Composers of Today: A Comprehensive Biographical and Critical Guide to Modern Composers of All Nations

By David Ewen | Go to book overview

Baton, M. Rhené-
See Rhené-Baton, M.


Arnold Bax 1883-

THE unique position that Sir Edward Elgar has held for so many years over contemporary English composers seems destined, since his death, to be transferred to Arnold Bax. Arnold Edward Trevor Bax was born in London on November 6, 1883. His life has been eminently uneventful. Evincing a remarkable musical promise as a boy, he was entered as a student of the Royal Academy of Music, in 1900, where for five years he studied composition under Frederick Corder, and piano under Tobias Matthay. His student days completed, Bax devoted himself entirely to musical composition from the very first. His work, however, had a long struggle for recognition. For more than two decades, Bax produced music of a remarkable quality, filled with a speech that was uniquely his own, and all poised on a lofty plane of beauty--but his every effort seemed to meet only indifference and apathy.

In 1910, Bax visited Russia, recording his impressions in a series of haunting piano pieces, returning, finally to plunge himself even more deeply than ever in composition. Works for orchestra and chamber groups left his pen in abundance.

It was not until November 13, 1922 that Arnold Bax definitely came into his own as a composer of first importance. On that day, a concert of his works was given at Queen's Hall which, for the first time, impressed critics and audience with the extent of his genius. Two years later, Bax's reputation spread out of England when the International Society for Contemporary Music selected his Symphony and his Viola Sonata for performance at their respective festivals in Prague and Salzburg. Since then, performance of his music has been frequent in and out of England, and his prestige has grown consistently. Today, he looms as the most logical candidate to succeed the late Edward Elgar as England's greatest living composer.

The principal influence in Bax's artistic career has been the Celtic revival; an intense love for Irish folk-lore, Irish culture and Irish ideals has been transmitted to him and has influenced his work. Bax's music is essentially Celtic in spirit and design. "The most pronounced characteristic of all known types of Celtic art," Leigh Henry explains, "is the sense of decoration, and sharply defined imagery which they evince. The outcome of that keen delight in color and sensatory stimuli which underlay the Celtic love of display and luxury noted by Diodorus and Posidonius in the early historical records. This sense is markedly manifest even in the earliest Celtic proverbs, which embody a wealth of metaphorical imagery unequalled by any of Occidental race. . . . It is some such picturesque pageantry of vivid images that moves through the music of Arnold Bax."

Bax's leading works include his later chamber works, his Summer Music and Tale the Pine Trees Knew for orchestra, and his most recent ' Cello Sonata. "To my mind," writes F. Bonavia, "originality is the most conspicuous quality in the music of Arnold Bax, and the cause of both its strength and its weakness. He is apt to accept original thought because it is original rather than because it gives him what he needs, to make all other considerations subservient to nov

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