Richard Harvey, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

Initially and very much, my father, who was a talented “evenings and weekends” composer.

He let me develop the mindset that there could be a “composer” within the walls of one’s own house, not just adorning the pages of history books. There was a long period during which people (including teachers) were effectively saying to me “enjoy music as an aspect of your youth…you’ll grow up and have to get a proper job”. Later on my father and the composer, Stephen Dodgson, made me “believe”.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

I have mainly been influenced by film composers that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. As a student I believed that a career as a composer meant writing complex and inaccessible music and only getting paid if you had some kind or grant or sponsorship. For my fist ten years of composing I just (if I called myself anything) called myself a writer, not wishing to be considered an upstart by defining myself as a composer! Film composers taught me that you could express yourself, be appreciated for doing so and make a living from doing it!

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

The fact that (unlike in earlier times) as a musician or writer or artist, being versatile or “multi-tasking” was frowned upon during the 20th century. In classical and baroque times composers were expected to play more than one instrument, conduct and arrange (all of which are things that I do). Had he been born in the 20C even Leonardo’s versatility would have been frowned on! Trying to concentrate and lose oneself in creative work when there are just SO many unwelcome distractions in modern-day life.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Knowing exactly who will play and conduct your piece on the occasion of its first performance. AND, where (and in what kind of acoustic) it will be first heard. All of this presents you with more pleasure than challenges! The biggest challenge is the ticking clock towards the dreaded deadline – always!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

The performer is the messenger of the composer and as such is the conduit for all the intellectual and emotional content of your music. It’s really nice to be able to immerse yourself in all the recordings and concerts of these artists to get to know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. By writing to their strengths you help make them look and sound good and hopefully leaving them with a work that they will want to play again and again.

Of which works are you most proud?

I’m still learning, so I try not to let myself get carried away, but the Concertos that I wrote for Michala Petri and John Williams seem to work well, both live and on record. I am happy with my latest crop of Piano compositions because they have been appreciated by top pianists, but can also be played by players of moderate ability. Some of my TV themes appear to have stood the test of time like my “Dalgleish theme” for ITV’s P.D. James detective series.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Tonal or even “neo-romantic” but above all I try to communicate with people that I like and who like or are like me! I would hate to write music so rarified and recondite that my Mother couldn’t enjoy it! Film music can reduce people to tears of joy or sadness without it needing to be moping or over sentimental and as film music now is unprecedentedly popular outside it’s original context it’s almost a new art form. This has inspired me a lot.

How do you work?

Usually at the piano. I create a library of core thematic material before designing the structure of the piece. Note my use of the words create and design…the structure is more of an intellectual process so that can develop as the inventory of ideas builds up. If ideas are coming think and fast I don’t want to break the flow by writing everything down so I often record my musings so I can jot them all down later on.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Vivaldi – his music is as fresh now as the day it was composed

Bach – sits on the very top of the family tree of western music. Over-arching ultra genius.

Rachmaninov/Paganini/Handel set the all-time standards for composer/performers

Ravel/Strauss the best musical storytellers.

John T. Williams and Tom Newman amongst contemporary film composers.

Performers in my lifetime: Jaqueline Du Pre, John Ogdon, John Williams, Ruggiero Ricci, Roger Chase (Viola)

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being played. Being heard. Being enjoyed (sometimes being paid?!)

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To remember that you are unique as a human being and nobody else will ever write or play with the same voice. Don’t be tempted to copy others. Instead look to seek out those areas of creativity that are unique to you.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

More of the same. Still writing, still performing, still learning.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Listening to the slow movement of the Brahms Clarinet quintet on an English summer evening with a glass of 1990 Mouton Rothschild in hand!

What is your most treasured possession?

A Boxwood Alto Recorder crafted by the great woodwind maker Peter Bressan sometime in the very late 1600s or very early 1700s.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Playing music well. Playing cricket badly!


Richard Harvey’s brand-new album ‘Scénarios’ – A Collection of Miniatures for Solo Piano, composed by Harvey and performed by acclaimed pianist, John Lenehan, known for the versatility and sensitivity of his interpretations, is available now on the Altus Records label

Hailing from a musical family, whose father was a composer and woodwind player, Richard Harvey studied at the Royal College of Music, including composition classes with the late Stephen Dodgson and was a member of the British Youth Symphony Orchestra. He formed his first group in the early 1970s, the progressive rock band ‘Gryphon’, famous both for its unique sound-world that successfully melded English folk with medieval and Renaissance elements and for touring regularly with ‘Yes’ both in the UK and the USA. 

Richard Harvey is renowned for the breadth and depth of his work as a composer, which includes the famous guitar concerto ‘Concerto Antico’, written for leading guitarist John Williams and for which he was entered into the Classic FM Hall of Fame and also for his large-scale choral works, including the popular ‘Kyrie for the Magdalene’, co-written with Hans Zimmer and which was a musical highlight of Ron Howard’s notable film ‘The Da Vinci Code’, starring Tom Hanks.

Moving seamlessly between the classical world and his work for film and TV, Harvey has conducted top symphony orchestras around the world and has performed internationally as a sought-after soloist. He has also recorded for and collaborated with very many significant contemporary composers and musicians, including Sir Paul McCartney, Stanley Myers, John Williams and Hans Zimmer and artist Ralph Steadman for whom he wrote an Oratorio ‘Plague and the Moonflower’ as part of an unusual multi-media project. Richard Harvey and Elvis Costello won joint BAFTA for their work on Alan Beasdale’s political drama ‘GBH’ and Harvey is the recipient of an animation industry Annie Award for his score for the animated feature ‘The Little Prince’ on which he collaborated once again with his long-term musical partner and friend, Hans Zimmer. He has been nominated for four Ivor Novello Awards.

Richard Harvey is fascinated by musical instruments and owns a large collection of over 800 different instruments from around the world. He has founded a music charity called the MAE Foundation which introduces musical teaching and participation to children in long-term refugee camp situations.

Of ‘Scénarios’, Richard Harvey commented: When I’m composing, I always feel that the audience and I are one and the same and therefore I always try to write music that I would like to hear. It’s important to like what you create.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s