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Remembering Christopher Gunning

It is with enormous sadness that we mark the passing of Christopher Gunning, one of Britain’s most accomplished composers of music both for the screen and the concert hall.

Christopher Gunning

Christopher was a founding member of the Association of Professional Composers, one of the three organisations that combined to form BASCA, now known as The Ivors Academy. Meetings of the fledgling APC were held at his house, and Christopher became a stalwart champion of composers’ rights and copyright, in part galvanised by his then wife Annie Farrow, former managing director of Air-Edel Associates. He was active for many years on the Board of PRS, and more recently the PRS Members’ Benevolent Fund.

Born to musical parents in Cheltenham and raised in the London suburb of Hendon, he began composing at the piano before he could even read music. Having studied composition, piano and percussion under Richard Rodney Bennett, Edmund Rubbra and pianist James Gibb at London’s Guildhall School, one of his Christoper’s first jobs was assisting Dudley Moore with musical arrangements for the film Bedazzled, before going on to score documentary films in his own right. He also assisted Bennett on the score to Nicholas & Alexander, and like his teacher demonstrated a broad, plural approach to his work – balancing symphonic and concert music with film and television commissions.

His talents as an arranger were quickly noticed and soon he was working with a host of top artists including Mel Tormé, Shirley Bassey, US saxophonist Phil Woods, Cilla Black, The Hollies, Judith Durham, Jackie Lee and Colin Blunstone.

His finely-crafted scores for television attracted a garland of top awards, including BAFTAs for Porterhouse Blue (1987), Middlemarch (1994) and the long-running Poirot, plus an Ivor Novello for Rebecca (1997), and Ivors additionally for the films Under Suspicion (1991) – also winning as publisher of his own score – and Firelight (1997). He was nominated a further five times for Ivor Novellos and his score for the Edith Piaf film biopic La Vie en Rose (La Môme) won both the Best Score BAFTA and the Czech Lion.

A gift for concise lyricism emerged in music for many long-running commercial campaigns, including the unforgettable It’s the Right One for Martini and the haunting, luxurious bass-flutes of Black Magic chocolates.

In later years, he concentrated more on concert music to great acclaim, with numerous concerti for solo instruments and string orchestra – saxophone, guitar, clarinet, flute, cello, piano and oboe, this last written for his oboist daughter Verity. Alongside a string quartet, his symphonies number no fewer than thirteen, many of which have been recorded and are deserving of wider attention. A number of his screen scores too have found life as concert arrangements.

While on occasion he might have challenged decisions BASCA was taking – resulting memorably in his rather public resignation from the Academy during a packed and fraught AGM in 2014 – he was instrumental in the organisation’s formation and its continued activities, serving as an inspiration to so many of his colleagues. We were immensely fortunate to have benefitted from his contributions and his energetic and entertaining nature. Read an in-depth interview he kindly gave to The Ivors Academy.

We extend our sincerest condolences to his family – especially his four daughters Olivia, Verity, Pollyanna and Chloë and his wife Svitlana. For so many of us, Christopher was ‘a composer’s composer’ –  the real deal. While his engaging and sophisticated music will doubtlessly endure, our friend Chris will be sorely and sadly missed.

Christopher Gunning, 5 August 1944 – 25 March 2023


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