A Catalogue of the Works of Sir Arnold Bax

A Catalogue of the Works of Sir Arnold Bax

A Catalogue of the Works of Sir Arnold Bax

A Catalogue of the Works of Sir Arnold Bax


Arnold Bax was born in 1883 into a prosperous middle-class family. He started writing music at the age of twelve, and by the end of his life he had produced seven symphonies, numerous tone-poems, overtures, ballet and film scores, concertos, chamber music, piano pieces, choral works, and more than 130 songs; he also wrote short stories, plays and poetry under an Irish pseudonym. As a young man Bax was thought of as a difficult `modern' composer, but he is now seen as a conservative, late romantic figure. `I am not sure that middle-aged and unquestionably virtuous virgins ought to play my music', he once wrote, and this provides a clue to his highly individual style in which passionate melodic intensity is combined with ravishing harmonies and a flamboyant sense of colour. His reputation was at its peak in the 1920s and early '30s, when he was regarded, along with Elgar, Delius, Holst, and Vaughan Williams, as a major force in British music. By the 1940s, however, his creative powers had declined and he had lost touch with recent developments in his art. When he died, in 1953, he was completely out of fashion, and it is only during the last few decades that his invigorating scores have been acclaimed by a new generation of performers and listeners. This is the most comprehensive catalogue of the music of Arnold Bax yet compiled. The main section is arranged in chronological order of composition with full documentation provided for every known manuscript and published edition. Questions of nomenclature and dating are addressed, and details of first performances, original programme notes, and background information are all included. Research has also been carried out into evidence for `lost' works, unfulfilled projects and commissions, and the sources of the texts which Bax set to music. There is an extensive bibliography, a full discography, and a complete listing of the composer's literary works and occasional writings. The result of many years of research, this catalogue is a major source of information about the composer whom Sibelius called `one of the greatest men of our time' and `my son in music'.


'Beware, sir, of acquiring the habit of reading catalogues; you will never get any good from it, and it will consume much of your time.'

DrMartin Routh (1755-1854)

The late President of Magdalen College, Oxford, was quite right in his belief that catalogues are time-consuming, to compile as well as to read; but the suggestion that no good derives from them cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged. Musicologists from Schmieder and Köchel to Threlfall and Craggs have laboured hard to compile work-lists, source-books and bibliographies that provide a wealth of fascinating and useful information, and nobody with a real interest in the composers represented can afford to be without them. a full-scale catalogue devoted to the works of Arnold Bax was long overdue, and this volume contains the most comprehensive documentary survey of his music yet compiled. It is of course inevitable that some minor scores still await discovery. Bax may not have been as meticulous as Holst in preserving his 'Early Horrors' but there is no evidence that he deliberately destroyed any of his works, and it may be only a matter of time before further juvenilia, occasional pieces or abortive sketches come to light. At least forty scores known to have been composed remain untraced, including a few early orchestral pieces, and the original manuscripts of nearly eighty published scores are missing. But the likelihood of there being any completely unknown works of significance is remote, and this catalogue purports to be a substantially complete record of the composer's vast musical and literary output.

Arnold Bax was a prolific writer of music in most of the traditional forms, opera being the principal exception. His earliest work was written in the summer of 1896, when he was twelve; his last dates from February 1953, eight months before his death at nearly seventy. Like Sibelius, who was granted a life pension early in his career, Bax's independent wealth meant that he was not obliged to teach, conduct or even compose for a living; and yet, like Sibelius, we find that throughout his working life ambitious scores such as the seven symphonies are interspersed with lesser pieces in undisciplined profusion. Determining precisely how many works he composed depends of course upon what criteria are used to define a single 'work', whether revisions and arrangements count as separate pieces, and so forth; but the main, chronological section has 386 entries, and there are well over 400 separate movements, of which nearly a quarter employ an orchestra. There are nearly fifty chamber works, more than sixty pieces for solo piano, twenty-five choral settings and over 130 songs. As well as music, Bax found the time to write four plays, at least thirty short stories, more than 300 poems, and over sixty miscellaneous articles, reviews and programme notes.

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