Doreen Carruthen, the first female full-time female author – with a surprise…

29 June 2022, 16:05

Doreen Carwithen is known as the world’s first full-time female filmmaker.

Photo: Carwithen Music Festival (c/o Mark Chivers)


2022 is the year of the centenary of Doreen Carruthen, the pioneering musical personality who became known as the world’s first full-time film composer.

In 1946, Doreen Carwithen—also known as Mary Alwyn—became the world’s first full-time female author. And in 2022, her centenary year, she will be celebrated in a new festival dedicated to her life and music.

Born 100 years ago in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, Doreen was first introduced to music through her mother, an aspiring concert pianist. After indulging in composition as a teenager, Doreen entered the Royal Academy of Music in 1941, where she studied under English composer and conductor William Alwyn.

Her first orchestral work, The Show ODTAA (one damn thing after another)It premiered at the Royal Opera House in 1947, and was a resounding success. Critics were shocked in the 1940s – they were surprised to see not only a young composer make his mark with an orchestral debut, but a young woman.

Doreen went on to write more than 30 films in the late 1940s and 1950s, many of which were shot at the prestigious Dunham Film Studios, home of Brief interview And the Wonderful forecast.

She quickly gained fame in the film industry for her ability to work calmly and quickly under pressure; Her recording of the official film of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 had to be completed within a week.

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“A composer works in a man’s world”

“She was a composer working in the man’s world,” says Mark Chevers, viola player and artistic director of the Carruthen Music Festival, which takes place in the year of Doreen’s 100th birthday.

“I just accidentally found out that its centenary is about to happen,” Chivers adds in a promotional video for the festival. Stripped of all concert dates during the pandemic, the violinist was unable to perform, and instead used his time to reflect on how to celebrate Doreen’s life and music.

Chivers eventually settled on the idea of ​​holding a weekend festival in her hometown, Haddenham. Starting June 30 and running over a four-day weekend, the Carwithen Music Festival will feature the composer’s film scores (Mantrap, boys in brown) specially arranged for string quartet, violin sonata by violinist Venila Humphreys, plus a new commission from Poirot Composer Christopher Janning, who once lived in the old school building where Doreen Carruthen went to school.

“There seems to be a common thread with Doreen Carruthen,” said cellist Nick Stringfellow, who will be appearing at the Weekend Festival. “Every time you discover something or research something, there is a great connection with another person, another region, or another composer.

“And that’s very much the spirit of this festival – so you have a lot of conflicting influences and connections.”

Read more: Meet the composer who became the first openly transgender Oscar nominee

Doreen Carwithen, working at Denham Studios

Doreen Carwithen, works at Denham Studios.

Photo: Carwithen Music Festival (c/o Mark Chivers)


Surprising relationship with Taylor Swift

One of these links includes one of today’s biggest pop stars. Doreen, also known by her married name Mary Alwyn, is the great-grandmother of English actor Joe Alwyn, long-term partner of American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift.

William Alwyn, Joe’s great-grandfather, was a composer and conductor. He met Doreen as her teacher at the Royal Academy of Music. Years later, they had an affair of 16 years while William was still married to his first wife, Olive Ball.

Doreen and William eventually married, and the ex, not too fond of her first name, changed her name to Mary Alwyn.

“Milestone in Music History”

“I first discovered Doreen’s music through the music of her films – I learned about it,” said Debbie Wiseman, Classic FM-based composer and festival president. TrapAnd the The boys in brown, those cinematic scores that were hugely successful, I felt. They were melodic themes, great films, powerful, beautifully orchestrated, very dramatic – and I was drawn to them.

The more I listen to music, the more I enjoy it [and] Look for the finer details in it. I love the mix of Walton and Stravinsky, a bit of Vaughan Williams, all those influences are there, and yet she makes the music with her voice with great success.”

Over the weekend, Debbie will unveil a blue plaque in her hometown, communicating the pioneering composer’s name to a wider audience.

Decades later, female film authors are slowly beginning to take up more space in an industry that has historically been dominated by men. In 1997, Rachel Portman became the first composer to win an Oscar in the Best Musical or Comedy category. A year later, Anne Dudley took home the award—but it wasn’t until 2020, however, that a woman won the category again, with Icelandic composer Heldor Gonadottir taking the award for her. joker result.

“Dorine’s legacy as a woman working in a man’s world is a huge one,” Chivers adds. “It paved the way for today’s film composers.”

Wiseman, who is one of today’s leading film and television composers, with more than 200 points under her belt, adds that Carwithen’s centenary is “a milestone in music history that we should celebrate.” “Yes, you can get a job now as a woman, as a film author. There are no limits now – there are no restrictions on your career possibilities.”

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