Composers Who Put British Music on the Map

By Bell, Matthew | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), June 1, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Composers Who Put British Music on the Map


Bell, Matthew, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


Around the country, musical anniversaries are being celebrated in 2012. Matthew Bell reports

Yes, it rained, and yes, the BBC got it embarrassingly wrong. But last weekend's Thames pageant was a triumph in at least one regard: it reminded the world of the brilliance of British classical music. When Handel first premiered his Water Music, in a river pageant in 1717, George I liked it so much he demanded it be played three times back to back. Last weekend 13 new pieces by up-and-coming composers were premiered, some of them inspired by Handel.

And apart from marking 60 years of the Queen's reign, 2012 is a year of musical anniversaries. Frederick Delius, whose Song of Summer so powerfully evokes the British countryside, was born 150 years ago. Sir Arthur Sullivan, one half of Gilbert and Sullivan, was born 180 years ago, and Ralph Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells are also marking anniversaries: 140 years and 120 years respectively. Even Classic FM, the highly successful independent radio station, turns 20 in September.

Now, Classic FM has published a guide to the UK's composers. It's called The Classical Music Map of Britain, and is a compendium of stories and facts arranged by location. As well as all the obvious places, such as Malvern for Elgar and Aldeburgh for Britten, the book reveals lesser-known spots associated with our composers.

For instance, did you know that Muzio Clementi, Beethoven's mentor, often hailed as the father of modern piano playing, is supposed to have died in a cottage in Badsey, near Evesham? Or that Arnold Bax, Master of the King's Music, spent every winter between 1930 and 1940 at the Station Hotel in Morar, in the Scottish Highlands, in order to compose undisturbed? He invariably chose Room 9.

Richard Fawkes's book pieces together dozens of such stories. Of course, many composers studied or taught in London, but most would return to their home towns throughout their lives. And in all cases, their music is thriving now more than ever. Last week, the seventh annual English Music Festival took place in Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, and next month, the Proms season begins at the Royal Albert Hall with a programme full of home-grown works.

Here are 10 composers who shaped the nation's music, the places in Britain that meant most to them, and details of where you can hear their music performed this summer.

Additional research by Natalie McLean

1

Charles Wood

ARMAGH

Charles Wood was one of the great 19th-century composers of Anglican choral music. His anthems are frequently performed, though he also wrote eight string quartets and an opera based on Dickens's Pickwick Papers. Though he studied at Cambridge and in London, he hailed from Armagh in Northern Ireland, where his father was a tenor in the choir of St Patrick's Cathedral.

The Charles Wood Summer School for singers, organists and choir directors runs across Armagh from 19-26 August

2

Arthur Sullivan

BELFAST

Arthur Sullivan was born in 1842, the son of a military bandmaster. He composed his first anthem aged eight and went on to write 23 operas, 13 major choral works and two ballets. However, he is best known for the 14 comic operas he wrote with WS Gilbert. In 1863, when he was 21, he spent a summer at Richmond Lodge, Holywood Road, Belfast, with his friend Robert Dunville. The whole of the first movement of his Irish Symphony in E Flat apparently came into his head one day when they were driving through the wind and rain in an open car.

This summer Opera North is taking Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore to Belfast, Edinburgh and Dublin

3

Frederick Delius

BRADFORD, W YORKS

It is 150 years this year since Frederick Delius was born, the fourth of 14 children, at 6 Claremont, Horton Lane, Bradford. He was Fritz then, and later anglicised his name.

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