Kathleen Bruckshaw (1877?-1921) - a Forgotten Pianist and Composer

By Chancellor, Valerie | Musical Opinion, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview

Kathleen Bruckshaw (1877?-1921) - a Forgotten Pianist and Composer


Chancellor, Valerie, Musical Opinion


In our last issue (March -April 2012) we included a feature on the unknown Norwegian composer Pauline Hall (1890-1969) by Tove Traesdal, we now turn our attention to a lost British composer and pianist of an earlier generation, courtesy of Dr Chancellor's research.

Kathleeen Bruckshaw was an able pianist who made some mark in composition', as the entry for her in the 'Old Grove' Dictionary of Music and Musicians (fourth edition, 1948) states. New Grove seems to have overlooked her, though she merits an entry in the International Biography of Women Composers, edited by Aaron ? Cohen (Volume I, page 1 16). It would be wrong to forget such a charming and talented woman, who forged musical links between Britain, Germany and the United States before the First World War, but who showed a patriotism moderated by concern for working people when it broke out.

Kathleen Bruckshaw gave an interview to the Musical Standard, published in November 1921, which appeared very soon after her death on October 1 0. Her health had already given cause for concern, though she was still full of plans for future concerts of her chamber music in the English provinces. From her account, we know that she was half-Irish and began performing 'small ones' on the piano at the age of six. Her family, based in London, was musical, and her father Charles Bruckshaw was a composer of romantic songs, such as Sunlit Waves and Fond Heart Lyrics, in the 1880s. Family contacts in the musical world assisted young Kathleen to make a successful debut at the age of 12 when she played the solo part in Anton Rubinstein's Fourth Piano Concerto in D minor in 1889.The conductor was Sir August Manns and the venue the Crystal Palace in south London. It is possible that she was a little older than her parents admitted at the time.

It was at this point that German influences took over and undoubtedly contributed both to Miss Bruckshaw's advance in piano technique and interest in composition. Kathleen's family was not wealthy and she was grateful to recall that Bernard Stavenhagen, one of Liszt's most distinguished pupils, offered her 'Liszt classes' at Weimar. There she had three years free tuition which must have been financed in part by performances with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Kaim orchestra in Munich. The German press was kind and encouraging, as she recalled. On her return, which must have been shortly after 1892-3, she restarted her career in England with recitals at the Queen's Hall and later at the Bechstein (now Wigmore) Hall. It was at about this time that Ferruccio Busoni heard her play and invited her to return to Weimar. At the request of the Grand Duke, Busoni had taken over the Liszt class. It was now that she began to publish her compositions. In 1906, a substantial song cycle, Lyrics of the Months appeared in print.

In this work, there is a song for each month with a linking piano passage at the end of all but the last song, so that the set could in theory be performed without a break. The lyrics are adapted to the months, but they show an understanding of city life as well as the beauties of the country and there is a moral or religious reference at the end of each. The accompaniment is charming and accomplished.

Possibly a major influence at this point was the American composer Edward MacDowell, rather than Busoni. We know that he was in correspondence with Kathleen Bruckshaw over her performance of his work and her own aspirations as a composer. In 1908, when MacDowell died, she published 'In Remembrance' as a memorial to him. This is a romantic piano piece, showing signs of both MacDowell's tuition and the German Romantic movement. It remained a popular feature of her piano recitals. Other original compositions which she performed publicly were Two Romances, Moods, Wind over the Moorland track and Five Impressions.

Kathleen Bruckshaw also performed with various orchestras.

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