Born in Sydney in 1931, David Lumsdaine was educated at Sydney University and the Sydney Conservatorium. In 1953 he went to England, establishing his reputation with such works as Kelly Ground, Flights, Mandalas 1 and 2. During the sixties he was immersed in British contemporary musical life, and was increasingly sought after as a composition teacher. This led to university appointments, first at Durham (where he founded and directed the Electronic Music Studio) and subsequently at King's College, London where he shared a post with his wife, the composer Nicola LeFanu. He retired from academic life in 1993, and now lives in York (where his wife is Professor of Music at York University) while still spending a large part of his time in Australia.
Over the last forty years he has composed a body of strikingly original music, including Aria for Edward John Eyre, Hagoromo, Mandala 3, Bagatelles, Mandala 5, Garden of Earthly Delights and Kali Dances. His love of western European music (Dufay, Tallis, Bach, Mozart, Ravel, Stravinsky) is frequently expressed through those works of his which begin as music about music. Yet this tradition is only one of the threads which make up his music: not only the music of other traditions and cultures, but also the music of the natural world. At its heart, the music embodies his experience of the Australian landscape - the variety of its shapes, rhythms, colours and textures: the vitality of its creatures; its sudden violence; its sense of unlimited space and time. His passion for the natural world and its conservation expresses itself more literally in his archive of birdsong and recorded soundscapes, many of which are published on CD.
"Comparisons, we know, smell bad, and seem particularly inappropriate in the case of such a loner as David Lumsdaine, whose works, scarce and wonderful and in many ways quite unlike each other, have come out of a solitary journey. But maybe a connection could be drawn with the music of Charles Ives, at a level below style. Lumsdaine is a more sophisticated artist, but there is a guilelessness that seems familiar, if perhaps only because it is so rare: both mean what they write, without compromises or excuses or inhibitions. And Lumsdaine, like Ives, feels landscape and history as close as the end of his pen, with the difference that the landscape and history and those of his native Australia." Paul Griffiths, The Times
"[On Hagaromo at the Proms 1983] Indeed, not for quite some years have I heard a new orchestral piece so stunning and so rich in new experience. What happens in the composition is that the orchestra is made to dance, and to reveal, for itself and for its audience, its own beauty in a thousand new colours and shapes. There are sheets of string and wind tone dappled with pitched percussion as a Klimt is dappled with gold... Lumsdaine's imaginary landscape has a searching, critical human presence..." Paul Griffiths, The Times
"[On A Tree Telling of Orpheus...] Setting a long and striking poem is not necessarily an easy or even a grateful task for a composer, but Lumsdaine has brought it off triumphantly. Using a fresh and inexhaustible instrumental energy to give the vocal line strong rhythmic support and momentum, Lumsdaine unlocks a dazzling fund of songful invention, varying this methods from syllabic fidelity to baroque and extravagant flourishes. Hearing the voice and its entourage of instruments setting off on another joyously propelled excursion reminded me of one of those unstoppable and rhythmically tricky polyphonic rondeaux of the 15th century, rotating as if forever through its daisy chain of melody and counter-melody..." Sydney Morning Herald, 1992