Robin Milford (1903-1959) was born in Oxford, son of Sir Humphrey Milford, publisher with Oxford University Press. He attended Rugby School from 1916 where his musical talent for the piano, flute and theory was recognised, and studied at the Royal College of Music from 1921 to 1926. His composition teachers were Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and he studied harmony and counterpoint under R. O. Morris. He also studied organ.
In 1927, he married. Realising that he would not be able to make a living solely as a composer he worked for a time with the Aeolian Company correcting Duo-Art pianola rolls until 1930. He also taught part-time at Ludgrove School (where his pupils included the music enthusiast George Lascelles, later 7th Earl of Harewood) and at Downe House School. In 1929 he had met fellow-composer Gerald Finzi, with whom he found he had much in common, personally and musically, and the two formed a lifelong friendship.
His early compositions met with some success, his Double Fugue Op. 10 winning a Carnegie Prize and being performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under Ralph Vaughan Williams. In September 1931 his oratorio A Prophet in the Land Op. 21 was performed in Gloucester Cathedral as part of the Three Choirs Festival – the work was somewhat overshadowed by the splash made by William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast performed the same year. In 1937 a performance of his Concerto Grosso Op. 46 was directed by Malcolm Sargent, and his Violin Concerto Op. 47 was broadcast by the BBC in early 1938.
At the outbreak of the Second World War Milford volunteered for the army, and was posted to the Pioneer Corps. After just one week, he suffered a breakdown, and after treatment he and his family moved to Guernsey. His depression was deepened by the death of his mother in 1940. He returned to England, to teach and compose, but soon afterwards his five-year-old son was killed in a road accident prompting Milford to attempt suicide; he attempted to take his own life again soon afterwards in hospital. In 1946, he had recovered sufficiently to resume teaching (at Badminton School) and to undertake musical activities. He continued composing throughout this period.
After the death of his father in 1952, he was prescribed occasional shock therapy. He did continue to enjoy successes: his Overture for a Celebration Op. 103 was performed under John Barbirolli at the 1955 Cheltenham Music Festival. He also continued to receive moral and material support from his friends Finzi (who led a performance of Fishing by Moonlight Op 96 in 1956) and Vaughan Williams (who arranged a performance of the Concertino Op 106 in 1958, and gave financial help).
The deaths of Finzi (1956) and Vaughan Williams (1958) affected Milford deeply. His final illness affected his vision and his balance, and he committed suicide by taking an overdose of aspirin in December 1959.