Constant Lambert

Constant Lambert
A 1926 portrait of Constant Lambert by Christopher Wood

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


Early life

Lambert, the son of Russian-born Australian painter George Lambert, was 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 Sergei 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 best known composition is The Rio Grande (1927) for piano and alto soloists, chorus, and orchestra of brass, strings and percussion. It achieved instant success, and Lambert made two recordings of the piece as conductor (1930 and 1949). He 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 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 radio 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 his childhood.

Lambert was renowned as a raconteur in his day and as an expert on many different arts and modern European culture.[4] He was also one of the first "serious" composers to understand fully the importance of jazz and popular culture in the music of his time. He responded positively to the music of Duke Ellington. His embrace of music outside the 'serious' repertoire is illustrated by his book Music Ho! (1934),[5] subtitled "a study of music in decline", which remains one of the wittiest, if highly opinionated, volumes of music criticism in the English language.

Funerary monument, Brompton Cemetery, London

He was at the centre of a brilliant literary and intellectual circle including Michael Ayrton, Sacheverell Sitwell and Anthony Powell, and despite Powell's denial, he is often said to be the prototype of the character Hugh Moreland in Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time.

As a conductor he had an instinctive appreciation of Liszt, Chabrier, Waldteufel and romantic Russian composers, and made fine recordings of some of their works. However, it was only when his health was declining that his career had a chance to flourish with the development of the BBC Third Programme and the Philharmonia Orchestra, having struggled for many years to extract vital performances from second-rate ensembles.

Personal life

Lambert's first marriage was to Florence Kaye;[6] their son was Kit Lambert. After divorcing Kaye, in 1947 Lambert married the artist Isabel Delmer; after his death, she married Alan Rawsthorne. Lambert's first wife Florence Kaye married Peter Hole; their daughter Anne later took the stage name Annie Lambert.

Lambert earlier had an on-and-off affair with the ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn which began when Fonteyn was only 17 years old. It was rumoured at the time that Fonteyn became pregnant by Lambert but had an abortion. According to friends of Fonteyn, Lambert was the great love of her life and she despaired when she finally realised he would never marry her. Some aspects of this relationship were symbolised in his ballet Horoscope (1938).

Later life

Lambert died on 21 August 1951, two days short of his forty-sixth birthday, of pneumonia and undiagnosed diabetes complicated by acute alcoholism, and was buried in Brompton Cemetery, London. His son Kit was buried in the same grave in 1983.

Major works


  • Romeo and Juliet (1925)
  • Pomona (1927)
  • Horoscope (1938)
  • Tiresias (1950)

Choral and vocal:

  • Eight poems of Li Po (1928)
  • The Rio Grande (1927) (set to a poem by Sacheverell Sitwell)
  • Summer's Last Will and Testament (1936; to words by Thomas Nashe)
  • Dirge from Cymbeline (1947)


  • Piano Concerto (1924) (ed. Shipley/Easterbrook - premiered Mark Gasser 2001 Christ's Hospital)
  • The Bird Actors Overture (1924)
  • Music for Orchestra (1927)
  • Aubade Heroique (1941)


  • Concerto for Piano and 9 Instruments (1931)


  • Piano Sonata (1930)
  • Elegy, for piano (1938)
  • Trois pieces negres, pour les touches blanches, piano duet (4 hands) (1949)

Film Music


  1. ^ Driver, Paul (September 1980). "Façade Revisited" (– Scholar search). Tempo, New Ser. 133/134: 3–9. JSTOR 00402982/. [dead link]
  2. ^ Palmer, Christopher (April 1971). "Constant Lambert: A Postscript" (– Scholar search). Music & Letters 52 (2): 173–176. doi:10.1093/ml/LII.2.173. JSTOR 00274224/. [dead link]
  3. ^ Frank, Alan (November 1937). "The Music of Constant Lambert" (– Scholar search). The Musical Times (The Musical Times, Vol. 78, No. 1137) 78 (1137): 941–945. doi:10.2307/923287. JSTOR 00274666/. [dead link]
  4. ^ Frank, Alan (April 1974). "Review of Constant Lambert by Richard Shead" (– Scholar search). Music & Letters 55 (2): 241–242. JSTOR 00274224/. [dead link]
  5. ^ Lambert. Music Ho!. Retrieved 2011-06-26. 
  6. ^ Foss, Hubert (October 1951). "Constant Lambert, 23 August 1905-21 August 1951" (– Scholar search). The Musical Times 92 (1304): 449–451. JSTOR 00274666/. [dead link]

External links


  • Motion, Andrew. The Lamberts: George, Constant & Kit. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986. ISBN 0374182833.

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  • Constant Lambert — Constant Lambert, Christopher Wood, 1926 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Constant Lambert — Leonard Constant Lambert Constant Lambert. Retrato realizado por Christopher Wood (1926) …   Wikipedia Español

  • Constant Lambert — Portrait de Constant Lambert (1926) Constant Lambert était un compositeur et chef d orchestre britannique, né à Londres le 23 août 1905, décédé au même lieu le 21 août 1951 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Constant Lambert — noun English composer and conductor (1905 1951) • Syn: ↑Lambert, ↑Leonard Constant Lambert • Instance Hypernyms: ↑composer, ↑conductor, ↑music director, ↑director …   Useful english dictionary

  • Leonard Constant Lambert — noun English composer and conductor (1905 1951) • Syn: ↑Lambert, ↑Constant Lambert • Instance Hypernyms: ↑composer, ↑conductor, ↑music director, ↑director …   Useful english dictionary

  • Lambert — may refer to*Lambert of Maastricht, bishop, saint, and martyr *Lambert of St Bertin or Lambert of St Omer, medieval encyclopedist *Lambert Mieszkowic, son of Mieszko I of Poland *Lambert McKenna, Irish scholar, Editor and Lexicographer. (1870… …   Wikipedia

  • Lambert (Name) — Lambert ist die niederdeutsche Form des Personennamens Landberht, ahd. land = Heimat, Eigen(Land); beraht = strahlend, glänzend, stolz).[1] Varianten Lambrecht, Lamprecht Lantpert Lampert Lamport Lambertus latinisierte Form Lamberta, weibliche… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Constant (given name) — Constant Gender male Origin Word/Name Latin word constans Meaning constant, steadfast Other names Related names Cons …   Wikipedia

  • Lambert — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom. Pour les articles homonymes, voir Saint Lambert. Lambert est un nom propre qui peut désigner : Sommaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Lambert — Contenido 1 Personajes 2 Geografía 3 Física y matemáticas 4 Otros …   Wikipedia Español

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