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The music of Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953)


Complete listing by David Parlett

1896-1904 :: 1904-09 :: 1910-14 :: 1915-19
1920-24 :: 1925-29 :: 1930-39 :: 1940-1953
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I've been a Bax enthusiast since first discovering joined-up music as a teenager in the year he died. The BBC broadcast live performances of his seven symphonies shortly afterwards, and I still have the diary describing my enthralled reaction to the Third, of which I was soon delighted to find a copy of Barbirolli's recording on six 12-inch 78's. My brother Graham subsequently caught the same enthusiasm at about the same age, and pursued this interest to the extreme of producing a catalogue of Baxworks in 1972 - a remarkable feat, as the composer was then completely out of fashion and nothing was being recorded or performed. Graham's catalogue expanded over the years and eventually became part of a doctoral thesis for which he was awarded a PhD in 1994. It was eventually published by Oxford University Press (within a few weeks, by a happy coincidence, of their publishing my Oxford History of Board Games). The following pages present a chronological listing of all the completed works of Arnold Bax, edited by me from Graham's published catalogue (with his help, including some corrections, revisions, and additional material). The number following the title of each item refers to the relevant entry in the published catalogue, and in other contexts this is referred to as the GP number. Comments and opinions are my own (DP) unless otherwise stated or apparent from the context. Click here to contact Graham via me (but omit REMOVE from the email address).

Photo Bax and Moeran. Like most Bax enthusiasts, Graham and I are equally keen on the music of the less well known but more unjustly neglected E. J. Moeran. In 2007 we made a tour of Ireland visiting sites associated with both composers, notably Glencolumbkille, Kenmare and Cork. A resultant album of pictures may be seen on this Picasa album web page. (These links open on to separate windows.)

Portrait photographs (above). The earlier was taken in or around 1907 by Paul Corder, son of Frederick Corder (Bax's composition teacher at the Royal Academy of Music), using an early form of colour photography developed by himself. The later, taken in 1949 at the studios of Messrs Tunbridge of London, was one of several portraits of contemporary composers commissioned by Percy Grainger.

Sources and references
  Book cover (Parlett)

Graham Parlett
A Catalogue of the Works of Sir Arnold Bax
(Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1999) Book cover (Bax)

Arnold Bax
Farewell my Youth [autobiography]
(London, Longman Ltd, 1943)

Book cover (Bax/Foreman)
Lewis Foreman (ed)
Farewell my Youth and other Writings of Arnold Bax
(Aldershot, Scolar Press, 1992) Book cover (Foreman)

Lewis Foreman
Bax: A Composer and his Times
(3rd edition, Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer, 2007)

Book cover (Scott-Sutherland)
Colin Scott-Sutherland
Arnold Bax
(London, J M Dent & Sons, 1973)
Book cover (Cohen)
Harriet Cohen
A Bundle of Time [autobiography]
(London, Faber & Faber Ltd, 1969)

Book cover (Herbage)
Julian Herbage, in
British Music of our Time
(ed. A L Bacharach, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books Ltd, 2nd Edition 1945), pp.11-26

See also Arnold Bax web site (new window)

A profile of the composer
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Photo of AB Arnold Edward Trevor Bax was born in Streatham (then in Surrey, now in London). He and his younger brother Clifford, the poet and playwright, came from a wealthy family of Sussex Quaker origins and were of independent means. Arnold studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London, from 1900 to 1904, mainly under Frederick Corder. His musical influences were chiefly Liszt, Wagner and Strauss, but while still a student he discovered the poetry of W B Yeats, and, in his own words, "The Celt within me stood revealed". He thereafter spent much of his life in Ireland, where he learnt Gaelic and pursued a productive literary life under the pen-name Dermot O'Byrne. "W. B Yeats, speaking of [O'Byrne's] A Dublin Ballad, said it was by far the finest poem to come out of the 1916 Rebellion". (Harriet Cohen, A Bundle of Time, p.37.)

His style was now influenced by Irish folk music, and subsequently, through early travels in Europe, by Russian music (folk, concert, and especially liturgical). Later in life he discovered an equal affinity for Scandinavia and formed a sort of mutual admiration society with Sibelius. Despite his former association with Irish patriots, he was knighted in 1937 and appointed Master of the King's Music on the death of Walford Davies in 1942 - ironically, two years after he had completed the bulk of his life's work and given up musical composition (fortunately, only temporarily).

Bax's music cannot be appreciated without an understanding of his own self-description as a 'brazen Romantic', meaning that music for him was primarily for the expression of emotional states and he was not interested in abstract sound for its own sake - even though, as it happens, he was a prodigious pianist and his formal structures are always tightly controlled. Another romantic tendency was his love of landscape in general and of wild, remote, and preferably sea-girt solitudes in particular.

Yet another was his complex and brazenly heterosexual love life. His travels in Russia (1910) were in vain pursuit of an unrequited love for a vain and faithless Russian beauty. Returned home, he married in 1911 and tried to settle down (in Dublin), but within a few years left his wife to pursue a passionate relationship with the beautiful and celebrated pianist Harriet Cohen, whom he had met in 1914.

Despite this and other affairs, the real love of his life was the relatively obscure but charming and devoted Mary Gleaves, whom he met in 1926. Not that he lived permanently with her, or for long with anyone. Nomadic by nature, he spent much of his life on the move, living and working in hotels (notably at Morar, Scotland) or staying with friends in Ireland (especially Cork and Glencolumbkille).

In 1940, having completed his seventh symphony, he temporarily retired from composition - "like a grocer", as he put it - and spent his remaining years at the White Horse Hotel, Storrington, Sussex, in an unheated room and without a piano. (But within healthy walking distance of the house he had bought for Mary Gleaves.) In 1943 he wrote Farewell my Youth, an autobiographical fragment covering his life up to about 1920 - a fluent and witty work, but full of pseudonyms and false trails that have since been researched by Lewis Foreman and explicated in his definitive biography Bax: a Composer and his Times (Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 3rd edition 2007).

Arnold Bax died at Cork in 1953.

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