David Blake was born in London in 1936 and educated at Latymer Upper School, Hammersmith. Following National Service in 1955-7, he learnt Mandarin and spent one year in Hong Kong. From 1957-60 he went on to read music at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he was taught by Patrick Hadley, Peter Tranchell and Raymond Leppard. It was at this time David Blake’s earliest compositions were performed and when he first began to conduct. He was awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship for Composition in 1960 and went to East Berlin to study with Hanns Eisler, as a Meisterschöler of the GDR Akademie der Köste. During this time, he composed the first compositions he acknowledges – the Variations for Piano and the String Quartet 1.On his return to England David Blake worked as a schoolteacher for three years.
In 1963 he was awarded the Granada Arts Fellowship at the newly opened University of York, which in 1964 established the Department of Music, of which he, with Wilfrid Melloers and Peter Aston, was a founder member. His first important commission came in 1966, from the York Festival, for his Chamber Symphony. Subsequent commissions included Lumina (soloists, chorus and large orchestra) for the Leeds Festival 1970; the Violin Concerto for the 1976 BBC Proms; Toussaint, an opera in three acts for the English National Opera, first produced in 1977 (revived 1983); Rise Dove (solo bass and orchestra) for the BBC; The Plumber’s Gift, an opera in two acts for the English National Opera, first produced in 1989, and the Cello Concerto, commissioned by the BBC for the 1993 Cheltenham Festival. David Blake’s Three Ritsos Choruses, for chorus and guitars, were written in 1993; this work is a setting of Greek text by Yannis Ritsos, in a translation by Miranda Caldi . There is also a version for chorus and orchestra.
One of the hallmarks of David Blake’s rich and varied output has been its consistent commitment to high technical standards and beliefs which are fundamental to his ethos as an artist, and which transcend passing trends. As Granada Arts Fellow at York University (1963-64) – then Lecturer in Music (1964-76) and Professor since 1976, Blake has handed on these ideals to several generations of musicians.