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I studied music at Huddersfield University and then at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. I was awarded a Gulbenkian scholarship to study composition for dance with Robert Cohen. I was principal music teacher at Queen's College in Harley Street, London for some years, eventually leaving full-time teaching to spend more time composing.

My unaccompanied choral piece When Degree is Shaked was awarded a prize at the Concorso Internazionale di Composizione Guido d'Arezzo held in Arezzo, Italy (1992).

Musical Language

My musical language is based on the serialisation of intervals (not pitches). This facilitates flowing non symmetrical melodic lines and harmonies in which the textures of chord spacing are of fundamental importance.

Music created in this way is developed by returning it into the series starting at different points. I call this technique "substitution".

The series also governs how music is transposed.

The one series is therefore used independently in four ways: it gives unity, structure and coherence to melody, harmony, development and transposition all in a new way.

This serialised interval technique has led to me to compose some formidably contrapuntal works. Writing melodic lines that all individually obey the serialisation and, when combined, give harmonies that separately obey the serialisation respects the creative tension between harmony and line in traditional counterpoint but in a new way. Examples include Fugue for six pianos for Piano Circus, where twelve lines of counterpoint combine in this way and Shapeshifter, a percussion trio commissioned by Sankorfa.


I often turn music into drama or have some programmatic element in my work. My septet The Dance of the Maenades performed by ALEA III of Boston (Massachusetts) depicts ecstatic madness; the quartet We Do Not Dream in Words for Liverpool’s 10:10 explores the creative motivation, design and symmetries in Tony Cragg’s sculptures.

Unusually among contemporary composers this instinct for the extra-musical includes writing pieces that are funny. Titles I use often give a clear clue: Go On – Rip your Tights!!, a chamber orchestra piece for the Spitalfields Festival and Honeymoon Horrors for percussion quartet Ensemble Bash speak for themselves!

I love writing for specific singers, believing this focuses the vocal style and technique and the character of my writing. When English National Opera Studio commissioned my chamber opera The Judgment of Theodora I went against convention by not starting composing until I had heard the singer for each part. This had a profound effect on the character of the music.

My Dance Forms

Traditionally each dance type has its own underlying rhythm that never stops so dancers can always repeat the basic steps to it. I respect this idea of unbroken metrication, but in my dances the beats are not all the same length. In my dance forms the main rhythm never stops but individual beats are repeated against it, creating sections of cross rhythms.

For a detailed explanation please click my Dance Forms.

Concert Dramas

Concert Dramas are short pieces of music theatre that can be performed within a recital. They do not need special lighting or costumes though a few simple props can be helpful.

Such pieces can be performed semi or fully staged. What makes them Concert Dramas is that they do not need staging to make complete sense. This usually means that the meaning can be fully conveyed by the music and the words alone.

Even when performed as part of a recital with only the minimum of props these works are dramas and each one needs a certain but limited amount of directing. This is usually things like simple gestures, walking to a different part of the stage, looking in certain directions when thinking of a particular person or using a prop such as a cup of coffee and things of that kind.

Concert Dramas on this site: Jackie K and the Bullet and Jack's Visit


David Charles Martin composer

David Charles Martin composer

David Charles Martin composer

David Charles Martin composer


David Ashurst is currently Lecturer in the Department of English Studies at The University of Durham.

David Ashurst Librettist

David Ashurst's works as librettist and lyricist written in collaboration with me include:

Bug, Better, Beast – Children’s songs.

The White Swan – Chamber Opera.

A One Woman Show of Three Concert Dramas

1. A Garden Inclosed
2. Woman, Forty-Five, Seeks Man for Fun
3. Jack's Visit

A One Man Show of Three Concert Dramas

Too Much Sex and Violence - A One-Man Show:

1. Personal Computer
2. Jealous Idol
3. Coming Off