top of page
Edwin Roxburgh b 1937.jpg

Edwin Roxburgh

composer, oboist

born liverpool 1937 

The Lonarc Oboe Trio
are thrilled to be taking Edwin's oboe trio Shadow-Play  which incorporates the use of multiphonics to this summers IDRS24  convention in Flagstaff USA. The performance  on 24th July 1930 MST will be live-streamed via the IDRS website

Judy first met Edwin in 1987 when she started to perform Images for Oboe and Piano with Nicholas Bosworth. In 1984, Judy also wrote a thesis entitled The Emergence of Timbre as a Qualitative and Quantitive Means of Expression in Avant-Garde Music which explored the use of multiphonics.  

Below we are reproducing two articles that the oboist Christopher Redgate wrote for the BDRS magazine to   celebrate Edwin's 70th Birthday and then his 85th birthday 


Edwin Roxburgh at 85        Christopher Redgate


My own first encounters with Edwin Roxburgh go back to the late 1970s. First through reading the book he co-authored with Leon Goossens titled Oboe and then I met him briefly when he adjudicated a prize I performed in at the Royal Academy of Music. He then became my brother’s composition and conducting teacher at the Royal College of Music and I began to perform some of his oboe works. We share a passion for the development of the contemporary oboe, its design, its repertoire and its future. 


When I was invited to write this birthday special I contacted Edwin and asked him whether there was anything in particular that he would like emphasised, perhaps a new composition or recording of his music? His suggestion in response was neither of these, rather that I should focus upon multiphonics and our passion for their exquisite sounds! So I shall come on to that a little later in this article.


At 85 years of age one could be excused for thinking that Edwin would perhaps want to put his feet up and enjoy a well earned retirement, however, you would be wrong! Edwin is still composing, teaching and conducting and has recently published a seminal book on conducting contemporary music. He, sadly, no longer plays the oboe but is as interested as ever in the instrument and its progress; he was very helpful and so supportive of my own work redesigning the instrument. As I get older I find such energetic octogenarians to be a great inspiration! As you will see his lifetime list of achievements is quite staggering.


Roxburgh was born in 1937 and is a true musical polymath. His education included a double scholarship to the Royal College of Music taking composition with Herbert Howells and oboe with Terence MacDonagh and then studies with Nadia Boulanger and Luigi Dallapiccola. These were followed by studies at St. John’s College, Cambridge; he also took piano lessons. His professional work, from the outset of his career, was multi-dimensional.


After his studies, he became first oboe of Sadlers Wells Opera (now known as English National Opera) and later oboist and resident composer of the Menuhin Festival Orchestra. 


He also became a significant interpreter of contemporary music both as a conductor and as an oboist. As an oboist he gave the British premieres of Berio’s Sequenza VII and Holliger’s Cardiophonie. If you don’t know his oboe playing or indeed his oboe music then there is a readily available CD recording of him playing his own At the still point of the turning world[1]  for oboe and electronics. This performance of a technically very challenging work demonstrates what a fine performer he was.


He has a large body of compositions to his name which include commissions for the BBC Proms, the Three Choirs Festival and the Menuhin Festival Orchestra (one of which was televised and another broadcast by the BBC). Other commissions include works for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal College of Music and the BBC Singers. As well as his residency with the Menuhin Festival Orchestra he has also been Associate Composer of the London Festival Orchestra at the Warehouse. He has also written incidental music to the World About Us television series.


Recently the BBC Symphony Orchestra has performed both his Concerto for Orchestra and Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra. I understand from his publisher (United Music Publishing) that he is currently writing a work for solo viola for David Takeno.


Roxburgh has written substantially for the oboe. In DRN Winter 2007 I wrote a 70th birthday article for Edwin which included a brief discussion of his oboe music which included a list of his composition for oboe. Since then he has added to that list. 


I was awarded a fellowship a few years ago to commission works for my redesigned oboe and Edwin was, of course, one of the composers I approached. He wrote a magnificent work for oboe and piano titled The Well Tempered Oboe[2] - a substantial work in four movements demanding considerable technical and musical challenges. It is a delight to play and audiences have really enjoyed it. As well as exploiting the very highest range of the oboe (it begins on a piano top C) there is a considerable engagement with the multiphonic capabilities of the instrument.


Now this brings me nicely on to what Edwin asked me to highlight in his response to my question: Multiphonics!


Edwin, as is obvious from the premieres mentioned above, has had a lifetime commitment to the oboe’s contemporary techniques and in particular to multiphonics.


Many composers have used them, sometimes as no more than a curious sound or percussive effect. With Edwin it is different. He possesses a profound understanding of their musical value and the way in which they increase the expressive potential of the instrument. In the hands of a master composer who understands how to use multiphonics they really do extend the sound world. Edwin and I have shared extensively our understanding and research of these sounds; exchanging lists of fingerings, discussing technical questions surrounding their production and so on.


I remember, while recording The Well Tempered Oboe one of the fingerings was not quite in tune on a bottom pitch and Edwin made a simple suggestion of slightly altering the fingering. This small adjustment tamed the pitch and also demonstrated his encyclopaedic knowledge of multiphonic fingerings. When work was beginning on The Well Tempered Oboe I sent Edwin a list of 80 multiphonics from which he was able to choose the sounds he wanted. I enjoyed receiving back from Edwin the same list with the addition of the pitches contained in each multiphonic. Normally composers today do a spectral analysis to determine the pitch content but Edwin had used his ears! 


This level of knowledge is also evident when he uses multiphonics in his music. Every multiphonic is carefully chosen for its pitch content which in turn influences the composition of the work. Such care demonstrates Edwin’s aesthetic ideals and his appreciation of the sounds.


Perhaps the best way to sum up Edwin’s appreciation of these sounds can be found in the book Oboe which he wrote with Leon Goossens. Talking about double harmonics (which are two pitch multiphonics) he waxes lyrical


“There is a hushed, ethereal quality in these sounds. Perhaps the ghosts of Delphic hymns and medieval organum haunt our imaginations in the presence of perfect fifths….”[3]

This poetic description, I feel, sums up his approach to these sounds. He says about teaching how to play multiphonics


 “I always instruct new-comers to imagine they are playing Brahms. The aesthetic character is comparable.”[4]


In his work Elegy[5] from 1982, a work for oboe small ensemble and electronics, the multiphonics undergo electronic processing with the most remarkable results. Electronics are also used to great effect in At the still point of the turning world…


In addition to Edwin’s work as a performer and composer he is a very active conductor, especially of contemporary works.


I was sent a partial list of works that he has conducted. There are almost 200 works on the list and it reads rather like a Who’s Who of major composers of the last 100 years! In a conversation with my brother, Roger Redgate (who is currently Professor of Composition at Goldsmiths, University of London) and who has worked under Edwin’s baton has nothing but praise for his conducting abilities and especially for his clarity as a conductor.


As part of his conducting work he founded the Twentieth Century Ensemble of London  and while at the Royal College of Music founded their Twentieth Century Music Ensemble which, under his direction, performed an extraordinary array of seminal works.

It would be impossible to write an appreciation of Edwin’s life time achievements without mentioning his work as a teacher. I asked my brother whether he could sum up Edwin’s teaching and he said “Everybody I know who was taught by him praises him and is very enthusiastic” and pointed out that “the vast repertoire of works he has conducted were all absorbed by him and became a part of what he could teach”.

His work as a teacher also extends to writing two books: Oboe written with Goossens has gone through several reprints. Edwin’s contribution to this book had a seminal influence on my own development as a performer. His awareness of the potential of the instrument, his lists of fingerings and his pure excitement about this new world for the instrument were quite infectious and gave important practical help.

His second book, which came out recently also builds upon his teaching work: Conducting for a New Era.[6]This book has been highly praised in its introduction by Andrew Davis. And I can’t help but observe what an achievement it is to write two books, both about music, but which discuss very different disciplines.

It will be obvious from this article that Edwin has had a lifetime dedication to the music of today. This is a major part of his philosophy and aesthetic. In one of the papers I was sent which was written by his publisher his philosophy is summed up “…that all musicians have a responsibility towards music of our own time and should give as much attention to it as to music of all periods.”


He has received a number of major awards for his work which include: 


Fellow of the Royal College of Music (1976)

Winning the Cobbett Medal for Services to Chamber Music (1980)

The Royal Philharmonic Society Elgar Bursary (2008)

A British Composers’ Award for his Elegy for Ur

Elgar Trust Award for a BBC SO commission

An Honorary Fellow of Birmingham Conservatoire


Recordings are available on NMC, Naxos, Warehouse, Oboe Classics and Metier. And his music is published by United Music Publishers, Ricordi and Maecenas Music.


The final words for me to say on behalf of all of us are of course:


Happy Birthday Edwin! 


[1] Edwin Roxburgh solos and duos. NMC D161

[2] A recording of this work is available on the CD Music for a New Oboe vol. 1 Métier/ Divine Art  Records msv28529

[3] Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides; Oboe. Roxburgh and Goossens  -  Macdonald and Jane’s Publishers Limited. - London 1977 P 179

[4] A private letter to me. Used with Permission.

[5] Published by United Music Publishing, a recording is also available on Edwin Roxburgh - Oboe Music. Metier msv28508.

[6] Conducting for a New Era. Edwin Roxburgh (2014) London: Boydell & Brewer.









A Tribute to Edwin Roxburgh at 70

Christopher Redgate



Edwin Roxburgh is 70 this year. In this article, I am going to celebrate Edwin’s birthday by focusing upon his writing for the oboe.  


Edwin is a composer with a substantial body of works to his credit, (a considerable number of which feature the oboe) he is also a performer, (oboist and conductor), a teacher, and a writer (most of us will have read the book he co-authored with Leon Goossens, The Oboe, but are perhaps less aware of an important body of other articles).  Each of these areas have, of course, contributed to all that is Edwin and in my comments below each of these activities should be kept in mind as the various musical disciplines that Edwin has been involved in inform one another to a considerable degree.


As you will see from the list of works at the end of this article, the works that feature the oboe range from works for oboe and piano through to works for solo oboe and wind band.


Edwin’s performing and compositional careers developed during the heady atmosphere of a very rich period of musical history; especially for oboists. Composers and oboists were experimenting with a wide range of new sounds and techniques, pushing all kinds of boundaries and opening up new paths for the instrument. Such an atmosphere, of course, influenced many of the composers of the period. The oboe world in general was a little slower off the mark, but several pioneers worked to develop and extend the potential of the instrument. In the UK one of the most important of these was Edwin Roxburgh. In 1969 he gave the British premiere of Berio’s Sequenza VII (Premiered by Holliger earlier that year) and later gave the British premiere of Holliger’s own Cardiophony: Two works that are not only technically challenging but also explore the new musical language and techniques of the instrument. The performance of such works demonstrates that he was not only a pioneer but also possessed the requisite skills to achieve his aims: He was an outstanding virtuoso oboist! It would indeed be surprising if such a level of performance did not spill over into his compositional activities. Perhaps the performance of these works also suggests how ‘up-to-date’ were his activities, his knowledge of what was going on elsewhere, and something of his progressive spirit; a spirit which has not diminished with the passing years. 


Edwin’s writing for oboe cannot be placed easily into any particular stylistic pigeonhole or given one of those labels that frequently plague composers. The music ranges from the very technically challenging ‘…at the still point of the turning world…’ through to the apparently much less technically demanding but achingly poignant Lament (for the Victims of Conflict): The former employing live electronics and a wide range of extended techniques, the latter containing refined melodic writing with strings. 


In a study of Edwin’s writing for oboe, the quality that to me stands out most forcefully is his ability to use the entire character of the instrument, a feat achieved by very few composers. At one end of the spectrum melodic writing abounds in both long phrases and melodic fragments while at the other he is able to use the contemporary techniques in a fully integrated way, writing successfully for the virtuoso performer. In some of the works he integrates these different elements demonstrating great compositional integrity in their use. In so doing he presents us with what I can only describe as the ‘modern oboe’, not simply a part of its character, but a vision of what the oboe can be when the composer fully understands the instrument. At the same time he is not afraid to grapple with the complexities of writing using all of the resources that the instrument possesses. I should state clearly that Edwin’s use of extended techniques is only a means to an end and never the end itself.


Edwin’s use of ‘contemporary techniques’ and ‘new sounds’ justifies consideration in some detail. As both a performer and a as composer he is well known for his pioneering work in these areas. You will not find in any of Edwin’s works a simple catalogue of effects and sounds nor will you find any gratuitous ‘noises’. In fact there are quite a few of the ‘new sounds’ that Edwin, to date, has not employed in his compositions and several compositions that do not employ them.


His use of multiphonics bears very close inspection.
Firstly, Edwin’s understanding and use of multiphonics is based upon his awareness of the beauty of the sounds, as he crafts them carefully into the music. Interpreters of his music should take careful note of this – to simply blast out a multiphonic and then get on with the piece is not appropriate in his music. Secondly, the multiphonics are carefully chosen for their main pitch content. A disciplined study of the scores will demonstrate the carefully thought through relationship that the multiphonics have to the pitches of the piece.
In Edwin’s own words from his programme note to Ecclissi:
“The intervals of the oboe's multiphonics are set in direct relationship to the strings' material, all the musical substance being derived from the tones of the oboe chords”
 or to Elegy 
“…the multiphonics chosen for 'Elegy' create the melodic and harmonic framework for the music…” (Both quotes © Edwin Roxburgh, as quoted on the United Music Publishers web site). 
The multiphonics therefore occupy a seminal role in the construction and structure of the music. Thirdly, any oboist studying the scores that employ multiphonics will readily realise that there has been a great deal of background work in the development and understanding of the performance of multiphonics. The scores are very carefully annotated with fingerings, sometimes with very creative use of the keywork, (see ‘…at the still point of the turning world…’ where the right hand shares the left hand’s keys) and instructions for the use of the embouchure. Such detailed work can only come from a composer/performer or from very close collaborative work between performer and composer (both of these approaches to composition should be encouraged).  There is also a very interesting use of multiphonics where, in addition to performing the set fingering, the performer has to create other pitches during the performance of the multiphonic. This creates a very complex texture which is often almost contrapuntal in its aims (see Elegy and Antares for examples of this – Elegy further enhances the multiphonics through the use of ring modulation). Such use of the multiphonics employs them at very high artistic level.  I suggest that any composers wanting to know how to use multiphonics in their compositions should study Edwin’s music!

Just occasionally Edwin uses the very top of the range. Such usage can be found in Ecclissi, going up to C7, where the pitches are beautifully used in conjunction with the strings. ‘…at the still point of the turning world…’ travels to an high B6 but in very different circumstances, creating a powerful climax in the melodic line. It is interesting to note the different dynamic levels used in the writing of these pitches: they are very quiet in Ecclissi while in ‘…at the still point of the turning world…’ they are a powerful ‘FF’ crescendo to ‘fff’. (I mention this because there are discussions in the oboe world about the volume at which these high notes can be played). Edwin himself gave the first performance of both of these works.


‘…at the still point of the turning world…’ also uses the sound of key clicks and once again we are aware that this is not a gimmick. It creates an amazing sound world which is integral to the whole piece (this by the way is a remarkably rewarding work to perform. 

A brief word about the electronics of the piece: Edwin, in his programme notes for the work states: 

“The first performance in the late seventies was given using an analogue system and therefore needed a conductor and twelve technicians…” (© Edwin Roxburgh, as quoted on the United Music Publishers web site) 


Today it can be performed using Max/MSP and one technician!


There are two features of Edwin’s writing that can be very challenging for the performer. Firstly, the contrapuntal writing, which occurs frequently in the works that employ oboe, requires careful attention in order to draw out the subtlety of the writing and the nuances of the lines, (I suspect, by the way, that his ability to write in this way points to a rigorous training in traditional compositional techniques). Secondly, the ensemble writing is very finely wrought, creating some stunning textures but also some great challenges for the performer.


Edwin’s oboe music is often, as one would expect, very demanding musically and intellectually but for the adventurous performer is also very rewarding to perform.


It only remains for me to say “Happy Birthday Edwin!”


Work List (published by United Music Publishers unless otherwise stated)


Works for oboe and piano

Images (1967)
oboe and piano - 6'

Aulodie (1977) Unpublished
oboe and piano 
Antares (1988) 
oboe and piano - 12'
Silent Strings (2004)
oboe and piano – 3’

A book of arrangements of 5 pieces by Debussy has just been published by United Music Publishers

Work for oboe and electronics
At the Still Point of the turning World (1976)  oboe and electronics  - 15’
Works for oboe and ensemble
Ecclissi (1971)  oboe, violin, viola and 'cello - 9'
Nebula II (1974) flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon - 12'
Convolutions (1974) soprano, tenor, alto flute, oboe d'amore, violin, cello and harpsichord - 10'
Elegy (1982) in memory of Janet solo oboe, flute, clarinet, violin, cello and percussion - 14'
Constellations (1983) descant recorder and oboe - 14'
Wind Quintet No 2 (1983) flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon - 14'
Double Reed works
Shadow-play (1984)  2 oboes and cor anglais – 10'
Voyager (1989) 3 oboes, 3 cor anglais and 3 bassoons - 14'
Works for solo oboe and larger ensemble 
Sinfonia Concertante (1990) solo oboe, solo horn, solo violin, solo cello and chamber orchestra - 14'
Lament (for the Victims of Conflict) (2003) oboe and string orchestra – 7’

An Elegy for Ur (Published by Maecenas Music) solo oboe and wind ensemble – 14’

To purchase any musical scores  please click on this button.


Recordings of his music are on NMC, Warehouse Records and the Oboe Classics Label.


I would like to thank United Music Publishers for their help in providing scores, answering questions and of course for permission to quote Edwin’s programme notes.

bottom of page