Thea Musgrave


Richard Rodney Bennett, Malcolm Williamson, Thea Musgrave and Peter Maxwell Davies at the Cafe Boulevard in London, 9th April 1965
Richard Rodney Bennett, Malcolm Williamson, Thea Musgrave and Peter Maxwell Davies at the Cafe Boulevard in London, 9th April 1965. Erich Auerbach/Getty Images

A conductor as well as a composer, Thea Musgrave has conducted in the United States and Britain. She has taught at London University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, New College, Cambridge, and Queen's University, New York. Her later work is known for dramatic-abstract musical forms.

Dates: May 27, 1928 -

Occupation: composer

"Music is a human art, not a sexual one. Sex is no more important than eye color." - Thea Musgrave

Thea Musgrave was born in Barton, Scotland. She studied at Moreton Hall Schook, then at Edinburgh University, with Hans Gál and Mary Grierson, and in Paris at the Conservatoire and with Nadia Boulanger. She studied with Tanglewood Festival with Aaron Copland in 1958.

Thea Musgrave was a Guest Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1970, and from 1987 to 2002 taught at Queen's College, City University of New York, appointed as a Distinguished Professor.  She has honorary degrees from Old Dominion University in Virginia, Glasgow University, Smith College and Boston's New England Conservatory of Music.

Her early works include The Suite o'Bairnsangs, a ballet A Tale for Thieves and an opera The Abbot of Drimock. Her best known works include The Seasons, Rainbow, Black Tambourine (for female voices, piano and percussion) and operas The Voice of Ariadne, A Christmas Carol, Mary Queen of Scots, and Harriet: The Woman Called 'Moses.'  Her later work, especially, extends traditional boundaries, emphasizing abstract form and dramatic content.

Though her operas are perhaps her best known work, she also composed for ballet and children's theater, and published many pieces for orchestra, piano and chamber music. as well as some pieces for vocal and choral performance.

She often conducted her own work at major music festivals in America and Euorpe. 

She is married to Peter Mark since 1971, a violist who was the conductor and general director of the Virginia Opera Association in the 1980s.

Key Operas

Composed in the 1970s, Mary, Queen of Scots is about the period when Mary Stuart returned to Scotland after her years in France, through her flight to England.

Her A Christmas Carol, based on the story by Charles Dickens, was first performed in Virginia in 1979.

Harriet: A Woman Called Moses was first performed in Virginia in 1985.  The opera is based on the life of Harriet Tubman and her role in the Underground Railroad.

Key Orchestral Works

Thea Musgrave published Concerto for Orchestra in 1967. This piece is noted for the solos moving around through different sections of the orchestra, then the soloists playing, standing, in the climax.  Several later pieces also featured soloists highlighting different parts of the orchestra, moving the players around the stage.

Night Music is a 1969 piece noted for the emotions that it evokes.  In Viola Concerto the whole viola section is to rise at a specific point.  She considered her Peripeteia "a kind of opera without words or specific plot."

Choral Works

The texts for Musgrave's choral pieces are from a variety of classical and modern sources, including Hesiod, Chaucer, Michelangelo, John Donne, Shakespeare and D.H. Lawrence.


Musgrave published The Choral Music of 21st Century Women Composers in 1997, written with Elizabeth Lutyens and Elizabeth Merconchy.

About Thea Musgrave

  • Categories: musician, composer, conductor
  • Places: Edinburgh, Scotland, United States
  • Period: 20th century

Print Bibliography

  • Musgrave, Thea, Elizabeth Maconchy and Elisabeth Lutyens. The Choral Music of Twentieth-Century Women Composers. 1997.
  • Hixon, Donald L. Thea Musgrave: A Bio-Bibliography. 1984.


  • Women of Note (CD)
  • Premiere Performances by Boston Musica Viva
  • Twentieth Century Settings