Roger Marsh studied composition first in London with Ian Kellam, and later at the University of York with Bernard Rands. He spent two years at the University of California, San Diego on a Harkness Fellowship (1976-78) and then lectured in Music at Keele University until 1988 when he returned to York. In the autumn of 1993 he was visiting composer at Harvard University.
On his return to the UK he co-founded (with his wife, the singer Anna Myatt) the contemporary music ensemble Black Hair, which became known for its unusual presentations of new music and music theatre. He retired from the University of York in 2019 but remains Emeritus Professor of Music.
Roger Marsh has written music for all genres: orchestra, small and large chamber groups, and many works for voices, often with a theatrical edge. He is also known for his productions of all the novels of James Joyce for Naxos Audiobooks, including Joyce’s Ulysses – unabridged on 22 CDs, and most recently Finnegans Wake (2021).
His music up to 2015 is published by Chester Novello and Peters Edition, London. Later pieces are published by Decipherer Arts Press, London.
His first real success was the amplified vocal piece Not a soul but ourselves….. Recorded by Electric Phoenix and performed by them more than fifty times all over the world, it is an inventive setting of texts from James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’. A new recording of the piece was made by Paul Hillier’s ‘Theatre of Voices’ in 2011. The crazy solo voice piece Dum (A vocal percussive fantasy) has also been widely performed, by John Potter, Anna Myatt, Alan Belk and many others including the composer himself. In the 1980s several works for voice and ensemble – like The Wormwood and the Gall, A psalm and a silly love song, and The Song of Abigail, were premiered and broadcast by the ensemble Lontano, with Linda Hirst, Francis Lynch and others. The Song of Abigail, a humourous take on a biblical tale, has been performed by ensembles in the USA (with Lucy Shelton) and Denmark (with Anna Myatt), and remains in the repertoire of Black Hair.
Roger has written three orchestral pieces, including Stepping Out (1990) for piano and orchestra, composed for the BBC Promenade Concerts, and first performed by Martin Roscoe (piano) and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Kagura (1991) is a work for large ensemble influenced by Japanese Gagaku music. Commissioned by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) it has been performed many times (and even in Japan!). He has composed two pieces for the Dutch ensemble ‘de ereprijs’: Waiting for Charlie (1994) and What Charlie did next (2009), the first recorded on the ensemble’s CD ‘Going Up’.
Music theatre pieces include Love on the Rocks (1989) for four amplified voices and four amplified flutes, with tape and live electronic effects. It was released on Erasmus WVH 156, performed by the voices of ‘Midland Music Theatre’, including Marsh himself in the role of Charon, with the Tibia Flute Quartet. The same team also gave three live performances of the work at Spitalfields Market Opera in 1996. Marsh’s biggest work in recent years has been his setting of Albert Giraud’s Pierrot Lunaire – 50 Rondels Bergamasques. This 2 hour work for multiple vocal ensembles reveals the full cycle of Giraud poems, set in both French and English, with humour and pathos, and a musical identity far removed from the familiar world of Schoenberg’s op 21. Since its release in 2007 on NMC records, featuring the Hilliard Ensemble, Juice Trio, Linda Hirst, Red Byrd and the Ebor Singers, the piece has received performances and broadcasts in Denmark, Canada and the USA.
In 2008 major work for the Hilliard Ensemble, Il Cor Tristo – a setting of two cantos from Dante’s Inferno – received its premiere in Perugia, Italy, and in 2012 mezzo soprano Angelica Kathariou gave the premiere of Lamentations for voice, flute and percussion, as part of a Black Hair performance in the Rymer Auditorium, York. In 2010 he composed music for a major radio production of Goethe’s Faust (BBC Radio 3), which has since been released as a Naxos Audiobook. Recent work includes a second Hilliard Ensemble piece, Poor Yorick; Running Jumping and Standing Still for ensemble; Kinshi for ensemble; Walking Away for Soprano and Marimba and Gaia Songs, for the same combination.
Roger has now retired from the University of York and lives with Anna in south west France.