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David Lumsdaine (1931-2024) : Represented Artist

Lumsdaine's music embodies his experience of the Australian landscape... the vitality of its creatures; its sudden violence; its sense of unlimited space and time.

Random Audio Sample: Fire in leaf and grass (soprano with clarinet) by David Lumsdaine, from the CD Mandala 3

Photo of David Lumsdaine


Born in Sydney on October 31, 1931, David Lumsdaine was educated at Sydney University and the Sydney Conservatorium. In 1953 he travelled to England to study with 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). The vivid imagery and rich harmonic vocabulary of these pieces were to become hallmarks of his style; the lucidity of the music belies its technical virtuosity, much commented on at the time.

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.

In 1973 Lumsdaine returned to Australia, and since then his life has been divided between the two countries, with an increasing number of performances in both. In both Australia and UK he was much 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.

During the forty years of his career as a composer, Lumsdaine composed a body of strikingly original music, including such major works as Aria for Edward John Eyre, Hagoromo, Mandala 5, Garden of Earthly Delights and Kali Dances. As well as substantial orchestral commissions, Lumsdaine has written many solo and chamber works commissioned for, and by, individual performers.

At its heart, 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. An introduction to Lumsdaine's music can be found in the standard music dictionaries; more detailed studies have been written by Michael Hall (Between Two Worlds; The Music of David Lumsdaine, Arc music, 2003) and Michael Hooper (The Music of David Lumsdaine; Kelly Ground to Cambewarra, Ashgate, 2012).

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 moved to York (where his wife was appointed Professor of Music at York University) while still spending extended periods in Australia.

Teacher/Influence on

Jacques De Vos Malan

Selected Commissions

  Work Commission Details
Mandala 2 : for flute, clarinet, viola, violoncello and percussion Commissioned for the Pierrot Players
Six postcard pieces : for solo piano (1994) Commissioned by Tall Poppies for performance by Ian Munro.
Kali dances : large chamber ensemble (1994) Commissioned by Sydney Alpha Ensemble.
Digital sheet music sample Rain drums : ricercar for four drummers (1993) Commissioned by Synergy Percussion.
Digital sheet music sample Curlew in the mist : for solo shakuhachi (1993) Commissioned by Belinda Webster for performance by Riley Lee.
A garden of earthly delights : fantasia for cello and orchestra after Hieronymus Bosch (1992) Commissioned by Australian Broadcasting Corporation for performance by Sydney Symphony.

Analysis & Media

Book: Try whistling this : writings about music / Andrew Ford.

Book: The music of David Lumsdaine : Kelly Ground to Cambewarra / Michael Hooper.

Book: Between two worlds : the music of David Lumsdaine / Michael Hall.

Book: David Lumsdaine.

Book: Listening to the landscape : the influence of nature in the music of David Lumsdaine / Zubin Kanga.

Book: Australian music and modernism, 1960 - 1975 / Michael Hooper.

- Article: Creating a musical mandala

- Program note: David Lumsdaine's "Where the Lillies Grow"

- Program note: Where the Lilies Grow David Lumsdaine

- Review: War and Peace The Song Company 18 June 1994

- Review: War and Peace The Song Company 18 June 1994

- Review: War and Piece The Song Company 18 June 1994

- Article: Sound Harvest: David Lumsdaineā€™s 'White Dawn' and 'Big Meeting'
by Andrew Ford
Published in The Monthly, July 2011, No. 69