Born near Manchester, England in 1943, he studied piano with Antony Hopkins and composition with Peter Racine Fricker and John White at the Royal College of Music, London.
His compositions, commissioned by prestigious organizations and groups – from the BBC and London Sinfonietta to the ABC and Australian Chamber Orchestra – have been performed and broadcast world-wide.
His compositions and performances have been released on numerous CDs, and he has won awards both as composer and pianist: his own performance of his Piano Concerto was the recommended work in the UNESCO Composers’ Rostrum in 1987.
As a young composer, he was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize for his orchestral work Gloria Tibi Trinitas. His Piano Concerto, a BBC commission for European Music Year (1985), was the recommended work in the annual UNESCO Rostrum of Composers in 1987 as mentioned before.
This was the first time the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s entry made it to the top of the list. In 2007, Smalley’s orchestral piece Birthday Tango (recently retitled Footwork) received the Australian Classical Music Award in the category ‘Best composition by an Australian composer’.
As a pianist, Roger Smalley is widely recognised for his performances of contemporary music. Early in his career, he was a prize-winner in the Gaudeamus competition for interpreters of contemporary music (1966), and received the Harriet Cohen award for contemporary music performance in 1968.
In 1969, together with Tim Souster, he formed Intermodulation, an ensemble specializing in works involving improvisation and live electronics, which performed throughout England and Europe until 1976.
Smalley’s academic career has always been closely tied to his activities as a composer and performer.
In 1968, he was appointed the first Artist-in-Residence at King’s College, Cambridge, where he subsequently held a three-year research fellowship.
Commissions include The Song of the Highest Tower, for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra (City of London Festival, 1968); Pulses for 5×4 players (brass and percussion ) written for the London Sinfonietta and awarded prizes at the International Composers Rostrum and the Paris Biennale, 1969, Beat Music for the 1971 London Proms and Accord for two pianists (Park Lane Group, 1975).
He came to Australia initially for a three-month composer residency at the University of Western Australia in 1974.
He returned two years later to become a research fellow and subsequently Associate Professor of Music. In 1996, he was appointed a professiorial Research Fellow at the UWA.
In 1991 he was the recipient of a Creative Development Award from the West Australian Department for the Arts, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
In 1994 he was awarded the Australia Council’s prestigious Don Banks Fellowship ‘in recognition of his distinguished contribution to Australian music’.
He received the Australian Government Centenary Medal in 2001 and was proclaimed a Western Australian Living Treasure in 2004.
In 2011, Smalley was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). He will be missed by many.