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Sir (James) Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool, England. At the age of 11, Paul auditioned to sing in the Liverpool Cathedral Choir, but was rejected. As a teenager, with no formal musical training, Paul taught himself guitar. He wrote his first pop song at age 14. By age 22, in 1964, Paul was an internationally famous rock star with the biggest band in history, the Beatles.
After the Beatles broke up in 1970, McCartney formed the band Wings with his wife, Linda, which continued until 1981. He then began a solo career. Critics dubbed most of his post-Beatle pop songs as light and melodic, but lacking true substance. Still, many were great commercial successes, even though these songs were never considered on a par with those of the Lennon-McCartney era.
Paul's roots were in Liverpool, and it was in 1981 that he visited his old school, the Liverpool Institute, and saw that it needed restoration. McCartney began a fundraising campaign to restore the building. The purpose of this was to found a music school, the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts, which was established in 1995.
This was not Paul's only continuing link to Liverpool. In 1990, the city sought a way to commemorate its 150th anniversary. Composer Carl Davis worked for a year with McCartney on a commissioned piece called The Liverpool Oratorio. With McCartney's genius for melody and words, and Davis' classical training and knowledge, they put together a 100-minute piece for orchestra, choir, and several soloists. The oratorio is loosely about Paul's life growing up in Liverpool, his schooling, marriage, and family life, and, as is often the case with an oratorio, about God. The choruses are lovely, their harmonies reminiscent of some of the great classical choral works written for the church. The lyrics describe everyday life. The oratorio was premiered at the Liverpool Cathedral and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, the same choir from which McCartney had been shunned at age 11. Many critics praised the work, and it has been performed in countries throughout the world. The album topped the classical charts in the U.S. and Britain.
Although pop projects were undertaken throughout the early 1990s, McCartney continued his classical composition in 1995 with a work for solo piano, A Leaf. It premiered at St. James' Palace, with the Prince of Wales in attendance.
In 1997, McCartney released the symphonic poem, Standing Stone. Full of lush harmonies and dissonances, this 75-minute orchestral and choral work is a huge achievement for McCartney. The piece is in four movements, and is based on Celtic myths relating to the beginnings of mankind. Paul worked with composer Richard Bennett, who did much of the arranging while McCartney wrote all of the themes. Magnificent in orchestration, ethereal in nature, Standing Stone reached No. 1 on the classical charts in both the U.K. and the U.S.
McCartney released Working Classical in 1999. With its orchestral and string quartet versions of previous McCartney songs, the album seems more on the semi-classical side. Paul includes arrangements of songs written for Linda McCartney, who died of breast cancer in 1998.
A Garland for Linda (2000) consists of classical choral pieces by various composers, including Paul, who wrote Nova. The work asks, "Are you there?" and answers, "I am here in every song you sing." Proceeds are donated to a charity for cancer research.
Countless musical groups and singers have also recorded McCartney's pop songs in classical form.
H.M. The Queen knighted Paul McCartney in 1996.
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