In writing music, Rhian keeps the performer and performance uppermost in her mind. She believes that the performer contributes creatively to the work and that the composer should always offer him/her the space to make this contribution, a particular challenge in notated music. She acknowledges many other influences on her music, particularly those of her rich Welsh literary and musical heritage, the landscape of her present home in mid-Wales overlooking the Dyfi estuary and Cardigan Bay and her long sojourn in the USA. She is interested in all facets of classical music, particularly early music, and American music of all kinds; in her youth she played the oboe in orchestras and the viol and wind instruments in early music groups. She identifies with her female colleagues in a profession still dominated by males, seeing her position, somewhat outside the male tradition, as an exciting one with many challenges and opportunities, not one, as in former times for many women composers, that must be denied.
RS at Western Connecticut State University, April 2015, with performers
Russell Hirshfield (piano), Hannah Levinson (viola), Richard Weidlich
(baritone), Dan Goble (saxophone) and Patty Goble (soprano)
Throughout her career she has sung in and conducted choirs and written music for them, including those she has conducted herself at Reading University and City University London UK. (Many years ago, as a student, she even sang in the White House for President Johnson, in the Washington University Madrigal Singers!)
|The Washington University Madrigal Singers at the White House |
(RS is in the back row, just to the right of the conductor's hand)
Rhian has collaborated with several women poets in creating her vocal music. She has set poems by American May Sarton with the poet’s express encouragement, has worked extensively with Anglo-American Anne Stevenson and has also set Welsh texts by Nesta Wyn Jones. She does not confine her choice of texts to women poets however; she has also set those of, for instance, Aeschylus (Clytemnestra for soprano and orchestra), Zulfikar Ghose and Henry Thoreau (Haze and the Absence of Clouds, for soprano, string quartet and piano) and, for song cycles for baritone and piano, WW1 poet Charles Sorley (A Swift Radiant Morning) and Samuel Beckett (The Flowing Sand).
She co-edited The New Grove/Norton Dictionary of Women Composers (1994) with Julie Anne Sadie. Her much-quoted preface to this dictionary discusses the situation of women composers over the past 100+ years. She has also written on several of the operas of Harrison Birtwistle, including Gawain, The Minotaur and The Second Mrs Kong, publishing for the two former works both the programme notes for the ROH and diaries of their first productions for the Cambridge Opera Journal.
In the United States, Rhian taught at Washington University, St Louis, where she completed a doctorate on 16th-century musica ficta, and the St Louis Conservatory of Music; in Britain she became a lecturer, then Reader, at Reading University, then a Reader at City University, where she is now Emeritus Professor. At City, she also supervised DMA students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Later, at Oxford University, she was a member of the Music Faculty and tutored composition undergraduates at Magdalen College. Most of Rhian Samuel’s music is published by Stainer & Bell Ltd, while a large number of works are published by Ty Cerdd. Others are published by Novello, Cadenza, ABRSM, Curiad, Simrock and Andresier/Bardic.