Martin Adams comes from Pembrokeshire, in southwest Wales, where he studied organ with William Whitehall. This gives him an interesting musical ancestry, for William Whitehall had been the organist of Liverpool Parish Church and a pupil of the great organist of Liverpool Cathedral, Harry Goss-Custard (1871–1964); Goss-Custard had been taught by his great-uncle, the organist of St Paul's Cathedral in London, John Goss (1800–1880), who in turn had been a pupil of his predecessor at St Paul's, Thomas Attwood (1783–1856); and Thomas Attwood was a favourite pupil of Mozart (1756–1791). Such ancestry does not mean much; but it does show how close-knit the community of professional musicians can be.
Martin studied organ and piano at the music department of Winchester School of Art (Hampshire) and took his degree in music at Southampton University, where he stayed for doctoral studies into the compositional development of Henry Purcell (1659–1695). Throughout his years at Southampton he worked extensively in composition, especially for the theatre; and for a time considered this as a career. However, academia won when the composer Alexander Goehr (b. 1932) appointed him to a lectureship at Leeds University in 1976. In 1979 he moved to Trinity College Dublin, and in 2015 retired from full-time lecturing as Assistant Professor in Music and a Fellow of the college.
Martin Adams' research interests lie mainly in English music of the 17th century (especially Purcell) and the late-19th/early-20th centuries (mainly Elgar, on whose music he has written several analytical papers). His Henry Purcell: the Origins and Development of His Musical Style (Cambridge, 1995), a detailed analytical study of that composer's compositional practice, is available in paperback. He has written widely on music ranging from the medieval period to contemporary electronic music, and from 1987 until his retirement was a regular contributor to the critical columns of The Irish Times.
Martin has always been engaged with performance on one level or another. At Southampton and Leeds he conducted semi-professional and amateur choirs and orchestras, and from 2009 until his retirement was artistic advisor to the Music Department’s peer-led student choir, the Campanile Consort, which was founded in 2007, when he was Head of Department. He is currently working on a book exploring the cultural roots of English dramatic opera.
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