Lawrence Willingham was born on 17 January 1942 in Portland (Maine, USA). He showed great creativity and talent from early age, started to learn the piano at the age of 7 and later played the baritone horn in the high school band. He graduated from St. John's College High School in Washington in 1959 and received a bachelor's degree in music from the New England Conservatory in 1963, a master's degree in music from Yale University in 1966 and a doctoral degree in musical arts from West Virginia University in 1974 where he studied composition, piano and viola. He won scholarships from all three institutions. His composition teachers were Dr. George Thaddeus Jones, Daniel Pinkham, Yehudi Wyner and Thomas Canning.
After graduation Lawrence Willingham taught at the Academy of Musical Arts in McLean (Virginia) and at Washington University in St. Louis, and also worked as a piano teacher.
Lawrence Willingham composed from an early age, his first own composition was written at the age of 11, the first performance of an own work - a String trio - took place at the age of 14. From that point on he always composed music and his compositions often received immediate performances and enthusiastic reviews. A juvenile "Symphony for string orchestra" from 1959 was performed by the National Symphony Orchestra at a composer's workshop, his "Antiphonies for orchestra" (1972) by the Pittsburgh Symphony. After the world premiere of his "Tzigane for violin and piano" the Washington Evening Star wrote in January 1971:
"The composer was in the audience for this first performance and he appears to be quite young - very young indeed to have written such a graceful and sophisticated work. [..] In any case it is a fine, rhapsodic piece, with excellent writing for both instruments, in which they are dramatically and expressively contrasted."
His honors for composition included the John Day Jackson Prize at Yale in 1966 and the Friday Morning Music Club Birthday-Bicentennial Award in 1976.
Lawrence Willingham had schizophrenia, an incurable illness of the brain that often manifests itself in late adolescence, as it did with him. In spite of this handicap he became a gifted composer. Here is another enthusiastic review from the Washington Post in 1980 after the premiere of "The River Merchant's Wife": "There can be little doubt that composer Lawrence Willingham is well on his way to becoming one of America's most beautiful new voices in dramatic music, [...] this was an exciting and very successful premiere."
Lawrence Willingham died on 28 April 2006 in Arlington (USA).
The Violin concerto op.16 by Lawrence Willingham was composed in 1978. It is scored for full orchestra and consists of the three movements I. Allegro maestoso, II. Andante and III. Presto gioioso
A performance of the violin concerto - most likely the world premiere - took place on 11 December 1979 at the Hartke Theater at the Catholic University of America. The performers were Helmut Braunlich (violin), the Catholic University Orchestra under Robert Ricks (conductor).
The sound file below is a recording of a live performance of the complete Violin concerto by Lawrence Willingham. I don't know the performers for sure, but most likely they are the ones from the world premiere, i.e. Helmut Braunlich (violin) and the Catholic University Orchestra under Robert Ricks (conductor).
Publication with kind permission of the Catholic University of America and Patricia Braunlich.