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Gipps, Ruth (1921—)

Gipps, Ruth (1921—)>

English composer and conductor. Born on February 20, 1921, in East Sussex, England; one of two children of Bryan and Hélène (Johner) Gipps; attended Brickwall School for Girls, Northiam; attended "The Gables" (a preparatory school for boys where she was allowed to enroll because her brother had also attended); attended Bexhill County School; studied music at the Royal College of Music, London; married Robert Baker (a clarinetist), in March 1941; children: one son, Lance (b. 1947).

Selected works:

The Fairy Shoemaker (first composition, 1929); Mazeppa's Ride (Op. 1 for female chorus and orchestra); Rhapsody (Op. 18 for soprano and small orchestra); Quintet (Op. 16, for oboe, clarinet and string trio); Brocade (Op. 17, piano quartet); Oboe Concerto (Op. 20); Variations on Byrd's Non Nobus (Op. 7); Knight in Armour (Op. 8); Symphony 1 in F Minor (Op. 22); Death on the Pale Horse (Op. 25); Violin Concerto (Op. 24); Jane Grey Fantasy (Op. 15 for viola and strings); Symphony No. 2 (Op. 30); The Cat (Op. 32 for contralto, baritone, chorus and orchestra); Piano Concerto (Op. 34); Goblin Market (a tone poem for two soprano soloists, three-part female choir and strings or piano); Sinfonietta (for ten winds and tam-tam); Concerto for Violin, Viola and Small Orchestra (Op. 49); Symphony No. 3 (Op. 57); Horn Concerto (Op. 58); Symphony No. 4 (Op. 61); Symphony No. 5 (Op. 64); Ambarvalia (Op. 70).

English composer and conductor Ruth Gipps characterized herself as a born rebel and used her defiant nature to open doors normally closed to women in the world of classical music. Born into a musical family (her mother was a pianist and her father and brother violinists), Gipps (known as "Wid" to friends), was a child prodigy, beginning piano lessons at four and performing her first composition at the age of eight. She entered the Royal College of Music at 15, where she took up the oboe and also began to compose seriously. She studied composition with R.O. Morris, Gordon Jacob, and Vaughan Williams, whose influence can be heard in her early compositions. In 1941, Gipps married Robert Baker, a clarinetist whom she had met in 1939.

During her early career, Gipps worked as an orchestral oboist and also appeared as a concert pianist. Through World War II, she was a member of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), which was founded by three women, Seymour Winyates, Gladys Crook , and Mary Glasgow , in order to stimulate interest in the arts and provide entertainment for those working in factories. CEMA's concerts took place at all hours, some even starting at midnight for workers on the night shift. In 1947, Gipps received her doctorate in music from Durham University and also gave birth to her son, Lance. She continued her study of conducting with George Weldon, who gave her lessons despite his strong bias against women conductors. She subsequently left Weldon to study with Stanford Robinson for whom she had played oboe in the BBC Theatre Orchestra.

From 1948 to 1950, Gipps was choirmaster of the City of Birmingham Choir. In 1954, at age 33, she began suffering severe pain in her right hand, back, and neck, the result of injuries sustained in a bicycle accident when she was 12. After a period of uncertainty, she decided to abandon the piano and concentrate more on conducting. Gipps led the London Repertory Orchestra from 1955 to 1961, when, after receiving a small legacy, she founded the Chanticleer Orchestra, a group of mostly young London musicians. The orchestra was acknowledged for its high standards and "perfect balance," but it suffered from sporadic support by patrons and a general lack of respect from the musical establishment.

Gipps also built a distinguished teaching record, including a professorship at Trinity College (1959–66), ten years as a professor of composition at the Royal College of Music (1967–77), and a year as a principal lecturer at Kingston Polytechnic (1979). She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1981. Amid all her musical activities, she always found time

to compose. Her works include five symphonies, concertos for violin, piano, violin and viola, and horn, several choral works, and chamber music. In an article on Gipps for The Maud Powell Signature, Margaret Campbell points out that discrimination was a recurring occurrence in Gipps' career and that her work has never received the recognition it deserves. "[W]hat she would prize above all would be to have her symphonies and major works performed professionally. Apart from her music she considers her life to be of little value to the world."


Campbell, Margaret. "Ruth Gipps: A Woman of Substance," in The Maud Powell Signature. Vol. 1, no. 3. Winter 1996.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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