David Fanshawe

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David Fanshawe
Born (1942-04-19)19 April 1942
Died 5 July 2010(2010-07-05)
Occupation English composer, ethnomusicology and self-styled explorer

David Arthur Fanshawe (19 April 1942 – 5 July 2010) was an English composer, ethnomusicologist and self-styled explorer.[1] His best-known composition is the 1972 choral work African Sanctus.


Fanshawe was born in Paignton in Devon in 1942. His father was a successful officer in the Royal Artillery who played a central role in the planning of D-Day. His stories of military service in India fired his son's enthusiasm for travel and adventure. David Fanshawe's first ambition was to be an explorer but when he attended St George's School, Windsor Castle and Stowe School he discovered a love of music. However, his severe dyslexia prevented him from reading a musical score and becoming a chorister.[1]

At Stowe School he spent much of his spare time learning to play the piano, and when he was 17 he was discovered by the mother of a schoolfriend, a French baroness, who tutored him in the piano even after he left the school in 1959. He started his adult career as a musician and film editor for a small production company in Wimbledon in London who made documentary films. In 1965 Fanshawe won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition under John Lambert. During his holidays he continued to travel widely in Europe and the Middle East. During a summer spent hitchhiking in Afghanistan he heard Islamic music for the first time and was immediately attracted to its beauty. During further travels in Iraq and Bahrain he recorded the traditional music he heard.[1]

On completing his studies in 1969 Fanshawe travelled up the Nile from the Mediterranean Sea, visiting Egypt, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya over a three-year period before finally reaching Lake Victoria. He brought a small stereo tape recorder on his journey and would persuade local musicians to play for him.[1] Returning to the United Kingdom in 1972 with several hundreds of hours of recordings made during his travels, Fanshawe used the material to compose what became his best known work, African Sanctus. After this work he became widely known for the composition of choral works. Besides vocal pieces, he also composed the score for films and television,[2] including films such as Tarka the Otter (1979) and Dirty Weekend (1993), and TV productions such as the BBC's Softly, Softly: Taskforce and When the Boat Comes In, and ITV's The Feathered Serpent, Flambards and The Good Companions. His ethnic field recordings have featured in countless TV documentaries, including Musical Mariner and Tropical Beat, as well as various feature films including Mountains of the Moon, How to Make an American Quilt, Seven Years in Tibet and Gangs of New York.[3][4]

During a ten-year odyssey across the islands of the Pacific Ocean begun in 1978, Fanshawe collected several thousand hours of indigenous music, and documented the music and oral traditions of Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia in journals and photographs. These pieces form the core of his collection, an archive of approximately 2,000 hours of ethnic music and 60,000 images. Pacific Song, a movement based on this material, premiered in Miami in 2007. This was the first completed section of Pacific Odyssey, a new choral work which Fanshawe conceived on a grander scale than African Sanctus. He did not complete the work by the time of his death.[1]

The University of the West of England awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Music to Fanshawe in 2007 for his pursuit of musical excellence and for introducing music into lives of people who could neither read nor write music.[5] Fanshawe also earned a Churchill Fellowship and a nomination for an Ivor Novello Award for the recording of African Sanctus.[1]

David Fanshawe married Judith Croasdell Grant in 1971; they had two children together, Alexander and Rebecca. The marriage was dissolved in 1985. He married his second wife Jane in 1985, with whom he had a daughter, Rachel. His younger brother is James, an ex-naval officer.

He lived near Ramsbury in Wiltshire in England, and died on 5 July 2010 from a stroke.[6]

Works (selection)


External links