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15 January 2024

Vale David Lumsdaine (1931-2024)

David Lumsdaine Image: David Lumsdaine  
© Belinda Webster

This morning, the Australian Music Centre was informed of the passing of composer David Lumsdaine.

Born in Sydney on October 31, 1931, David Lumsdaine was educated at Sydney University and the Sydney Conservatorium (then known as the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music). In 1953 he travelled to England to study with Hungarian-British composer Matyas Seiber, and afterwards remained in the UK, working freelance as composer, conductor, teacher and music editor.

Early performances which attracted attention included orchestral works and the several cantatas in which he collaborated with Peter Porter. Lumsdaine's reputation was established with such works as Kelly Ground (1966), Flights (1967), Mandalas 1 (1967) and 2 (1969).

During the sixties he was immersed in British contemporary musical life; he set up The Manson Room for composers at the Royal Academy of Music, and was increasingly sought after as a composition teacher. This led to university appointments, first at Durham (where he founded and directed the Electronic Music Studio) and subsequently at King's College, London, where he shared a post with his wife, the composer Nicola LeFanu.

From 1973 Lumsdaine's life was been divided between Australia and the UK, with an increasing number of performances in both. He was also in demand, too, as a director of composers' workshops; with Don Banks, he pioneered the SPNM Composers' Weekends in the UK, and the Young Composers' Schools in Australia.

Throughout his career, Lumsdaine created a significant portfolio of major works including Aria for Edward John Eyre, Hagoromo, Mandala 5, Garden of Earthly Delights and Kali Dances.

Lumsdaine's music embodies his experience of the Australian landscape: the variety of its shapes, rhythms, colours and textures; the vitality of its creatures; its sudden violence; its sense of unlimited space and time. Vivid imagery and rich harmonic vocabulary became hallmarks of his style.

In 1993 he retired from academic life. Due to severe hearing difficulties, he gradually withdrew from the musical world and ceased composing in 1997.

He passed away at his home in York, UK.

We extend our deepest condolences to David's wife Nicola, and their family.

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Bye bye to a unique Australian voice

I studied with Nicola LeFanu at King's College in the late seventies and through her met David Lumsdaine. At the time he was working with a massive three-dimensional serial matrix, which he built to generate material for his works. I have never before or since seen anything like it. A group of us travelled up to Durham one winter for a set of master classes with Nicola and David, held in the snow-covered grounds of Durham Cathedral, where the Venerable Bede is buried. David was gracious enough to help us perform a three piano work I had written. One aspect not mentioned in his obitiuary is his work as an ornithologist. I felt sometimes that what he missed most about Australia was the birdsong.