Edward Harper was born in Taunton, Somerset in 1941. He started to play the piano at the age of 12, and at 16 won a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford where he gained a first class honours degree. He subsequently studied with Gordon Jacob at the Royal College of Music, London, and with Franco Donatoni in Milan.
For over forty years Edward Harper was on the staff of the Faculty of Music at Edinburgh University, where he was a Senior Lecturer. He was also Director of the New Music Group of Scotland, which he founded in 1973, and he has been described as “playing a crucial part in opening Scotland’s ears to fresh musical experience”.
Harper’s early works experiment with serial and aleatory techniques but with Bartok Games (1972) he established a more tonally based style that allows taut cellular and repetitive motifs to expand into large climaxes and fuller melody.
He was frequently been inspired by literature, having a special affinity with Thomas Hardy’s writing. Two chamber operas, Fanny Robin (1975) and The Mellstock Quire (1988), based on Hardy episodes, were composed for the Edinburgh University Opera Club; the first of these has since been performed in America and New Zealand and is now available on a CD on the Metier label. Homage to Thomas Hardy (1990), a song cycle for baritone and orchestra, showed how Harper could conjure the images and humour of Hardy’s writing and mould them into a coherent concert piece.
Other important works are the full length opera Hedda Gabler (1985) commissioned by Scottish Opera; Intrada after Monteverdi (1982/3) which, in its orchestral version, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has performed internationally; and In Memoriam Kenneth Leighton (1990) for cello and piano or cello and orchestra. Some of the later pieces published by OUP include The Fiddler of the Reels for string orchestra (1993) and Lights Out (1993) to poems by Edward Thomas for soprano, recorder, cello and harpsichord.
Edward Harper died on 12 April 2009.