Alphabet of Composers: G, H, and I

Alphabet of Composers: G, H, and I

Antonia Chandler


The world of classical music has a long way to go when it comes to diversifying its administrations, ensembles, and audiences, but also its repertoire, which is full to the brim with incredible composers that are under-appreciated and under-programmed. Alphabet of Composers is dedicated to telling the stories of 26 composers of diverse backgrounds that have been left out of the traditional western classical 'canon' because of their race, gender, or both. I hope that you enjoy reading these as much as I enjoyed writing them, and that you remember their names. 

G is for: Ruth Gipps 

In 2018, the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra gave the U.S. premiere of Ruth Gipps’ Symphony No. 2, Op. 30 (1945) 73 years after it was written. About Gipps’ works, music director Adam Stern said “It is music of such stunning quality that one can only ask, ‘Why? Why did we not know this before?”

Ruth Gipps in her 1968 Morgan

Ruth Gipps (1921-1999) had an incredibly successful and varied career for a woman who was born under the burdens of 20th-century sexism and who came of age during the Second World War. Not unlike many musicians in the 21st century, Gipps pieced together a life as a professional musician by being diversely and intensely talented: she was a composer, conductor, concert pianist, orchestral oboist, organist, singer, and teacher. Born in Essex, Gipps began playing the piano at age four, when she heard her mother giving a piano lesson. When the student left, she went to the piano and played part of the piece perfectly from memory. Headstrong even as a child, she insisted on being called “Wid” rather than Ruth from the age of two - a nickname that stuck the rest of her life.

Gipps studied piano at the Royal College of Music, later adding choral classes and oboe to her studies, but her main passion was composing. In 1939 she earned her Bachelor of Music, and went on to study composition at Durham University. Her works started to receive traction and accolades in the early 1940s, and Quintet, Op. 16 (1941) for oboe, clarinet, and strings was premiered at Wigmore Hall when she was only 21. A year later Knight in Armour, Op. 8 (1940) was performed on the last night of the BBC Proms in Royal Albert Hall.

During the war Gipps performed often as a soloist for CEMA (Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), a charity organization founded to provide entertainment for those working in factories and hospitals.

In 1944 Gipps moved to Birmingham to become second oboist with the City of Birmingham Orchestra. She was able to continue her studies at Durham University, where in 1947 at the age of 26 she became the youngest British woman to earn a doctorate of music.

When she was 33, an injury Gipps had suffered in childhood from a bicycle accident resurfaced and put an end to her career as a pianist, so she focused her energy into conducting and composing. In 1955 Gipps founded the London Repertoire Orchestra for young professionals, which included at least one work by a living composer on every concert. Gipps led the group for 31 years, which provided her with the opportunity to conduct when she was often denied the experience on account of her gender.

Ruth Gipps as a conductor 

During her 50-year career Gipps wrote well over 100 works, including five symphonies, and numerous concerti and chamber works. There is an excellent CD released in 2018 by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales of selected orchestral works by Gipps. Their performance of Symphony No. 2, Op. 30 (1945) is particularly wonderful. Written in one movement consisting of eight distinct sections and lasting about 20 minutes, it is full of lush textures and expertly orchestrated themes, and reminds me of 1950s Hollywood music with its heroic melodies and prominent brass lines.

My favorite work by Gipps is Horn Concerto, Op. 58 (1968) which she wrote for her son Lance, who was a horn player. It is extremely difficult, with the range extending over three and a half octaves from the lowest possible notes on the horn to higher than what is probable for most horn players. Sadly this means that it is seldom performed, and there is only one commercially available recording done by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with David Pyatt on the horn. It is an extraordinary performance of an emotive and gorgeous composition. With Southbank Sinfonia in March I was thrilled to perform Seascape, Op. 53 (1958) for double wind quintet, a very moving and romantic short work inspired by the Sussex coast.

Ruth Gipps, who died at the age of 78 after suffering from cancer and a stroke, is slowly coming into the edge of the spotlight with more performances and recordings being released, but she is far from being recognized and celebrated for the incredible composer and person she was. When talking about her life and career, Gipps once said “I can't remember deciding to be a musician. One doesn't make decisions about plain necessities…Some of us were composers from the beginning of our lives; we had no choice in the matter, only the life-long duty to make the most of a given talent.”

Watch Antonia and our other horn player, Jack, perform A Taradiddle for Two Horns, Op.56, by Ruth Gipps


Gipps: Orchestral Works, with the BBC National Symphony of Wales, conducted by Rumon Gamba: 

Seascape, Op. 53 (1958) for double wind quintet, with River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Mei-Ann Chen:

Horn Concerto, Op. 58 (1968), performed by David Pyatt with the London Philharmonic, conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite:

H is for: Adolphus Hailstork 

Adolphus Hailstork, born in 1941, is the first living composer featured on this blog. He is not only a renowned composer with a vast output of works for choir, orchestra, solo instruments, opera, and everything in between, he is also a dedicated teacher and spokesperson for the value of public music education.

Hailstork was born in Rochester and spent most of his childhood in Albany, both in upstate New York. As a young child he joined the choir of the episcopal cathedral, which was his first experience with music. In public school he took a state aptitude test for music and did so well that they provided him with free instrumental lessons, first on the violin, and then on the piano and organ. When asked about his early leanings towards composition, he said that he used to improvise for hours on the piano instead of practice his scales and arpeggios, so he figured he should take up composition. In his words, “I love making stuff up!”

In 1959 Hailstork attended Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington D.C., to study composition with Mark Fax and Warner Lawson, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music in 1963. He went on to study with Vittorio Giannini and David Diamond at Manhattan School of Music, and earned a Master of Music in 1966. After serving in the U.S. Army in Germany for two years, he attended Michigan State University, where he graduated with a Ph.D in 1971.

Adolphus Hailstork

Hailstork’s compositions blend many “eclectic” influences, including European and African American musical styles. When asked about his compositional style and rejection of post-modernism, he said “I decided I didn’t want to go that way. I’ve spent most of my career trying to be honest with myself. I call it 'authenticism' — that’s my 'ism.'” He also uses composition as a way to connect with Black culture and history, and a number of his works are about or dedicated to Black heroes and icons like Zora Neale Hurston, Martin Luther King Jr., William Grant Still, and John J. Parker.

One of the most moving works by Hailstork is Epitaph for a Man who Dreamed, In Memoriam: Martin Luther King Jr (1979) which was premiered by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1980. Written in a very romantic sounding idiom, with soaring strings and choral brass, it is a stunning tribute to the civil rights leader. Hailstork said that the piece “represents the graveside service of a great man. The mourners gather and sing a spiritual, the music gradually swelling as more people arrive and join in the singing. After reflecting on the hopes and dreams inspired by this leader, they lift their bowed heads and move to carry on the work he began."

Hailstork also draws on his African heritage for some of his compositions. Symphony No. 2 (1999) was inspired by his trip to Ghana a few years previously. He said “There I visited the forts along the coast of Ghana, and saw the dungeons where the slaves were held before being shipped overseas. I put my reaction to that sad scene in movement two of this symphony. In movement four I sought to reflect the determination of a people who had arrived in America as slaves, but struggled, with courage and faith, against numerous odds.”

Hailstork is currently writing a requiem cantata called A Knee on the Neck for Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Chorus, and Orchestra, dedicated to George Floyd. The text is written by Dr. Herbert Martin, who completed it within a week of Floyd’s murder. About the work, Hailstork said “It captures a lot of things that should be mentioned and are universal. That’s why the whole world is upset over watching that murder.”

Along with a full schedule of premieres and commissions, Hailstork is also Professor of Music at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. When asked in an interview about increasing Black representation in classical concerts, Hailstork said “There are lots [of Black composers] out there, they just don’t get the chance to be performed … We need artistic administrators and conductors and performers to be interested … They have to care.”


Symphony No. 2
(1999) and Symphony No. 3 (2002), with the Grand Rapids Symphony, conducted by David Lockington:


Epitaph for a Man who Dreamed, In Memoriam: Martin Luther King Jr (1979), with the Chicago Sinfonietta, conducted by Paul Freeman:

I is for: Jean Eichelberger Ivey 

Jean Eichelberger Ivey (1923-2010) was one of the earliest and most consequential pioneers of electronic music in the United States. A sharp, quick-witted, creative force throughout her long career, she wrote in a vast number of styles and for diverse instrumentation, but is most remembered for her works involving electronics and for founding the Peabody Electronic Music Studio in 1967.

Ivey was born into a conservative family in Washington D.C., where her father was the editor of an anti-feminist magazine called the Woman Patriot: a National Newspaper for Home and National Defense Against Woman Suffrage, Feminism and Socialism. Nevertheless, Ivey went to Trinity College (D.C.) on a full scholarship and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in 1944. She earned two Master’s degrees, one in Piano from Peabody Institute (of the Johns Hopkins University) in 1946, and one in composition from the Eastman School of Music.

Jean Eichelberger Ivey

Throughout her twenties Ivey had a successful performance career as a pianist and often programmed her own works on recitals. She performed across the United States and Europe, as well as on a tour of Mexico sponsored by the US embassy. After several years of touring she returned to school and received a Doctorate of Music in composition from the University of Toronto in 1972. In Toronto she studied with Claudio Arrau, Pasquale Tallarico, and Katherine Bacon, and discovered a love and aptitude for electronic music.

In 1967, Ivey founded Peabody’s Electronic Music Studio, where she was on the composition faculty from 1982 to 1997. For the first few years she hosted summer music workshops for school teachers as well as electronic music programs open to the general public. In 1969, the Electronic Music Studio opened for the first time year-round with classes for conservatory students. It was not only the first electronic music studio in the state of Maryland, it was the first in the United States within a conservatory.

Although she is most remembered for her electronic compositions, Ivey’s favorite medium of composition was for voice, and she was wary of being over-associated with electronic music. She once said “If I wrote a good deal of electronic music in the early days of our studio, it was for the same reason that Bach wrote a lot of church music while he was in Leipzig: it went with the job!”

One of Ivey's vocal works Testament of Eve (1976) was premiered by the Baltimore Symphony. It is a monodrama, meaning an operatic or theatrical piece sung by only one person/character, and is scored for mezzo-soprano, orchestra, and tape. Ivey wrote the text for Testament herself, which tells the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden from Eve’s perspective. About the story, Ivey said “To me as a woman, it is of special interest that in this myth, a woman makes the choice.” “I feel that Eve has had a very bad press all these years; that we should think of her as heroic. She chooses knowledge and courage and all those good things, and she chooses them not only for herself but for all of her children of the human race. She chooses to give up being a pampered pet in the Garden of Eden in order to explore the possibility of being greater than she has been.”

One of Ivey’s most imaginative pieces for electronics, and one of my personal favorites, is Pinball (1963). Originally written for a short art film by Emmy Award winning filmmaker Wayne Sourbeer called Montage V: How to Play Pinball, the music is entirely based on pinball machine sounds that have been electronically modified with filters and tape techniques.

Unlike Pinball, most of Ivey’s works included a mix of electronic music and live performers. Three Works of Night (1973) was composed for the Peabody Conservatory Contemporary Music Ensemble, for soprano, instruments, and tape. The tape is turned on and off where directed in the score, which “frees the ensemble … from the rigidity which a continuous tape part might impose, and places most of the burden of coordination in performance on the shoulders of the conductor.” It is a beautiful and evocative setting of three texts, The Astronomer by Walt Whitman, I Dreamed of Sappho by Richard Hovey, and Heraclitus by Callimachus (translated by William Cory), each one getting darker in subject and mood as the piece goes on.

Ivey passed away in Baltimore in 2010. In a journal article about her electronic music workshops for teachers in 1967 and 1968, she said this about creativity and contemporary music: “Genuine creativity involves being open to the new and the untried. The new medium of electronic music, with its vast possibilities and its lack of a long, well-formulated tradition, may call forth, better than an older medium, a sense of what it is to deal with the unfamiliar in an open and original way.”


Pinball (1963):

Three Works of Night (1973), with Catherine Rowe, soprano, and the Peabody Conservatory Contemporary Music Ensemble:

My thanks and appreciation to Southbank Sinfonia for supporting this project, and Kate Walker for her gracious help in editing. Where I have quoted or used information from other people and publications, those sources can be found in the references. 

Find out more about Antonia here 

Check out a playlist of listening recommendations here:


Read 'Alphabet of Composers: A, B, and C' here
Read 'Alphabet of Composers: D, E, and F'  here 


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