seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of A. J. Potter, Composer & Teacher

Archibald James (Archie) Potter, Irish composer and teacher who writes hundreds of works including operas, a mass, and four ballets, as well as orchestral and chamber music, is born in Belfast on September 22, 1918.

Potter is born to a Presbyterian family who, oddly, lives on the Falls Road, a republican (Catholic) stronghold. His father is a church organist and piano tuner who jas been blind since childhood. His mother is, in Potter’s own words, “a raging alcoholic.” He escapes a rather grim childhood when he goes to live with an aunt in Kent, England.

Possessed of a good voice and natural musical ability, Potter is accepted as a treble by the world-famous choir of All Saints, Margaret Street. In 1933, after four years as a chorister, he is sent to Clifton College, Bristol. From there he goes to the Royal College of Music on a scholarship and studies composition under Vaughan Williams. While at the Royal College he wins the Cobbett prize for chamber music.

World War II interrupts Potter’s music education, and he leaves college to serve with the London Irish Rifles in Europe and the Far East. After the war he settles in Dublin, where he continues his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, gaining a Doctorate in Music in 1953.

Potter had already started composing chamber and vocal music before the war. Now, established in Dublin, he chooses the orchestra as his principal means of expression. His early pieces, such as Rhapsody under a High Sky and Overture to a Kitchen Comedy, show that he has absorbed Vaughan Williams’ pastoral style and his love of folk music. In 1952, both pieces are awarded Radio Éireann‘s “Carolan Prize” for orchestral composition by the adjudicator Arnold Bax. A year later Potter repeats this success when his Concerto da Chiesa, a concerto for piano and orchestra, also wins the Carolan Prize.

In 1955 Potter is appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he becomes an effective administrator and inspiring teacher.

In the 1960s, Potter turns to ballet, writing four orchestral scores for the Cork Ballet company. The first of these, Careless Love, becomes the composer’s own favourite of all his compositions. Several years later, following a successful battle with alcoholism, he writes what some regard as his magnum opus, Sinfonia “de Profundis” (1969). The première is given at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin on March 23, 1969 in a performance by the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Albert Rosen. The Irish Times refers to the concert as a “major national event.” In December 1969, he receives a Jacob’s Award for the composition.

Potter’s last substantial work, an opera entitled The Wedding, receives its first public performance in Dublin in 1981, almost a year after his death.

Potter dies suddenly at his home in Greystones, County Wicklow on July 5, 1980, at the age of 61. He is buried in the nearby Redford cemetery.


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Birth of Ninette de Valois, Dancer & Choreographer

ninette-de-valoisDame Ninette de Valois, Irish-born British ballet dancer, choreographer, and founder of the company that in October 1956 becomes the Royal Ballet, is born Edris Stannus at Baltyboys House in Blessington, County Wicklow on June 6, 1898. She is influential in establishing ballet in England.

In 1908, at the age of ten, de Valois starts attending ballet lessons. At the age of thirteen she begins her professional training at the Lila Field Academy for Children. It is at this time that she changes her name and makes her professional debut as a principal dancer in pantomime at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End.

In 1919, at the age of 21, de Valois is appointed principal dancer of the Beecham Opera Company, which is then the resident opera company at the Royal Opera House. She continues to study ballet with notable teachers, including Edouard Espinosa, Enrico Cecchetti and Nicholas Legat.

In 1923, de Valois joins Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes as a soloist. At age 26, however, she quits performing after learning she is suffering from an undiagnosed case of childhood polio. In 1926 she founds her own school, the Academy of Choreographic Art, in London. She also produces dances for Lennox Robinson at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and for Terence Gray at the Cambridge Festival Theatre.

The success of de Valois’s ballet Job: A Masque for Dancing for the Camargo Society in 1931, followed by her association with Lilian Baylis, director of the Old Vic Theatre, leads to the founding in 1931 of the Vic-Wells Ballet Company and the Sadler’s Wells School. She traces the history of the company, from its founding until it becomes the Royal Ballet in 1956, in Invitation to the Ballet (1937) and Come Dance with Me (1957).

Besides directing the company that she created, de Valois choreographs numerous ballets, including Checkmate (1937) and Don Quixote (1950). By drawing from English tradition for her choreographic material, as in The Rake’s Progress (1935), inspired by William Hogarth’s series of engravings, and The Prospect Before Us (1940), modeled on Thomas Rowlandson’s caricature of the same name, she creates a uniquely national ballet company. Her narrative ballets include prominent roles for male dancers, giving them artistic opportunities often neglected by other choreographers.

In 1963 de Valois retires as director of the Royal Ballet, although she remains head of the school until 1972. She is created a Dame of the British Empire in 1951 and is named Companion of Honour in 1980.

de Valois keeps her private life very distinct from her professional life, making only the briefest of references to her marriage to Dr. Arthur Blackall Connell, a physician and surgeon from Wandsworth, in her autobiographical writings. In April 1964 she is the subject of This Is Your Life, when she is surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the home of the dancer Frederick Ashton in London. She continues to make public appearances until her death in London on March 8, 2001 at the age of 102.

(Pictured: Ninette de Valois, circa early 1920s)