|Administrative / biographical background:
Ivy Priaulx Rainier (known, by her preference, as Priaulx Rainier) was born in Howick, Natal, South Africa, on 3 February, 1903. She was born into a musical family. Her two older sisters, Ellen (or Nella as she was generally known) and Eveline, played the piano, whereas Priaulx took more naturally to the violin. When the family moved to Cape Town in 1913, Priaulx attended the College of Music, and developed an enduring interest in string quartet playing. In 1919, she received a bursary from the University of the Cape of Good Hope that enabled her to continue her studies at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in London (following in the footsteps of her sister Nella).
At RAM, she studied violin with Hans Wesseley and Rowsby Woof, and counterpoint with J B McEwen. In 1922, RAM awarded her a Silver Medal for violin, and she received her Diploma for Licentiate (LRAM), 26 March, 1925. Following a return visit to South Africa, she obtained, in 1925, a post at Badminton School, Bristol, teaching violin. She continued to develop her quartet playing, met violinist Orrea Pernel, and was a frequent guest at the 'musical weekends' of Lady Diana Massingberd at Gunby Hall, Spilsby, near Skegness. During this period, Rainier wrote Three Greek Epigrams, which were privately performed, and a "Duo for piano and violin" which was performed at Wigmore Hall on 30 April 1936 by Orrea Pernel and Harriet Cohen.
Holidaying in Finland in the summer of 1936, Rainier met Merete Söderhjelm, a Finnish pianist who had studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. Keen to develop her composition skills, Rainier went to Paris herself in 1937, to take private "discussion" lessons with Boulanger. Amongst the compositions she brought with her were three movements of an unfinished "String Quartet" (1939). Rainier met with Boulanger over a three-month period before returning to London. In Paris, she often saw the young English poet David Gascoyne (they had already met in London) and they discussed the possibility of her setting a Gascoyne poem - a project which was realised some years later with Requiem (1955-56). Gascoyne attended a private performance of her early compositions (including "Quartet in C minor") at 19 The Boltons, London, on 12 July, 1939.
The war years brought many productive changes to Rainier's life. She became an air-raid warden in Kensington, and during summer months she worked as a land-girl in the Hertfordshire countryside. It was during this period that she met the ballet dancer Pola Nirenska and developed friendships within the dance community. She met Michael Tippett and his circle at Morley College, and became acquainted with sculptor Barbara Hepworth and artist Ben Nicholson. An invitation to visit them in Cornwall began a life-long association with St Ives. In 1943, she returned to RAM, as a teacher of composition (a position which she kept until 1961). In 1944, she wrote and recorded the (percussive) music for a short public information film Fire in our Factory, and "String Quartet" was given its first public performance at Wigmore Hall (hitherto, it had only been performed privately, in 1939).
A Tippett commision for a string orchestra work for Morley College resulted in Sinfonia da Camera (1947), briskly followed by Barbaric Dance Suite for piano (1949) and "Ballet Suite for Orchestra" (1950). Further film music was written for Figures in a Landscape (1953), a film produced by the British Film Institute about Barbara Hepworth's sculpture: Rainier supplied the score, and Jacquetta Hawkes the script. Tippett and Rainier were Musical Directors of the St Ives Festival, in the coronation-year of 1953. A commission from Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears produced an unaccompanied setting from John Donne, Cycle for Declamation (1953), which proved to have enduring professional and public appeal. Meanwhile, Rainier's "String Quartet" (which, through Tippett's guidance, had become her first published work with Schott & Co) was also proving to be a popular choice for string quartets. It was given a new lease of life when it was taken up by the American choreographer Doris Humphey, who created the successful ballet Night Spell from its four movements. The ballet came to Sadler's Wells, London, in 1957.
Compensation from a road accident in St Ives, in 1959, enabled Rainier to retire from RAM in 1961 and devote herself wholly to composition. She purchased a small studio property in St Ives, and thenceforth divided her time between London and St Ives. Her later compositions included: Quanta (1962, for oboe and string trio), "Concerto for Cello and Orchestra" (1964, first performed by Jacqueline Du Pré), Aequora lunae (1967), and Due canti e finale (1977, a violin concerto, commissioned and first performed by Yehudi Menuhin). Rainier continued to write chamber works and to write for the voice, with The Bee Oracles (1969, from Edith Sitwell), and Vision and Prayer (1973, from Dylan Thomas), and Prayers from the Ark (1974-76, from Carmen Bernos de Gasztold). When she left for a holiday France, in 1986, on what was to be her final journey, she took with her the unfinished settings of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus that had she had wrestled with for many years. She died in Besse-en-Chandesse, 10 October, 1986.
In 1982, Priaulx Rainier was made an Honorary Doctor in Music by the University of Cape Town. Throughout the latter part of her professional life, she maintained a strong association with The Worshipful Company of Musicians: in 1952, she won the John Clementi Collard Fellowship; in 1955, she become a Freeman (1955); and, in 1983, she became the Company's first Lady Liveryman.
Source: Grove Music On-line, Hubert van der Spuy, with additions.