Melos Ensemble

The Melos Ensemble is a group of musicians who started in 1950 in London to play chamber music in mixed instrumentation of string instruments, wind instruments and others. The ensemble's reputation for excellence has encouraged composers to write music exploring these resources. Benjamin Britten composed the chamber music for his War Requiem for the Melos Ensemble and conducted the group in the first performance in Coventry.

They should not be confused with two other chamber groups of similar name, the Melos Quartet or the Melos Art Ensemble (an Italian group).

Founding period, 1950

The Melos Ensemble was founded by musicians who wanted to play chamber music scored for a larger ensemble in a combination of strings, winds and other instruments with the quality of musical rapport only regular groups can achieve. The Melos Ensemble played in variable instrumentation, flexible enough to perform a wide repertory of pieces. All its members were excellent musicians who held positions in notable orchestras and appeared as soloists. The founding members, namely Gervase de Peyer (clarinet), Cecil Aronowitz (viola), Richard Adeney (flute), and Terence Weil (cello) planned a group of twelve players, a string quintet and a wind quintet with harp and piano, that might be expanded by other players, to perform the great octets by Schubert and Mendelssohn, the septet by Beethoven, Ravel's Introduction and Allegro and the Serenade by Arnold Schoenberg.[1] Neill Sanders (horn, a member for 29 years until 1979), and Adrian Beers (double bass) were members from the beginning. All these musicians stayed with the group for decades.

Early members

Other early members included Emanuel Hurwitz (leader 1956–1972), Ivor McMahon (second violin), William Waterhouse (bassoon), Osian Ellis (harp), James Blades (percussion), Lamar Crowson and Ernst Ueckermann (piano), Peter Graeme and Sarah Barrington (oboe), James Buck (horn), Edgar Williams (bassoon) and Keith Puddy (clarinet), expanded by Colin Chambers (flute and piccolo), Alan Hacker (bass clarinet), Eric Roseberry (piano), Leonard Friedman (violin), Kay Hurwitz (viola), William Bennett (flute), Stephen Pruslin (piano), Leonard Friedman (violin), Hilary Wilson (harp)[2] and Timothy Brown (horn). In the opinion of William Waterhouse (writing in 1995), "it was the remarkable rapport between this pair of lower strings" (i.e. Terence Weil and Cecil Aronowitz) "which remained constant throughout a succession of distinguished leaders, that gave a special distinction to this outstanding ensemble."[3]

Special projects

A remarkable premiere for the group was Jacques-Louis Monod's 1962 presentation of Roberto Gerhard's Concerto for Eight. This was followed by the 1962 premiere, and subsequent 1963 recording, of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, for which the instrumental sections accompanying the English texts had been written specifically for the Melos, and were directed by the composer in the performance.[4] The recording received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998. In 1964 and 1965 the Melos Ensemble played several concerts at the new Wardour Castle Summer School, founded by Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies and Alexander Goehr.[5][6] On 16 August 1964 they played among others Monody for Corpus Christi by Birtwistle, Five Little Pieces (first performance) by Davies, and Suite Op.11 by Goehr. A chamber concert on 17 August featured the Horn Trio by Brahms, on 18 August the Quatuor pour la fin du temps by Messiaen. In 1965, the Melos Ensemble played on 16 August Pierrot Lunaire by Schoenberg. On 18 August parts of In Chymick Art, a cantata on texts by Edward Benlowes that Robin Holloway wrote for the Summer School, were performed for the first time. On 20 August they premiered two works they had commissioned, Tragoedia by Birtwistle, conducted by Lawrence Foster, and two 'In Nomine" of Seven in Nomine by Davies, conducted by the composer.[7][8]

Festivals, broadcasts, tours

The Melos Ensemble performed regularly at British and International Festivals, among others Warsaw, Venice, Cheltenham, Edinburgh, Bordeaux and the Aldeburgh Festival, their first US tour was in 1966.[9] The group gave many BBC broadcasts, and made over 50 recordings, first with the publisher L'Oiseau-Lyre. Gervase de Peyer directed the extensive recording programme of the Ensemble for EMI.[10][11]

EMI recordings 1963–1973

EMI reissued in 2011 a selection from historical recordings, titled "Melos Ensemble – Music among Friends". The principal players were Richard Adeney (and William Bennett, flute), Gervase de Peyer (and Keith Puddy, clarinet), Peter Graeme (and Sarah Barrington, oboe), Neil Sanders (and James Buck, horn), William Waterhouse (and Edgar Williams, bassoon), Emanuel Hurwitz (and Kenneth Sillito, first violin), Ivor McMahon (and Iona Brown, second violin), Cecil Aronowitz (and Kenneth Essex, viola), Terence Weil (and Keith Harvey, cello), Adrian Beers (double bass), Osian Ellis (harp) and Lamar Crowson (piano).[10] The ensemble was expanded for single works by Christopher Hyde-Smith (flute), Anthony Jennings and Stephen Trier (bass clarinet), Barry Tuckwell (horn), David Mason and Philip Jones (trumpet), Arthur Wilson and Alfred Flaszinski (trombone), Robert Masters (violin), Manoug Parikian and Eli Goren (violin), Patrick Ireland (viola), Derek Simpson (cello), Hilary Wilson (harp), Marcal Gazelle (piano), James Blades, Tristan Fry, Jack Lees and Stephen Whittaker (percussion), and singers Mary Thomas (soprano) and Rosemary Phillips (contralto). The collection of 11 CDs contains the works for large ensemble – six to thirteen players – for which the Melos Ensemble was founded, some composed for the ensemble:

Other selected recordings

  • Lennox Berkeley: Sextet for clarinet, horn and string quartet (1954)[16]
  • Malcolm Arnold: Guitar Concerto, with Julian Bream RCA (1959)[17]
  • Mátyás Seiber: Three Fragments from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a Chamber Cantata for Speaker, Chorus and Eight Instruments, with Peter Pears (Speaker) / Dorian Singers / Melos Ensemble London conducted by Matyas Seiber (1960)[18]
  • Mauro Giuliani: Guitar Concerto, with Julian Bream (1961) RCA[19]
  • Schoenberg: Serenade, John Carol Case, Bruno Maderna, L'Oiseau-Lyre (1962)[20]
  • Britten: War Requiem (1963)Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) / War Requiem
  • Prokofiev: Quintet in G minor for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass, Op. 39 / Shostakovich: Piano Quintet, Op. 57[21]
  • Hummel: Septet / Quintet (1966) (L'oiseau-Lyre)
  • Ravel and Maurice Delage: French Songs / Chausson: Chanson Perpetuelle, with Janet Baker (1966)[22]
  • Ravel: Introduction and Allegro / Poulenc: Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano / Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon / Francaix: Divertissement for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon / Divertissement for Bassoon and String Quartet EMI (1969)

Melos Ensemble of London 1974

Following the death of Ivor McMahon in 1972, and the departure of three other members, the group briefly disbanded in 1973, but was reformed in 1974 with eight of the original players.[1] In the later period the following musicians were also among those playing for the ensemble: Hugh Maguire (violin), Thea King (clarinet, 1974–1993), Nicholas Ward[23] (violin, from 1977), Sylvie Gazeau[24] (principal violin for many years), Gwenneth Pryor[25] (piano), Iona Brown[26] (violin), Patrick Ireland (viola) and Keith Harvey[27] (cello). In 1975 the Melos Ensemble presented its 25th anniversary concert in London. In 1982 the Melos Ensemble appeared in Graz in a retrospective of Egon Wellesz, playing his Oktett für Klarinette, Fagott, Horn und Streichquintett Op.67.[28]

New chamber music

Composers created music for unusual groupings with the Melos Ensemble specifically in mind, leading in turn to the formation of similar chamber groups.[1] Hans Werner Henze composed Kammermusik 1958 for tenor, guitar and eight solo instruments, for example. In that way, the Melos Ensemble has directly and indirectly influenced music for new combinations of chamber musicians in contemporary music.



  1. Melos Ensemble All Music Guide, Joseph Stevenson
  2. Wardour Castle Summer School Concert programme 1965
  3. Obituary Terence Weil The Independent, William Waterhouse, 9 March 1995
  4. Britten-Pears Foundation
  5. Birtwistle timeline by Boosey & Hawkes,
  6. Wardour 1964 1965 Dr. Michael Hooper, 2009
  7. A review of the Wardour Castle Concert 1965 The Times, 23 August 1965, p. 15
  8. Davies Premiere All Music Guide, Eugene Chadbourne
  9. Biography Neil Sanders Sotone Historic Recordings
  10. Melos Ensemble – Music among Friends EMI
  11. EMI recordings 1963–1973 Archived 28 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  12. wind quintet review Rob Barnett, May 2008
  13. Ravel review William Hedley, April 2009, quote: The Melos Ensemble recorded Ravel’s exquisite Introduction and Allegro for L'Oiseau-Lyre in 1961, ... this performance dates from 1967, and Osian Ellis was once again the harpist. There is nothing to choose between the two performances: they are both absolutely marvellous.
  14. Ireland review John France, August 2007
  15. Birtwistle review William Hedley, June 2009, quote: Still a new piece when recorded in 1965, it receives a stunning performance here from the Melos Ensemble under Lawrence Foster.
  16. Berkeley review Michael Cookson, May 2008, quote: Berkeley wrote his three movement Sextet for Clarinet, Horn and String Quartet, Op. 47 in 1954 for the Melos Ensemble.
  17. Sir Malcolm Arnold (born 1921) / The Collection
  18. recordings online
  19. Gramophone Archive
  20. Schoenberg Serenade Archived 26 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  21. Prokofiev Shostakovich Gramophone
  22. Original Masters – Janet Baker
  23. Nicholas Ward (*1952) City of London Sinfonia
  24. Sylvie Gazeau (*1950) Archived 23 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  25. De Peyer and Pryor page Archived 23 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  26. Obituary Iona Brown (1941–2004) The Independent, Margaret Campbell, 11 June 2004
  27. Interview Keith Harvey Internet Cello Society
  28. Program Archive ORF (in German)
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