Arnold Bax

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Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax (1883-1953), English composer, was an early developer. He wrote a piano sonata at twelve, entered the Royal Academy of Music at sixteen, then two years later discovered the poetry of W. B. Yeats. The Celtic culture, that of Ireland in particular, would colour his work from then on. He learnt Gaelic and spent long periods of the rest of his life in Ireland. He wrote poetry, plays and short stories under the pseudonym, “Dermot O’Byrne”.

He is most known for a series of orchestral tone poems beginning with his orchestration of a movement of a string quartet “Kathaleen-ni-Hoolihan” in 1905, followed by “In the Twilight” in 1908, with others continuing at intervals into the 1940s. One of these, “Tintagel” (from 1917) is one of the great orchestral evocations of the sea and is his best known work. He wrote much other music for orchestra including seven symphonies, and concertante music (music for solo instrument(s) and orchestra – as a concerto) for piano, violin, cello, viola, and harp. A “Concertante” for cor anglais, clarinet and horn shows his willingness to explore.

He wrote a prodigious amount of chamber music of every conceivable combination of instruments and ranging from sonatas to 9 soloists. This includes a number of four-hand piano pieces. A fine pianist himself (though rarely appearing in public) he wrote 7 sonatas for the instrument and many shorter pieces, some with rather interesting names. Much of his piano music is influenced by Alexander Scriabin.

He wrote the score for the famous 1948 film,“Oliver Twist”.

He seems to have been one for the ladies, his romantic streak not limited to his music. The two great interwar female British pianists, Harriet Cohen (with whom he had an affair) and Myra Hess, championed his music, with one or the other generally premiering his new piano compositions. He is known to have travelled as far as the Ukraine in the hope of furthering a relationship with a lady he met at a party in England. His feelings for this woman, Natalia Skarginska, and the effects of his period in Russia and Ukraine would add further complexity to his musical palette.

He received a knighthood in 1937 and was created “Master of the King’s Music” in 1941, rather strangely it was felt by many, because of his Irish sympathies. He died in Cork, Ireland in 1953.

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Reference: “The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music”