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Professor Jonathan Little

Professor of Music Composition/Music History

Professor Jonathan Little, BMus(Hons)(Melb), ThA(AustCollTheol), PhD(Monash), FRSA, FISM

Primary research interests

Concepts of colour and texture in musical composition

Orientalism and exotic orchestration in 19th- and 20th-century orchestral and operatic music

Academic/creative biography

The atmospheric and evocative music of Jonathan David Little is notable for its mystical beauty, intensity and richness of material. On the strength of the excellence of both his music, and of his writings on music, he was the first Australian-born composer to be awarded the John Clementi Collard Fellowship (2011), one of the most prestigious awards of the City of London’s ancient Worshipful Company of Musicians (est.1500) – and one of the most coveted musical awards in Britain. He was also the first composer of any nationality to receive a Professional Development Award from the UK music business’s own charity, the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund. In 2017, he received “Special Distinction” in the ASCAP Rudolf Nissim Prize (USA) – one of the concert music world’s most esteemed awards (for orchestral music).

His historically-informed compositional style has been variously described as "Ecstatic Minimalism", "Archaic Futurism", and “Picturesque Archaism” – blending art music, folk/Celtic, and other sacred and secular musical influences, from as far back as the fourteenth century, with new and innovative textures and orchestration (sometimes also including spatial effects).

Jonathan studied music at the University of Melbourne – winning the Lady Turner Exhibition for overall excellence – then undertook a PhD studying the development of "exotic" orchestration in 19th- and 20th-century music, alongside studies in church music and liturgy (through the Australian College of Theology).

A former Prefect of the Australian National Boys’ Choir and member of the Australian Youth Orchestra (participating in the 1988 Grand Bicentennial European Tour), Jonathan performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and for new music workshops of the Australian Opera.

Jonathan’s compositions have won multiple ASCAP and critics’ choice awards in the USA, as well as PRS, Bliss and Leighton Trust Awards in the UK. His first major album was one of Fanfare magazine’s top recommended recordings for 2008 – acclaiming “a major new, original and quite brilliant classical voice” – while his 2012 album, Polyhymnia, featuring three European orchestras, was nominated in Spain for “Best Album of the Year”.

In 2015, Jonathan was granted a major Australian Government / Australia Council “Individual International Arts Project Award”, to help fund the creation and recording of a new album of multi-part, a cappella polychoral music entitled Woefully Arrayed: Secular and Sacred Choral and Polychoral Works of Jonathan David Little (featuring three choirs from the US & UK), and he was invited to be “Featured Composer” at the CNU Contemporary Music Festival (USA) in March 2016 – including a showcase concert of his works in the Music and Theatre Hall, Ferguson Center for the Arts, in Virginia. During 2016, he was also invited to participate in a BBC Singers choral composition workshop at BBC Maida Vale studios with Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s Music.

Jonathan was one of only seven British composers whose work was selected by expert jury for the Royal Philharmonic Society’s “ENCORE Choral” Programme – for creative development work, performance, and live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 during 2016-18. In June-July 2015, the Controller of BBC Radio 3, the RPS, and Gramophone announced that “ENCORE Choral” would be featuring “exceptional contemporary choral works ... by some of the UK’s most respected composers … David Matthews; Robin Holloway; Robert Saxton; Jonathan Lloyd; Paul Patterson; Jonathan David Little and Oliver Knussen.”

From 2001 to 2005, Jonathan was Principal of the UK’s Academy of Contemporary Music, which was, at that time, Europe’s leading institution for students of contemporary music and the first music education institution to win the Queen’s Award for Enterprise (Innovation Category).

Prior to that, he was Senior Lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University on their pioneering Music Industry Management course (the first such degree course in Europe) – where he specialised in the workings of the British and international recording industry, and taught songwriting analysis.

As an author, Jonathan writes and edits works on a variety of music-related topics, ranging from historical works discussing cultural history, instrumentation and orchestration, to more topical writings on popular music performance and the future of the music and entertainment industries. In a series of articles commissioned in 2001-02 for “American Outlook” magazine, published by The Hudson Institute – an independent scholarly think-tank which helps shape US government policy – Jonathan was one of the first writers to assess the phenomenon of the “celestial jukebox”, the state of contemporary songwriting in the new millennium, and the implications of the rise of digital cinema.

In 2001, he co-founded “Music Business Journal”, and was for five years its joint Managing Editor. From 2003-2005, he was Series Editor of the 36-volume “Academy Popular Music Tuition Series”.

In 2005, he was appointed first Consultant Editor to A&C Black’s flagship volume of musical reference, the “Musicians’ and Songwriters’ Yearbook” (with Forewords by the Heads of EMI Music Publishing, and of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry). At the invitation of the British Academy, he contributed a chapter on contemporary songwriting to “Heart & Soul: Revealing the Craft of Songwriting”, published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Ivor Novello Awards (London: Sanctuary Publishing, 2005).

More recently, his “vast” and “erudite” two-volume, 950-page study of musical and literary orientalism won an Authors’ Foundation / Royal Literary Fund Award (New York: EMP, 2010-11), and he is working on further volumes in the series and a major text on musical composition (winning a second Author’s Foundation Award in 2016). He is a member of the Los Angeles Chapter of America’s National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) and of Grammy Pro in the US, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a Fellow of the Incorporated Society of Musicians. His music is published by Wirripang, Australia’s leading independent fine music publisher.

MPhil and PhD Study

Jonathan would be particularly pleased to hear from students interested in studying any aspect of 19th- and 20th-century music and cultural history, and/or composition/orchestration.  

Audio samples

British Music Collection


ChiPrints Repository