Bill Hopkins was born in 1943 in Prestbury, Cheshire (England). He studied with Luigi Nono at Dartington Summer School, then at Oxford University with Egon Wellesz and Edmund Rubbra (1961–1964). After graduation he started composing Sous-structures (1964) for piano, his earliest acknowledged work, which was completed shortly after his arrival in Paris on a French Government scholarship in October 1964. During the subsequent academic year he was initially a member of Olivier Messiaen's class, subsequently taking private lessons with Jean Barraqué (January–May 1965). While in Paris he composed Musique de l'indifférence (1964-5) for orchestra, as well as Two Pomes (1964) and Sensation (1965), both for soprano and mixed quartet. On returning to England he worked in London as a music critic before moving to Tintagel (Cornwall), then the Isle of Man, where he concentrated on composing, primarily the Études en série (1965-72), while earning his living translating music books from French and German. He completed the Études en série and Pendant (1968-9, rev. 1973) for violin in the early 1970s, otherwise working on several highly speculative works which remained unfinished. He completed only two further original works: Nouvelle étude hors série (1974) for organ and En attendant (1976–1977) for flute, oboe, cello and harpsichord. During the period 1977 to 1979 he was the Haywood Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, the aim of the fellowship being the completion of Voix privée for solo voice. He took up a permanent lectureship at Newcastle University in 1979. He died in 1981 of a heart attack, at the age of 37, leaving Voix privée and several other works unfinished.
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