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Carwithen, Doreen, 1922-2003 (composer)



Doreen Mary Carwithen was born at Haddenham, Buckinghamshire in November 1922, the eldest of 2 daughters born to Reginald Arthur Lewis Carwithen, an insurance clerk, and his wife Dulcie Doreen nee Clarke, a music teacher. Doreen became a talented cellist and won a scholarship in 1941 to the Royal Academy of Music to study cello under Peers Coetmore, she also started to study composition with William Alwyn. In 1947 her overture ODTAA based on the John Masefield novel was premiered by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. It received great reviews, not least because the composer was “a girl”.

In the same year Doreen was one of the first winners of a J. Arthur Rank scholarship and spent some time jobbing at Denham Studios. She composed a set of dances for the film Christopher Columbus – the bulk of the score was written by Sir Arthur Bliss, and wrote the music for the official film of the coronation Elizabeth is Queen (1953). Her second quartet won a Cobbett award, and her piano concerto was premiered at the Proms.

In 1962 William Alwyn left his wife, and he and Doreen moved to Southwold and then Blythburgh. Doreen changed her name by deed-poll to Doreen Mary Alwyn, and stopped composing. She became her husband’s amanuensis and worked tirelessly to promote his music setting up the William Alwyn Foundation to promote his life and work following his death in1985.

After William’s death Doreen started to compose again. Her principal orchestral works and some of her chamber music was recorded, and was well received. Just when her career seemed set for a revival she suffered a stroke and was partially paralysed. She died in Norfolk in 2003.