Name: Judith Weir
Place of birth: Cambridge, UK
Known for: Award-winning British composer of opera, orchestral and choral works, chamber music and pieces for organ
Judith Weir is a composer of orchestral and chamber pieces, opera and theatrical works. Much of her work is inspired by mediaeval history and the traditional stories and music of Scotland, her parents’ homeland.
Her first work was King Harald’s Saga, which premiered in 1979. This three-act opera was based on the saga Heimskringla (c 1230) by Icelandic poet Snorri Sturlson. It was written for an unaccompanied solo soprano singing all eight roles. It lasts under 10 minutes.
Weir’s first staged work was The Black Spider, which was first performed in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral on 6 March 1985. The libretto, also by Weir, was based on the 1842 novella Die schwarze Spinne (The Black Spider) by Swiss novelist Jeremias Gotthelf.
This three-act opera combines two stories: a Polish folk legend about a plague-causing spider is interspersed with a contemporary news story about the opening of the tomb of Casimir IV, in Wawel Cathedral, Cracow.
Her most well-known works are her operas. These include A Night at the Chinese Opera (1987), a play-within-a-play-style story of revenge, The Vanishing Bridegroom (1990), a retelling of a Scottish folk story, and the fairytale-inspired Blond Eckbert (1994).
Miss Fortune followed in 2011. This contemporary retelling of a Sicilian folk tale explores what it means to be rich or poor, the mysteries of everyday life, and the effects of luck on our lives.
Weir is known for writing her own libretti. She has also created several opera films for television, including Scipio’s Dream, Hello Dolly and Armida.
She also writes orchestral and choral works and chamber music. Now based in London, she has had a long association with Spitalfields Music Festival as artistic director.
Judith Weir was born in Cambridge on 11 May 1954 to Scottish parents. Despite growing up in the east of England, her Scottish heritage is important to her and many of her works draw on Scottish culture and folklore.
As a child she performed with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain as an oboe player, while studying composition. She went on to study at the University of Cambridge.
She has won several awards for her music, including an Ivor Novello for classical music, the Stoeger Prize for chamber music and the Queen’s Medal for Music. In 1995 she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 2014 she was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music, succeeding Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. She will hold the post for 10 years.
Did you know?
In 2014 she became the first woman in the royal post’s 400-year history to be appointed Master of the Queen’s – now King’s – Music.
Judith Weir is best known for her operas. These include A Night at the Chinese Opera, The Vanishing Bridegroom, Blond Eckbert and Miss Fortune. You can find several of her compositions on Spotify.
Award-winning composer Judith Weir was made Master of the Queen’s Music in 2014.