’s large orchestral works was Phalaphala (the word refers to an African chief's ceremonial horn), first heard in 1961, celebrating Sir Adrian Boult's tenth anniversary with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1960).

Peter Pears and the Purcell Singers gave the first performance of Priaulx Rainier's Requiem (1956; tenor and unaccompanied chorus) at the Aldeburgh Festivalmarker that year. It was set to the poem Requiem, written for her in 1938-1940 in Paris by David Gascoyne and dedicated to the future victims of war. Pears also commissioned Rainier's Cycle for Declamation (1953) and The Bee Oracles (1970), a setting of Edith Sitwell's poem The Bee-Keeper scored for tenor, flute, oboe, violin, cello and harpsichord. Pears first sang it publicly at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1970.

The oboe quartet Quanta was commissioned by William Glock, Head of Music at the BBC, and written for Janet Craxton and the London Oboe Quartet. The title comes from the Quantum Theory.

The Cello Concerto was written for a Prom Concert held on 3 September 1964 where it was introduced to the world by Jacqueline du Pré and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Norman Del Mar (at the same concert, du Pré played Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto with the same orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent, the year before she made her famous recording of it under Sir John Barbirolli.) It has been claimed that du Pré "loathed every second" of the Rainier concerto, "not only because of its idiom, but also because it was technically beyond her".

Priaulx Rainier's largest work of that period was the orchestral suite Aequora Lunae, a continuous piece in seven sections, each one descriptive of one of the Moon's seas. It was dedicated to Barbara Hepworth, whose acquaintance she made in the summer of 1949 when she stayed in St Ives, Cornwallmarker, using a fisherman’s loft as a studio. She remained a close friend of Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. She claimed that only sculptors and architects fully understood her music. Another work premiered at a Prom Concert was Ploërmel (1973), an evocation of one her favourite places, Ploërmel in the North West of Francemarker, near the mouth of the River Loiremarker. It uses an orchestra of winds and percussion, including timpani, tubular bells, hand-bells, antique cymbals, high and low gongs, xylophone and marimba.

Her violin concerto, Due Canti e Finale, was commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin, who performed it at the 1977 Edinburgh Festival with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Charles Groves. Menuhin described Rainier as "having a musical imagination of a colour and variety scarcely to be believed". On the other hand, after hearing her music, William Walton commented that she "must have barbed-wire underwear". Concertante for Two Winds and Orchestra was written for and dedicated to Janet Craxton and Thea King and was premiered at the Proms in 1981.

There have been infrequent performances of Priaulx Rainier's music as they are difficult for both performer and listener. Premieres of her music were not always adequate, reducing the chances of there being further performances. Her complete chamber music was recorded and broadcast by the BBC in 1976.She was awarded a Doctorate in Music (Honoris Causa) by the University of Cape Townmarker in June 1982.She was also a passionate gardener and ecologist who helped design, and planted the exotic plants in, Barbara Hepworth’s Sculpture Garden in St Ives. Her last work, Wildlife Celebration, was commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin and performed in aid of Gerald Durrell's Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Priaulx Rainier died on 10 October 1986 at Besse-en-Chandessemarker in France, aged 83. The date was the 70th birthday of David Gascoyne, the poet to whose words she had written her Requiem of 1956.

Most of her music manuscripts are now housed at the J. W. Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town.

On 28 March 1987 a concert in celebration of her life and work was held at Wigmore Hall. A pictorial biography, Come and Listen to the Stars Singing, written by June Opie, was published in 1988.

Her centenary on 3 February 2003 was marked by a special program on Australia's ABC Classic FM.

Her "lost" early String Quartet (1922) was given its world premiere on 8 September 2004 at the Tate St.Ives Visual Music Week.


  1. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. Music Web International
  3. Classical Music on the Web
  4. British Music Information Centre
  5. Royal Academy of Music
  6. York gate Musical Notes
  7. The Independent, Obituary of Margaret Kitchin, 1 July 2008
  8. Schott Music
  9. ABC Classic FM
  10. Australian Composers
  11. The Guardian, The God of small things, 28 May 2004
  12. Fanfare
  13. The Canadian Encyclopedia
  14. Perfect Sound Forever
  15. Barbara Hepworth Biography
  17. Salisbury Cathedral and Close
  18. Obituary of David Gascoyne, The Times, 28 November 2001
  19. Another source says it was premiered at the Wigmore Hall on 21 March 1971.
  20. Records International
  21. ArkivMusik
  22. MDT
  23. Classical Music on the Web
  24. Alison Hodge Publishers
  25. On an Overgrown Path
  26. David Mason Greene, Greene's Biographical Encyclopaedia of Composers says she died in London.
  27. 3rd National Grahamstown Music Competition 2009
  29. About Tate


  • Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954, Eric Blom, ed.

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