Malcolm Hayes was born in 1951 in the village of West Overton, near Marlborough, Wiltshire to English and Scottish parents, with Irish ancestry on his mother’s side. Brought up in the northern highlands of Scotland, he was educated at the choir school of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, then at Eton College (where the countertenor Charles Brett was among his music teachers). After a year at St Andrews University, reading German and music, he read music at Edinburgh University, graduating B. Mus. Hons. in 1974, in the same year winning the Music Faculty’s Tovey Prize for Composition. His Three Songs on Chinese Poems for soprano and ensemble were selected for BBC Radio 3’s Young Composers Forum in 1973, and were premiered by Jane Manning and the Vesuvius Ensemble.
After graduating, Malcolm Hayes lived for several years in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebridean islands of Scotland, where he worked in the local weaving industry. Since 1982 he has lived and worked in London as a composer, music journalist and author.
His Stabat Mater for soprano, mezzo-soprano and orchestra (2001) was first performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Garry Walker, in Edinburgh in 2002, and marked a return to composing after a break of many years. Odysseus remembers (2004), for narrator, soprano, countertenor, baritone and orchestra, setting passages from Homer’s Odyssey, was premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Edward Gardner at BBC Maida Vale Studios, London in February 2006.
In April 2012 at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge, London, the BBC Singers and principal guest conductor Paul Brough gave the first performance of May Magnificat (a double-text motet, combining Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem and the plainchant ‘Gaudeamus in Domino’).
In January 2013, Byzantium for orchestra (after the poem by W.B. Yeats) was premiered at BBC Maida Vale, by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Garry Walker.
Malcolm Hayes’s Violin Concerto, commissioned by BBC Radio 3, was premiered at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in August 2016, performed by Tai Murray (violin) and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Thomas Søndergård.
On 24 April 2018, at Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre in Peebles in the Scottish borders, Clare Hammond gave the first performance of From the Purgatorio of Dante (from the three-part piano cycle Scenes from Dante), following this with five further performances in halls across Scotland during the following week.
Formerly chief music critic of the Sunday Telegraph (1986-89), and a music critic with The Times (1985-86) and the Daily Telegraph (1989-95), Malcolm Hayes continued to contribute classical music features, reviews and listings to the Sunday Telegraph from 1989 to 2005. He is a feature-writer and reviewer for BBC Music Magazine, and also writes programme notes for the Proms, the BBC orchestras, and other organisations.
He has written a biography of Anton von Webern (Phaidon, 1995), and contributed to The Messiaen Companion (Faber, 1995), writing on Messiaen’s earlier choral and orchestral works. A major project was his edition of William Walton’s Selected Letters (Faber, 2002), published in the composer’s centenary year. He is also the author of 20th-Century Music (Heinemann, 2001), a six-part illustrated history for secondary-school readers, covering musicals, jazz, blues and rock besides classical music. His biography of Liszt, including two compilation CDs, was published by Naxos Books in 2011, the composer’s bicentenary year.
Recently completed works are a one-act opera, Lirena, the Mermaid; a Flute Concerto (Ailein Duinn: Lament for Dark-Haired Alan) written for Katherine Bryan, principal flautist of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra; and The Mermaid Sings, a cantata for solo soprano and orchestra, extracted from the score of Lirena,