Constant Lambert

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Leonard Constant Lambert (23 August 1905 – 21 August 1951) was a British composer and conductor.


Early life

Lambert was the son of Russian-born Australian painter George Lambert. Educated at Christ's Hospital and the Royal College of Music, Lambert was a prodigy, writing orchestral works from the age of 13, and at 20 received a commission to write a ballet for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (Romeo and Juliet).

For a few years he enjoyed a meteoric celebrity, including participating in a recording of William Walton's Façade with Edith Sitwell.[1] Lambert's most famous composition is The Rio Grande for piano solo, chorus and orchestra. A recording survives with Hamilton Harty as the soloist and the Hallé Orchestra conducted by the composer. Lambert had a great interest in American Negro music, and once said that he would have ideally liked The Rio Grande to feature a black choir.[2]


During the 1930s, his career as a conductor took off with his appointment with the Vic-Wells ballet (later The Royal Ballet), but his career as a composer stagnated. His major choral work Summer's Last Will and Testament (after the play of the same name by Thomas Nashe), one of his most emotionally dark works, proved unfashionable in the mood following the death of the King (George V), but Alan Frank hailed it at the time as Lambert's "finest work".[3] Lambert himself considered he had failed as a composer, and completed only two major works in the remaining sixteen years of his life. Instead he concentrated on conducting, and appeared at Covent Garden and in BBC broadcasts, and accompanied the ballet in European and American tours.

The war took its toll of his vitality and creativity, and his health declined with the development of diabetes which remained untreated for years owing to his fear of doctors, stemming from childhood.

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