Cornelius was the second of three sons born to Michael and Mariel Cardew. His father was a pioneer potter, his mother an artist. The family moved to Cornwall a few years after his birth and it was from here that he was accepted as a pupil by the Canterbury Cathedral School which had evacuated to the area during the war because of the bombing. Cornelius began musical life as a chorister.
From 1953-57 he studied piano and ‘cello with Percy Waller and composition with Howard Ferguson at the RAM and won a scholarship to study electronic music in Cologne for a year before becoming Karlheinz Stockhausen’s assistant (1958-60), collaborating with him on Carre.
As a musician and concert organiser he was responsible for many first performances including Boulez’s “Structures ” with Richard Rodney Bennet at RAM; as well as the music of Cage, Stockhausen, La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Wolff, Rzewski, etc, etc. In London he took a course in graphic design and worked intermittently as a graphic artist/researcher throughout the rest of his life.
|He studied with Petrassi during 1965 on a bursary from the Italian GovernmentIn 1966 he was elected Fellow of RAM and was appointed Professor of Composition there in 1967. He was also an associate at the Centre for Creative and Performing Arts at theState University of New York during 1966-67.
He was a member of AMM free improvisation group.
1966-71. While teaching an experimental music class at Morely college (1968) Cornelius, Howard Skempton and Micheal Parsons formed the Scratch Orchestraa large experimental group which operated for several years giving performances all over Britain, also abroad. It was during this period that the whole question of `art from whom’ was hotly debated and Cornelius became more directly involved in politics.
from CD liner notes
At the same time he was analyzing with other scratch members writing articles looking at the state of music and what he had been doing previously which were put together in a criticism of his own work together with that of Stockhausen and Cage in a book, Stockhausen Serves Imperialism.
He was working as a researcher and also running a class, Songs for Our Society at Goldsmiths, together with lecturing both in Britain and abroad. During this period he became more involved and active politically, was active in the formation of the Progressive Cultural Association in 1976 from many artists, musicians and actors. He became its secretary.
He was a founder member of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) 1979. He had just initiated work in Britain on the Second International Sports and Cultural Festival which was held during 1982, and had begun a Masters Degree in Musical Analysis at King’s College London when he was tragically killed on the 13th December 1981 by a hit and run driver near his home in Leyton, East London.
Cornelius was widely known in Britain and throughout the world not only for his avant-garde compositions but also as a political composer and for his position in contemporary music.