Robert Wynne-Simmons began to compose music at the age of eight, when he started work on what he called “A Modern Opera”, set in gangland Chicago. The lyrics of the fragmentary libretto were also his first attempt at poetry. Because he could not yet write music, these melodies were retained in his memory, as were many other melody lines which followed, until he had a huge mental library, ready to be committed to paper.

From the age of six he would walk the two miles to his grandparents‘ house in Sutton, in order to play on their piano. His grandmother, Ada Marion Simmons (nee Price), had been a professional Harpist and Pianist, but sadly, due to severe arthritis, she had stopped playing. She died when he was only nine, without being able to give him any proper tuition. His own musical talent went unnoticed, and it was only after continuous badgering on his part that he was finally able to take piano lessons.

He studied music at Lancing College with Christopher Headington a composer and musicologist who later became Senior Assistant for Music Presentation for the BBC. Headington was partially responsible for introducing him to Gustav Mahler, a composer who was not regarded highly in England at that time, but with whom he felt an immediate empathy. Later, with Christopher Headington’s help, he was able to correspond with Deryck Cooke, who was then making a performing version of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. Robert wrote music reviews for the school magazine, which included one of the first performance of Headington’s Violin Concerto, with Ralph Holmes as soloist, and also of a memorable performance of Beethoven’s „An die ferne Geliebte“, given at the school by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Pears later gave him a commendation for his song cycle „The Vagrant Muse“ which set lyrics by John Clare.

Robert went on to receive tuition from the Hungarian pianist and composer, Peter Sander, who was then making orchestrations for Bela Bartok’s widow. This tuition allowed him to orchestrate and bring to life his First Symphony. the „Symphony of Changes“, which he had conceived when he was only 12. He later learnt to advance his compositional skills with Professor Justin Connolly of the Royal College of Music.


Robert writes: „Just prior to my thirteenth birthday I stood on the path leading up to Chanctonbury Ring in Sussex, and heard the first five notes of my symphony in my head, resounding on the brass. The work had begun. I preceded those notes with a simple but frenetic fanfare and followed them with an answering phrase. I was on my way, even though I still had to store all the melodies in my head. The main march of the symphony had a solemn funereal ring to it, and it followed me wherever I went. I called it „The Funeral March of the Winds“. Before I went to sleep at night I learnt to do something I could never do now, and that was to keep three melodies going in counterpoint, one on top of the other.  Curiously, even when I could write music, I wrote down almost none of the music for the symphony.  By the time I was sixteen I had completed all the themes of the first movement in my head, together with much of their orchestration. The music had by then lifted itself out of its funereal beginnings, softened by a second theme inspired by a broken music box in my grandparent’s house from which a mysterious voice seemed to be calling to me from a great distance. This first movement is now called “Sprouting of the World Tree”, (or “Difficulty at the Beginning”!), after the „I Ching“, which supplied me with titles for the whole symphony.“

Go and Catch a Falling Star

This setting of the famous poem by John Donne was the first song which Robert wrote down in full when he had learnt to write music.  It was followed by a number of small Piano pieces.

The Orphan’s Song

This was a setting of a long poem by Sidney Dobell, a ballad in an essentially Victorian style.  In the composer’s mind, the poem related directly to his „orphaned“ music which could then find no way of expression, and the feeling of painful loneliness which this situation created.  Much music from this song found its way into the Symphony of Changes, particularly the slow movement, “Darkening of the Light”.

Sonata for Violin and Piano

This was a piece written in honour of Russian and East European music.  The opening march was inspired by Tchaikovsky’s „Little Russian (Ukrainian) Symphony“. The second movement came from the composer’s love of Borodin and the faintly eastern music of Georgia. The third movement provides a joyful East European „Gypsy“ conclusion.

The Vagrant Muse (Song Cycle for Tenor and piano)

These songs began as incidental music to a film about the harsh life of John Clare, the most English of poets.  The film was never completed but the songs were collected over a long period of time until they began to tell a true life story that echoed Schubert’s Winterreise.  In his journey home from the asylum, which occurred some fifteen years after the fictional “Winterreise”, he was searching for his first love, Mary, who had recently died, hoping against hope that he might find her still alive, and he wrote poems all along the way which reflected with terrible accuracy his confused state of mind. The song cycle was first performed at the Blackheath Concert Halls in 1998 by the Tenor Alastair Thompson, a founder member of the Kings Singers.

Four Songs of John Clare (Tenor and piano)

John Clare intended the most part of his poems to be sung, and when finished he would sing them over himself, using the folk tunes of the day. These settings formed a sort of overflow of inspiration after “The Vagrant Muse”, and contain one of his greatest poems, “Remembrances”.

Pearl Cantata (Completed fragments)

This is a setting of what is probably the finest poem in the English language, “Perle” by ?Ralph Strode.  Which is to say he is the most likely author of this anonymous poem, and also of „The Warres of Alexander“ and „Sir Gawain and the Green Knight“.  Robert began to write a grand cantata for four soloists, choir and orchestra, but so far only fragments are available for performance and the bulk of it remains unfinished. 

Symphony of Changes

The four movements of this symphony represent episodes in life, and although each can stand alone in its own atmospheric world, each links into the others through musical themes and ideas.  In this way it resembles the hexagrams and changing lines of the ancient Chinese oracle, the “I Ching” (The Book of Changes).

First Movement

“The Sprouting of the World Tree”

This movement is about youth, both its joys and its struggles.  It begins with a funeral march, which can be seen as the burial of the seed in the dark earth which has then to fight its way into life.  The young tree grows and children dance around it, and the birds come, but it also suffers attacks from the bitter winds, and towards the end its fragile leaves become like tattered banners, as the joyful music dies away.

Second Movement

“Darkening of the light”

Here darkness descends on the world, like a repressive tyrant who does not allow any form of self-expression. The music becomes like a cry in the dark reaching helplessly toward the light.  Unexpectedly there is a breakthrough when the trumpets call to each other across the orchestra like the voices of sad angels.  But the struggle is not over, and although the themes become more peaceful and resigned, it is still night.

Third Movement


Here the forces of liberation finally break free. The rains come, followed by the sweet fresh air of spring, and the music takes on a new energy and stretches out its limbs.  The joy of deliverance and freedom becomes ever more ecstatic.

Fourth Movement

“Ascending the Sacred Mountain”

The fourth movement takes the drama to a higher plane. Like a giant bird freed from its imprisonment, the music rises through the fairground whirligig of everyday life, and begins to climb a majestic mountain.  The ascent is sometimes lonely, but also exhilarating and invigorating. The music of the opening theme returns, but is completely transformed, as the climbers rise up into the mist,

Choral Works (The Cutty Sark, Joy in the Noonday, Die Engel)

These are three unrelated pieces for SATB choir.  The first is a setting of Robert’s great uncle Harry Verdon Baines‘ poem about the Cutty Sark, a ship which he knew in Greenwich, and which Harry knew when it visited New Zealand, where he lived. Robert wrote the piece to raise funds for the restoration when the ship caught fire. 

The second chorus is a small fragment of a beautiful poem by William Blake, and the third is a Christmas Carol translated into German from Medieval English.

The Gothic Game Musical (Libretto available through

As a child Robert loved ghost trains, and the kind of theatre where people suddenly appeared out of cupboards, and spooks populated the stage, and frights and laughs followed each other in quick succession.  The writing of “The Gothic Game Musical” allowed him to make his childhood dream come true.  It is an ensemble piece, and it was influenced by the Shakespeare productions of Franco Zeffirelli, in which the stage is a hive of activity with never a dull moment.  A wedding party is magically transported to a gothic ruin to play a game to the elimination and death, a game which allows the guests to give full rein to their dark sides.  However the game cannot prevent the players from forming new relationships and after a long struggle, it defeats itself in the end.  The guests emerge into freedom and truthfulness.

The Carrick of Whitehaven (Ballad)

A sad song for soprano and harp, recalling the fate of refugees lost off the coast of Canada during the Irish Famine.  It was written for a proposed film, The Sligo Champion, about the life of Edward Howard Verdon, a relative of mine and an Irish Nationalist, who founded the newspaper of the same name.

Alexander’s Childhood (Opera in song line and piano score, approx. 3 hours 40 minutes in length)

The medieval poem of the life of Alexander the Great tells a different story from the one generally accepted today, but it is one of great psychological depth.  The opera makes use of the text of this poem, “The Warres of Alexander”.

Snow Spider (Opera Libretto)

A modern telling of a beautiful and brutal Inuit folk tale about a young girl’s search for a husband which takes her to the moon and back. The story, which originated in Alaska, was first recorded by the Greenlander, Knud Rasmussen.