Malcolm Lipkin (1932-2017) was an English composer who came to prominence in the 1950s and continued writing over many decades. His works include three symphonies and a significant body of orchestral, chamber and solo instrumental music. Lipkin's style is characterised by a very distinctive tonality and precision of expression. He was strongly influenced by history, literature and religion, drawing inspiration from a wide range of references.
Whilst still at school (Liverpool College), Lipkin studied the piano with Gordon Green and theory with Dr. Caleb Jarvis. In 1949 he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where he continued his piano studies with Kendall Taylor and studied harmony and counterpoint with Bernard Stevens. From 1954 to 1957, he studied composition with Mátyás Seiber and later read music at London University for his B.Mus under the guidance of Dr. Anthony Milner. He was later awarded a doctorate for his works.
The sudden death of Seiber in a car accident during a lecture tour of South Africa in 1960 shocked Lipkin, and the middle movement of his Second Violin Concerto was written in Seiber’s memory. Like much of Lipkin's music in the 1960s, this work was composed in his early tonal style. Another such tonal work, the String Trio, is dedicated to Joy Finzi, who encouraged him to stay and compose at Ashmansworth, her country home.
An Individual Identity
Lipkin's first symphony, Sinfonia di Roma (1965), marked a turning point in the development of his style, revealing Seiber’s influence in its construction from small melodic and rhythmic cells. However, Lipkin never fully adopted serial technique - so fashionable in the 1960s - for his compositions. He became something of an outsider in the context of contemporary compositional and musical trends, forging an individual identity in the following two decades.
During the 1970s, Lipkin drew on 17th century English poetry, reflected in Four Departures for Soprano and Violin (settings of Robert Herrick) and The Pursuit (Symphony No.2), inspired by a quatrain of Andrew Marvell. Herrick was again a starting point for another major work, Sun (Symphony No.3), which premiered in 1993.
Along with works such as the Oboe Concerto (1989) and Clifford's Tower (1977), referencing the brutal massacre of the Jewish population of York in 1190, this output shows how Lipkin found a truly personal voice.
Lipkin never retired and in his later years returned to composing for his original instrument, the piano. He completed his Sixth Sonata in 2002 and the last five of his eight Nocturnes between 2000 and 2006. In 2013, he was commissioned to write Invocation by the celebrated double bass player, Leon Bosch, and in the same year he finished another chamber work, Walsingham Variations (which has yet to be performed).
Lipkin's last two pieces were written in 2016 in memory of the composer John McCabe: In Memoriam and The Journey, the latter written for recorderist John Turner.
Following Lipkin's death in June 2017 at the age of 85, an obituary by Paul Conway provides a more detailed overview of his life and work. Others, such as Christopher Headington and Andrew Burn, have written extensively about his music over many years.