Rainier, Priaulx (1903–1986)

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Rainier, Priaulx (1903–1986)

South African-born composer. Born on February 3, 1903, at Howick, Natal, South Africa; died in Besseen-Chandesse (Auvergne), France, on October 10, 1986; third of four daughters of Ellen (Howard) Rainier and William Gregory Rainier of English-Huguenot descent; studied at the South African College of Music Cape Zaon, and at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Rowsby Woof; studied for a short time with Nadia Boulanger in 1937.

Appointed professor at the Royal Academy of Music (1942), teaching composition there until 1961; elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy (1952); received many commissions from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); awarded an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Cape Town (1982); was the first woman initiated into the Livery-man of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, a guild which dates back to 1500 (1983).

Priaulx Rainier was born in 1903 in a remote area near Zululand, and as a child walked six miles across the vast plain of South Africa to take violin lessons. While she walked, she listened to the sounds of the birds, wild animals, and the wind across the great open spaces. At home, she heard a repertoire of classical music played on the family's grand piano. These early sounds, as well as her innate talent, provided the background for works she would later compose.

In 1920, Rainier won an Overseas Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music and from that point forward would reside in London. Sir Arnold Bax encouraged her to compose, and in 1937, before the outbreak of World War II, she studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. The great French teacher instructed her student to write the first things that came into her head every morning. "You are so jammed with ideas that it becomes a problem and you must sift and sort them," said Boulanger. "All your ideas are of value and you must learn to release them."

Rainier's String Quartet was first performed by the Gertler Quartet in London in 1939, and was later recorded by the illustrious Amadeus Quartet. During the war, this work drew a great deal of attention at the National Gallery Concerts sponsored by Myra Hess . Rainier's Sonata for Viola and Piano was also premiered at the concerts. The composer Benjamin Britten and his partner Peter Pears often encouraged Rainier to compose new works. In the 1960s, the BBC commissioned her compositions which were then broadcast, as well as six Retrospective Concerts of some of her chamber music in 1973. She was a member of the faculty of the Royal Academy of Music and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cape Town in 1982. A concert solely devoted to her works was given in London's Wigmore Hall in 1983.


Cohen, Aaron I. International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. 2 vols. NY: Books & Music (USA), 1987.

Gilder, Eric. The Dictionary of Composers and their Music. NY: Wings Books, 1985.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia

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Rainier, Priaulx (1903–1986)

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