seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Sir Arnold Bax, Composer, Poet & Author

arnold-baxSir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax, English composer, poet, and author, is born to a prosperous family in the London suburb of Streatham on November 8, 1883. His prolific output includes songs, choral music, chamber pieces, and solo piano works, but he is best known for his orchestral music. In addition to a series of symphonic poems he writes seven symphonies and is for a time widely regarded as the leading British symphonist.

Bax is encouraged by his parents to pursue a career in music, and his private income enables him to follow his own path as a composer without regard for fashion or orthodoxy. Consequently, he comes to be regarded in musical circles as an important but isolated figure.

After a preparatory school in Balham, Bax attends the Hampstead Conservatoire during the 1890s. In 1900 he moves on to the Royal Academy of Music, where he remains until 1905, studying composition with Frederick Corder and piano with Tobias Matthay.

While still a student at the Royal Academy of Music, Bax becomes fascinated with Ireland and Celtic culture, which become a strong influence on his early development. In the years before World War I he lives in Ireland and becomes a member of Dublin literary circles, writing fiction and verse under the pseudonym Dermot O’Byrne. Later, he develops an affinity with Nordic culture, which for a time supersedes his Celtic influences in the years after World War I.

Between 1910 and 1920 Bax writes a large amount of music, including the symphonic poem Tintagel, his best-known work. During this period he forms a lifelong association with the pianist Harriet Cohen – at first an affair, then a friendship, and always a close professional relationship. In the 1920s he begins the series of seven symphonies which form the heart of his orchestral output.

In 1942 Bax is appointed Master of the King’s Music, but composes little in that capacity. In his last years he maintains a contented retirement for much of the time but finds his music regarded as old-fashioned, and after his death it is generally neglected.

Celebrations are planned by the Hallé Orchestra and others to celebrate Bax’s seventieth birthday in November 1953. However, the celebrations become memorials as while visiting Cork in October 1953 he dies suddenly of heart failure. He is interred in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.

From the 1960s onwards, mainly through a growing number of commercial recordings, his music is gradually rediscovered, although little of it is heard with any frequency in the concert hall. In more recent years, his music has been rediscovered enthusiastically by a new generation via online distribution services such as YouTube.

(Picture credit to Alan Patient of http://www.plaquesoflondon.co.uk)

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