The pianist and composer David Earl was born in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in 1951.
Growing up in Cape Town, he attended Rondebosch Boys’ Preparatory and High Schools, during which time he studied the piano with the British émigré Sona Whiteman, a disciple of Tobias Matthay. At 16 he broadcast a professional recital for the SABC, and a year later made his concerto debut with the then Cape Town Symphony Orchestra.
He moved to London when he was 19, studying the piano with Jacob Kaletsky and composition with Richard Arnell at Trinity College of Music. Whilst there he gave the first of a number of solo piano recitals at Wigmore Hall, and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
After seven years based in Oxford, he settled in Cambridge where for over two decades he has taught piano performing to under-graduates at Cambridge University, as well as supervising Tripos composition students.
David’s professional career as a composer began in 1980 with the premiere of Chéri, an hour-long ballet commissioned by Peter Darrell for The Scottish Ballet, given at that year’s Edinburgh Festival, and frequently revived, with a new production by The Hong Kong Ballet in 1989. To date there have been six more ballet commissions, including two for the South African CAPAB Ballet—The Return of the Soldier (1982) and Abelard and Heloise (1985), both choreographed by Veronica Paeper— and a full-evening Macbeth (1991) for Ballet de Santiago in Chile, with choreography by Andre Prokovsky. More recently David collaborated with the Royal Ballet choreographer Vanessa Fenton on two works given in Cambridge in 2009, one of which was included in a Senate House gala marking the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University.
Piano Concerto No 1 appeared in 1980, followed by a Two-Piano Concerto (1986), concertos for Violin (1991), Cello (1996), Trumpet (2005), Piano Concerto No 2 (2007) a Double Violin Concerto (2011) a Clarinet Concerto (2012) a Double Bass Concerto (2015) and Viola Concerto (2016). Among choral compositions is a symphonic setting of Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality, entitled Trumpets from the Steep, a cyclic setting of George Herbert—Man’s Medley, and Island Owl, for soloists, children’s chorus and orchestra.
Chamber works include two sonatas each for Violin and Cello, a Viola and Piano Sonata, a Clarinet Trio, Piano Quintet, String Quartet, Quintet for Cor Anglais and Strings, and, for solo piano, four suites—Mosaics, Gargoyles, Mandalas, and Darshanas – as well as Oxymorons: 24 Preludes. Music for film includes P’TangYang Kipperbang directed by Michael Apted, and Arthur’s Hallowed Ground, directed by the veteran cinematographer Freddie Young.
In June 2012 a setting of Rupert Brooke’s famous poem The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, for baritone, chorus and orchestra, commissioned by Dame Mary Archer to mark the poem’s centenary, was premiered in Cambridge.
David has been fortunate in collaborating with young musicians at the start of their careers—Tasmin Little, Martin Roscoe, Alexander Chaushian and Jamie Campbell gave the first performances of, respectively, the Violin Concerto, Violin Sonata No 1, the Cello Concerto and Violin Sonata No 2.
The CD of the Cello Sonata and Mandalas Piano Suite received a Gramophone Editor’s recommendation rosette (May 2008), and was nominated by International Piano magazine for best new music recording.
In 2001 David was ordained into The Western Buddhist Order, and given the name Akāshadeva (“deity of etheric space”). In addition to Mandalas and Darshanas, other works with a Buddhist theme include Invocation to Manjugosha for Violin and Piano, as well as settings of Kukai’s To a Nobleman in Kyoto, Milarepa’s Meeting and Parting, and The Buddha’s O let us live in joy.
In October 2013 the Clarinet Concerto was in premiered in Durban, South Africa, with Maria du Toit and the KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic under Arjan Tien. The University of Cape Town Wind Ensemble gave the first performance of The Wineland Suite conducted by Alex Fokkens in May 2014. (This work is also available fully orchestrated.) The piano pieces Old Roses, Barcarolle and Song Without Words have been performed and recorded by Renée Reznek.
Within the last few years David has completed two full-length operas: Mary and the Conqueror in which Alexander the Great and Mary Renault meet in the afterlife; and Strange Ghost, composed to mark the centenary of the death of the iconic poet Rupert Brooke. Both have libretti by the Cape Town playwright Juliet Jenkin. The latter opera was premiered in Cambridge in December 2015, directed by Dionysios Kyropoulos, and conducted by Dominic Peckham with James Schouten in the title role (see rupertbrookeopera.com).
In 2017 two new works were premiered: Piano Suite No 4 Darshanas, and a Duo Sonata for Viola and Double Bass, the latter a commission from the South African double bass virtuoso Leon Bosch, for whom David has also written Nocturne: Old Nectar for Bass and Piano.
A setting of Stephen Spender’s poem The Truly Great was composed for Anglia Ruskin University’s 25th Anniversary Songbook in 2017. A song cycle for baritone and piano, Sangharakshita Songs, was premiered in Cambridge in October 2018.
Currently in progress is a new opera about Lawrence of Arabia which portrays T E Lawrence before and after the WW1 Arab Revolt.
David Earl will be a Jury member of the 2019 Olga Kern International Piano Competition.