Stephen Oliver (composer)

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Stephen Michael Harding Oliver (10 March 1950 – 29 April 1992) was an English composer, best known for his operas.

Life and career[edit]

Oliver was born in Chester, the son of Charlotte Hester (Girdlestone), a religious education adviser, and Osborne George Oliver, an electricity board official.[1] His maternal great-grandfather was William Boyd Carpenter, a Bishop of Ripon and a court chaplain to Queen Victoria.[1] Oliver was educated at St Paul's Cathedral, Ardingly College and at Worcester College, Oxford, where he read music under Kenneth Leighton and Robert Sherlaw Johnson. His first opera, The Duchess of Malfi (1971), was staged while he was still at Oxford.

Later works include incidental music for the Royal Shakespeare Company (including The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby), a musical, Blondel (1983; with Tim Rice), and over forty operas, including Tom Jones (1975), Beauty and the Beast (1984) and Timon of Athens (1991). Oliver also wrote music for television, including several of the BBC's Shakespeare productions (Timon among those), the soundtrack to the 1986 film Lady Jane, and some chamber and instrumental music.

He was a good friend of Simon Callow who commissioned the piece Ricercare No. 4 for vocal quartet Cantabile. He also composed the score for the thirteen-hour radio dramatization of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1981. The work combined a main theme with many sub-themes, all composed within the English pastoral tradition.

In Tony Palmer's film Wagner (1982–83), Oliver can be seen playing the part of conductor Hans Richter and conducting in the pit of Richard Wagner's theatre at Bayreuth.

He died (42) of AIDS-related complications in London.[2] In 2006, Oliver's archive of original scores and papers was presented to the British Library by his family.

Oliver was a frequent guest on BBC Radio 4's light discussion programme Stop The Week. His nephew is comedian John Oliver.[3]

Further reading[edit]

  • Holden, Amanda; Blyth, Alan (1993), The Viking opera guide, Viking, ISBN 0-670-81292-7
  • "Friendships in Constant Repair": perspectives on the life and work of Stephen Oliver. ISBN 978-1-84876-534-4


  1. ^ a b Adam Pollock (10 March 1950). "Oliver, Stephen Michael Harding (1950-1992), composer : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - oi". Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  2. ^ Kozinn, Allan (7 May 1992). "Stephen Oliver, 42, a Composer Of Operas and Theater Music". New York Times. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  3. ^ Kamp, David (2 January 2014). "John Oliver Is Horrified by Massages and Is a "Committed Coward": What You Should Know About the Host of *Last Week Tonight*". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2 October 2016.

External links[edit]