The British composer James Erber was born in 1951 in London. Having read Music at the Universities of Sussex and Nottingham, he worked as Music Editor for Peters Edition Ltd., London (1976-1979) and as a freelance editor, writer and translator (1976-1981). Still largely self-taught as a composer, it was at this period he produced his first acknowledged works, beginning with "Seguente" for oboe and piano. The guidance and encouragement he received from Brian Ferneyhough prompted him to a serious study of composition, firstly with Jonathan Harvey at the University of Sussex (MPhil in Composition, 1983), then from 1981 to 1982 with Ferneyhough himself at the Musikhochschule, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, with financial support from the DAAD, the RVW Trust and the Rivendell Trust.
Since 1982 he has combined composition with teaching and lecturing, including three years in the Music Department at Goldsmith's College, University of London, from 1991 to 1994. He has written articles and lectured widely on his own work. He was invited as guest lecturer to the Darmstadt Ferienkurse in 1988 and 1990, having won a Stipendienpreis there in 1986. In 1994 and 1996 he was shortlisted for the Hinrichsen Foundation bursary and in 1994 received a Holst Foundation Award, enabling him to write Abiya for solo piano.
James Erber's work reflects a wide range of interests, including Renaissance and Baroque music, the music of South-East Asia, Jazz, blues, Mediaeval and Renaissance philosophy, Kaballah, green politics, recent scientific developments, film noir, Jacobean tragedy, the Gothic novel and historical slang. His music is technically demanding for the player, being multi-layered and complex (especially from the point of view of rhythm and form). Its complexity is, however, combined with harmonic clarity and lyricism as well as a tenuous sense of optimism and a concern with intellectual and spiritual continuity diametrically opposed to much of present-day musical culture.
It has been performed and broadcast widely throughout Europe, in Australia, New Zealand and the USA by soloists such as Mario Caroli, Carin Levine, Nancy Ruffer, Christopher Redgate, Carl Rosman, Darragh Morgan, Frank Cox, Ian Pace and Jonathan Powell, as well as by ensembles including Lontano, Exposé, 175 East, the Arditti Quartet and the ELISION ensemble.
Pianist Ian Pace’s recording of "You done torn your playhouse down" for NMC has achieved wide critical acclaim, while Kate Romano’s recording of "Strange Moments of Intimacy" for solo clarinet is available on the Metier label. A recording of "le colonne d’Ercole" by cellist Frank Cox is due for release by Centaur Records (USA), while early next year, the young Italian flautist Matteo Cesari will record the Traces cycle and two other shorter works for solo flute for Convivium Records.