seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of The Chieftains Harpist Derek Bell

George Derek Fleetwood Bell, harpist, pianist, oboist, musicologist and composer best known for his accompaniment work on various instruments with The Chieftains, dies unexpectedly on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona during a recovery period from minor surgery.

Bell is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is something of a child prodigy, composing his first concerto at the age of twelve. He graduates from the Royal College of Music in 1957. While studying there, he became friends with the flautist James Galway. From 1958 to 1990 he composes several classical works, including three piano sonatas, two symphonies, Three Images of Ireland in Druid Times (in 1993) for harp, strings and timpani, Nocturne on an Icelandic Melody (1997) for oboe d’amore and piano and Three Transcendental Concert Studies (2000) for oboe and piano.

As manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, Bell is responsible for maintaining the instruments and keeping them in tune. Out of curiosity, he asks Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert to teach him how to play the harp. In 1965 he becomes an oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. He serves as a professor of harp at the Academy of Music in Belfast.

Bell is briefly featured in a 1986 BBC documentary, The Celts, in which he discusses the role and evolution of the harp in Celtic Irish and Welsh society. He also appears with Van Morrison at the Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in April 1988.

Bell is an admirer of the music of Nikolai Karlovich Medtner and is the co-founder, with the bass-baritone Hugh Sheehan, of the first British Medtner Society which gives a series of successful concerts of Medtner’s music in the 1970s long before Medtner’s music is recognised as it is today.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1972 Bell performs on the radio the music of Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th-century blind Irish harpist. At that time O’Carolan’s music is virtually unknown, though today almost every album of harp music contains one of his compositions. Working with him on the project are several members of The Chieftains. Bell becomes friends with the leader of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney. For two precarious years, he records both with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and with The Chieftains, until finally becoming a full-time member of the Chieftains in 1975.

Bell is the only member of the band to wear a necktie at every public performance. He favours socks with novelty designs, such as images of Looney Tunes characters. He wears scruffy suits, often with trousers that are too short. He is eccentric and tells obscene jokes. The title of his 1981 solo album Derek Bell Plays With Himself has a conscious double entendre.

While touring in Moscow he grabs his alarm clock and puts it in his pocket while rushing to catch a plane. He is then stopped by the Soviet police on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. Paddy Moloney affectionately calls him “Ding Dong” Bell. He relishes the eclectic collaborations, such as those with Van Morrison, Sting and the Chinese orchestra. In 1991 he records with his old friend James Galway. He is awarded an MBE in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to traditional music.

Bell dies of cardiac arrest in Phoenix, Arizona on October 17, 2002, just four days shy of his 67th birthday. He is remembered at Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, as House Patron of Bell House.


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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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Birth of Charles Villiers Stanford, Composer & Conductor

charles-villiers-stanfordSir Charles Villiers Stanford, composer, music teacher, and conductor, is born in Dublin on September 30, 1852.

Stanford is born into a well-off and highly musical family, the only son of John James Stanford, a prominent Dublin lawyer, Examiner to the Court of Chancery in Ireland and Clerk of the Crown for County Meath, and his second wife, Mary, née Henn. He is educated at the University of Cambridge before studying music in Leipzig and Berlin. He is instrumental in raising the status of the Cambridge University Musical Society, attracting international stars to perform with it.

While still an undergraduate, Stanford is appointed organist of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1882, at the age of 29, he is one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music, where he teaches composition for the rest of his life. From 1887 he is also Professor of Music at Cambridge. As a teacher, he is skeptical about modernism, and bases his instruction chiefly on classical principles as exemplified in the music of Johannes Brahms. Among his pupils are rising composers whose fame go on to surpass his own, such as Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. As a conductor, he holds posts with the Bach Choir and the Leeds Triennial Music Festival.

Stanford composes a substantial number of concert works, including seven symphonies, but his best-remembered pieces are his choral works for church performance, chiefly composed in the Anglican tradition. He is a dedicated composer of opera, but none of his nine completed operas has endured in the general repertory. Some critics regard him, together with Hubert Parry and Alexander Mackenzie, as responsible for a renaissance in music from the British Isles. However, after his conspicuous success as a composer in the last two decades of the 19th century, his music is eclipsed in the 20th century by that of Edward Elgar as well as former pupils.

In September 1922, Stanford completes the sixth Irish Rhapsody, his final work. Two weeks later he celebrates his 70th birthday and thereafter his health declines. On March 17, 1924 he suffers a stroke and dies on March 29 at his home in London, survived by his wife and children. He is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on April 2 and his ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey the following day.

Stanford’s last opera, The Travelling Companion, composed during World War I, is premiered by amateur performers at the David Lewis Theatre, Liverpool in 1925 with a reduced orchestra. The work is given complete at Bristol in 1928 and at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, in 1935.

Stanford receives many honours, including honorary doctorates from University of Oxford (1883), University of Cambridge (1888), Durham University (1894), University of Leeds (1904), and Trinity College, Dublin (1921). He is knighted in 1902 and in 1904 is elected a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin.