Richard Whalley


  • Senior Lecturer in Musical Composition, Music
  • Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, University of Manchester

    M13 9PL Manchester

    United Kingdom

Personal profile


Richard Whalley is a composer and pianist living in Manchester, where he is a Senior Lecturer in Composition at the University of Manchester. His compositions are noted for their combination of timbral and textural exploration, their varied approach to line and for their formal innovation. Many are inspired by extra-musical sources, including the physicality of paintings and sculptures, the evocation of time and memory in literature, and increasingly in finding musical analogies for geological processes, and for the shapes found in nature. 

He was a finalist in the 1992 BBC Young Musician of the Year Composers’ Award and the 2001 Gaudeamus International Composers Award with Elegy (for chamber ensemble), and a featured composer in Ensemble Aleph’s Second Forum for Composers in 2002/3, for whom he wrote Twisted Variations. In 2009 Five Preludes was the winning composition in the International Music Prize for Excellence in Composition 2009. Interlocking Melodies for string quartet was selected for performance in the 2012 ISCM World Music Days in Flanders, and in 2015 he was commissioned (as a finalist in the Feeding Music Competition) to write Wonderland for Divertimento Ensemble for performance during Milan Expo 2015. In 2016, Misplaced Time Refound for solo flute was shortlisted for a BASCA British Composer Award.

His music has been performed in the US and throughout Europe by numerous outstanding soloists and ensembles. Soloists who have performed his music include Caroline Balding, Richard Casey, Oliver Coates, Marc Danel, Paul Carey Jones, Gavin Osborn and John Turner. Ensembles include the Hilliard Ensemble, Psappha, Ensemble Aleph, the Quatuor Danel, Dinosaur Annex, Trio Atem, Divertimento Ensemble, Ensemble 10:10, the Ebonit Saxophone Quartet and the London Symphony Orchestra. He is also involved in an ongoing collaboration with the Yve Poprawski Dance School in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. A number of his works are commercially recorded, including a solo CD his music, ‘A Feast for the Senses’, released in 2012.

As a pianist he has built a repertoire extending from Bach and Beethoven to numerous contemporary composers. He has premiered a number of his own works for piano, as well as those by other composers including Camden Reeves, Kevin Malone, Tom Coult and Peter Swinnen. As well as playing solo, he regularly performs with various soloists including Helen Tonge (violin), Marc Danel (violin), Eric Robberecht (violin) and Guy Danel (cello), and he has also been fortunate to perform periodically with the Quatuor Danel. His piano teachers were Kate Elmitt whilst growing up in Hertfordshire, then Karen Evans whilst a student at the University of York.

Richard was born in 1974, and studied composition with Roger Marsh and Nicola Lefanu at University of York as an undergraduate, and with Mario Davidovsky and Joshua Fineberg at Harvard University for his PhD. As well as teaching at the University of Manchester, he teaches every August on the composition masterclass at the ARAM-Poitou Summer School in France, where he is a regular contributor, as composer and performer to the Concerts en nos Villages series in the Poitou region of France. His scores are published by Composers Edition at and you can find information about CD recordings of his music at

Research interests

The most important aspect of composition for me is the exploration of possibilities. Such a magnitude of music already exists… and yet there remain infinite unexplored possibilities, and this fascinates and energises me. In fact this is fundamental to why I compose.

Although I really enjoy listening to electronic music of all kinds, my music is primarily instrumental or vocal. Partly this is because the sonic possibilities of instruments and voices are so rich, and there is much to discover. But also I am fascinated by the variety of what live performers can bring to a piece of music: the chemistry between performers, the ideas performers bring to the music and the possibilities for spontaneity in live performance. Consequently, a number of recent compositions explore various means of allowing performers certain freedoms in places, for example in choosing how their parts align, or the order in which they play material.

Sonic exploration plays a large part in my music – again this comes down to a fascination with the exploration of possibilities. Yet what is fundamentally interesting for me is to focus on the relationship between such concepts as sound quality, performing technique, etc. and aspects of music that have been the concern of composers for centuries: musical line, harmony, transformation of ideas, etc. Indeed a sense of dialogue with music of the past is perhaps inevitable given my classical training as a musician, but this is tempered by a desire to escape, often finding freedom in the challenge of responding through sound to extra-musical sources of inspiration.

A number of my works take analogies with visual art as a starting point: these include Interlocking Melodies (2007), A Very Serious Game (2012) and Three Roses (2013), which are inspired by works by De Kooning, M.C. Escher and Cy Twombly respectively. These works respond in their own distinct ways to the varied textures of the art, with the relationship between structure and space provoking varied musical shapes over time. Literature and film have also had their influence, particularly through the possibilities they offer in evoking memory, for example in Misplaced Time Refound (2015) which takes its inspiration from Umberto Eco’s tongue-in-cheek description of computer memory in Foucault’s Pendulum. In recent works, notably Wonderland (2015), Iapetus Suture (2016) and Kinderszenen (2016), I am increasingly drawn to evoking shapes and patterns found in nature in music, for example by using proportions found in nature, allowing elements of chance into the realisation of musical material, and in exploring musical analogies with geological processes.

Other teaching information

Current / recent teaching


Musc 10112 Techniques of Tonal Harmony

Musc 10221 Aural Skills

Musc 10311/2: Sonic Invention

Musc 10600 Solo Performance I

Musc 20321 Instrumental Composition

Musc 30300 Composition Portfolio


Musc 40061 Contemporary Music Studies

Musc 40091 Composition Etudes

Musc 40102 Composition Project

Musc 60042 Advanced Orchestration

Musc 40120 Portfolio of Compositions


Guillermo Martinez (2011-12)

McConnie Providence (2016-17)

Simon Hellewell (2017-)


Further information

More information about Richard's music can be found at:

Scores can be ordered from:

A selection of recordings can be heard at:

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Portfolio of Compositions, Harvard University

Award Date: 10 Jun 2004

Master of Music, Portfolio of Compositions, University of York

Bachelor of Music, Degree in Music, University of York

External positions

External Examiner for Professional Doctorate in Creative Arts, University of Central Lancashire

1 Oct 201730 Sept 2021

BBC Young Musician of the Year Adjudication, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Head Office

30 Sept 20134 Oct 2013

Teaching on Composition Masterclass, ARAM-Poitou

9 Aug 2010 → …

Areas of expertise

  • M Music
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Contemporary Music
  • Composition Techniques
  • Extended Instrumental Techiques
  • Orchestration
  • Contemporary Music Performance
  • Piano
  • Contemporary Composers
  • Modernism
  • Spectralism
  • Experimental Music

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Sustainable Futures
  • Creative Manchester


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