Ruth Dorothy Louisa ("Wid") Gipps MBE (20 February 1921 – 23 February 1999) was an English composer, oboist, pianist, conductor, and educator. She composed music in a wide range of genres, including five symphonies, seven concertos, and numerous chamber and choral works. She founded both the London Repertoire Orchestra and the Chanticleer Orchestra and served as conductor and music director for the City of Birmingham Choir. Later in her life she served as chairwoman of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain.
She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1981 Birthday Honours for services to music.
Gipps was born at 14 Parkhurst Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, England in 1921 to (Gerard Cardew) Bryan Gipps (1877–1956), a businessman, English teacher in Germany, and later an official at the Board of Trade who was a trained violinist from a military family, and Hélène Bettina (née Johner), a piano teacher from Basel, Switzerland. They married in 1907, having met at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, where Hélène had trained and went on to teach, and where Bryan had gone against his family's wishes to study the violin.
Ruth Gipps had two elder siblings, Ernest Bryan (1910-2001), a violinist, and Laura (1908–1962), also a musician. The Gipps family had Kent roots, descending from the eighteenth-century apothecary, hop merchant, banker, and politician George Gipps; Sir George Gipps, Governor of New South Wales from 1838 to 1846, was a relative. At his marriage, Bryan Gipps had started a small business to allow his wife to focus on her music; after a few years, the business failed, and they moved to Germany, where he taught English. When they relocated to Bexhill-on-Sea at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the family was in the then unusual position of a middle-class household's mother being the main provider, which along with Hélène's idiosyncrasies attracted some attention. The family home was the Bexhill School of Music, of which Hélène was principal. Eventually becoming an official at the Board of Trade, her father was also the senior heir, via his mother, Louisa Goulburn Thomas, to the Carmarthenshire and Kent property of Richard Thomas, of Hollingbourne, near Maidstone, Kent, and of Cystanog, High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1788.
Ruth was a child prodigy, winning performance competitions in which she was considerably younger than the rest of the field. After she performed her first composition at the age of 8 in one of the many music festivals she entered, the work was bought by a publishing house for a guinea and a half. Winning a concerto competition with the Hastings Municipal Orchestra began her performance career in earnest.
In 1937, she entered the Royal College of Music, where she studied oboe with Léon Goossens, piano with Arthur Alexander and composition with Gordon Jacob, and later with Ralph Vaughan Williams. Several of her works were first performed there. Continuing her studies at Durham University led her to meet her future husband, clarinettist Robert Baker. At age 26, for her work The Cat she became the youngest British woman to receive a doctorate in music.
Ruth Gipps was an accomplished all-round musician, as a soloist on both oboe and piano as well as a prolific composer. Her repertoire included works such as Arthur Bliss's Piano Concerto and Constant Lambert's The Rio Grande. When she was 33 a shoulder injury ended her performance career, and she decided to focus her energies on conducting and composition. Gipps claimed to know from a young age that her main interest lay in composing, stating,
I had of course known all along that playing the piano was my job; the first concert merely confirmed it. But I also knew without a shadow of a doubt, although I had not yet written anything, that I was a composer. Not that I wanted to be a composer - that I was one.
An early success came when Sir Henry Wood conducted her tone poem Knight in Armour at the Last Night of the Proms in 1942. Gipps's music is marked by a skillful use of instrumental colour and often shows the influence of Vaughan Williams, rejecting the trends in avant-garde modern music such as serialism and twelve-tone music. She considered her orchestral works, her five symphonies in particular, as her greatest works. She also produced two substantial piano concertos. After the war Gipps turned her attention to chamber music, and in 1956 she won the Cobbett Prize of the Society of Women Musicians for her Clarinet Sonata, Op. 45. In March 1945, she performed Alexander Glazunov's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the City of Birmingham Orchestra as a piano soloist while also, in the same program, performing in her own Symphony No. 1 on cor anglais under the baton of George Weldon.
Gipps's early career was affected strongly by discrimination against women in the male-dominated ranks of music (and particularly composition), by professors and judges as well as the world of music criticism. Because of this opposition, she developed a tough personality that many found off-putting, and a fierce determination to prove herself through her work.
She founded the London Repertoire Orchestra in 1955 as an opportunity for young professional musicians to become exposed to a wide range of music. In 1957, she conducted the Pro Arte Orchestra. She later founded the Chanticleer Orchestra in 1961, a professional ensemble which included a work by a living composer in each of its programs, often a premiere performance. Among these was the first London performance in September 1972 of the Cello Concerto by Sir Arthur Bliss in which the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber made his professional debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Later she would take faculty posts at Trinity College London (1959 to 1966), the Royal College of Music (1967 to 1977), and then Kingston Polytechnic at Gypsy Hill. In 1967 she was appointed chairwoman of the Composers' Guild of Great Britain.
In London, her address was 20 Heathcote Road, St. Margaret's, Twickenham. On her retirement, Gipps returned to Sussex, living at Tickerage Castle near Framfield until her death in 1999, aged 78, after suffering the effects of cancer and a stroke. Her son, Lance Baker, was a professional horn player and orchestrator and brass teacher.
Stylistically, Gipps was a Romantic both in the musical sense and in her choice of extra-musical inspiration (for example the tone poem Knight in Armour). Although her music is not typically pastoral from a programmatic perspective, Gipps was heavily indebted to the English pastoralist school of the early 20th century, particularly her erstwhile teacher Vaughan Williams, but other figures, including Arthur Bliss (to whom she dedicated the Fourth Symphony), her contemporary Malcolm Arnold, and George Weldon were also influential. Her conservative, tonal style placed her at odds with contemporary trends in music such as serialism, of which she was highly critical. Her music was not featured in the Proms or broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in her lifetime.
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