Arnold Bax
Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax, KCVO (8 November 18833 October 1953) was an English composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

 and poet. His musical style blended elements of romanticism
Romantic music
Romantic music or music in the Romantic Period is a musicological and artistic term referring to a particular period, theory, compositional practice, and canon in Western music history, from 1810 to 1900....

 and impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

, often with influences from Irish
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 literature and landscape. His orchestral scores are noted for their complexity and colourful instrumentation. Bax’s poetry and stories, which he wrote under the pseudonym of Dermot O’Byrne, reflect his profound affinity with Irish poet W. B. Yeats and are largely written in the tradition of the Irish Literary Revival
Irish Literary Revival
The Irish Literary Revival was a flowering of Irish literary talent in the late 19th and early 20th century.-Forerunners:...


Early years

Bax was born in Pendennis Road, Streatham
Streatham is a district in Surrey, England, located in the London Borough of Lambeth. It is situated south of Charing Cross. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.-History:...

, London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, into a Victorian upper-middle-class family of Dutch descent. He grew up in Ivy Bank, a mansion on top of Haverstock Hill, Hampstead
Hampstead is an area of London, England, north-west of Charing Cross. Part of the London Borough of Camden in Inner London, it is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical and literary associations and for Hampstead Heath, a large, hilly expanse of parkland...

, where he attended Heath Mount School
Heath Mount School
Heath Mount School is a co-educational prep school near Watton-at-Stone, Hertfordshire. It was originally based in Hampstead, until the 1930s when it moved to rural Hertfordshire.-Notable former pupils:...

. In Bax, A Composer and His Times (2007) Lewis Foreman suggests that, because of the family affluence, Bax never had to take a paid position and was free to pursue most of his interests. From an early age, he showed that he had a powerful intellect and great musical talent, especially at the keyboard. He often enjoyed playing the Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 operas on piano. One of his first intimate meetings with art music was through Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde is an opera, or music drama, in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Straßburg. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered in Munich on 10 June 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting...

 and its influence is seen in many of his later works, Tintagel
Tintagel (Bax)
Tintagel is a symphonic poem composed by Arnold Bax in 1919; it is perhaps his best-known orchestral work.Bax had visited Tintagel Castle during the summer of 1917, accompanied by pianist Harriet Cohen, with whom he was carrying on an affair at the time; he dedicated the work to her...

 for example. Bax was taught at home, but received his first formal musical education at age 16 from Cecil Sharp
Cecil Sharp
Cecil James Sharp was the founding father of the folklore revival in England in the early 20th century, and many of England's traditional dances and music owe their continuing existence to his work in recording and publishing them.-Early life:Sharp was born in Camberwell, London, the eldest son of...

 and others at the Hampstead Conservatoire
Hampstead Conservatoire
The Hampstead Conservatoire was a private college for music and the arts at 64, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London.The building, previously the Eton Avenue Hall, was reconstructed in 1890...

. He was accepted to the Royal Academy of Music
Royal Academy of Music
The Royal Academy of Music in London, England, is a conservatoire, Britain's oldest degree-granting music school and a constituent college of the University of London since 1999. The Academy was founded by Lord Burghersh in 1822 with the help and ideas of the French harpist and composer Nicolas...

 in 1900, where he remained until 1905. At the Academy, he was taught composition by Frederick Corder
Frederick Corder
Frederick Corder was an English composer and music teacher.-Biography:Corder was born in Hackney, the son of Micah Corder and his wife Charlotte Hill. He was educated at Blackheath Proprietary School and started music lessons, particularly piano, early. Later he studied with Henry Gadsby...

, the piano by Tobias Matthay
Tobias Matthay
Tobias Augustus Matthay was an English pianist, teacher, and composer.-Biography:Matthaw as born in London in 1858 to parents who had come from northern Germany and were naturalised British subjects...

 and the clarinet by Egerton. In his composition classes, Corder emphasized the examples of Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

 and Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 and pointed to their liberal approach to classical form, which led Bax to develop a similar attitude. He had an exceptional ability to sight-read and play complex orchestral scores at the piano, which won him several medals at the Academy and he also won prizes for best musical composition, including the Battison-Haynes prize and the competitive Charles Lucas Medal.

Bax discovers Ireland

Bax had a sensitive and searching soul and drew inspiration from a wide range of sources. He was a voracious reader of literature and in this way he happened upon William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and playwright, and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms...

's The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems
The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems
The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems was the first collection of poems by William Butler Yeats. It was published in 1889.In addition to the title poem, the last epic-scale poem that Yeats ever wrote, the book includes a number of short poems that Yeats would later collect under the title...

 in 1902. He proved highly receptive to the soft, melancholy moods of the Irish Literary Revival
Celtic Revival
Celtic Revival covers a variety of movements and trends, mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries, which drew on the traditions of Celtic literature and Celtic art, or in fact more often what art historians call Insular art...

 and found in Yeats a powerful muse, from which he derived a lifetime of inspiration. He developed an infatuation with Ireland and began travelling extensively there. He visited the most isolated and secluded places, eventually discovering the little Donegal
Donegal or Donegal Town is a town in County Donegal, Ireland. Its name, which was historically written in English as Dunnagall or Dunagall, translates from Irish as "stronghold of the foreigners" ....

 village Glencolumbkille
Gleann Cholm Cille is a coastal town in the southwest Gaeltacht of County Donegal, Ireland...

, to which he returned annually for almost 30 years. Here, he drew inspiration from the landscape and the sea, and from the culture and life of the local Irish peasants, many of whom he regarded as close friends. His encounter with the poetry of Yeats and the landscapes of Ireland resulted in many new works, both musical and literary. The String Quartet in E (1903), which later was worked into the orchestral tone poem Cathaleen-Ni-Houlihan (1905), is a fine example of how he began to reflect Ireland in his music. Not only did he emerge as a surprisingly mature composer with these works, he also developed in them floating and undulating 'impressionistic' musical textures using orchestral techniques not yet heard — not even from Claude Debussy
Claude Debussy
Claude-Achille Debussy was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions...

. Many of the works he wrote in the period from 1903 to 1916 can be seen as musical counterparts to the Irish Literary Revival. The tone-poems Into The Twilight (1908), In The Faery Hills (1909) and Rosc-catha [Battle hymn] (1910) echo the themes of the Revival and especially the soft, dreamy mood of many poems and stories.

Conglomerate of influences

The Irish influence is only one of many found in Bax's music. An early affinity with Norway and the literature of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
Bjørnstjerne Martinius Bjørnson was a Norwegian writer and the 1903 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate. Bjørnson is considered as one of The Four Greats Norwegian writers; the others being Henrik Ibsen, Jonas Lie, and Alexander Kielland...

 brought themes and moods from the Nordic countries into his music. From 1905 to 1911, Bax constantly alternated between using Nordic and Celtic themes in his compositions. He even attempted to teach himself some Norwegian and, in the song The Flute (1907) for voice and piano, he successfully set an original poem by Bjørnson to music. Later examples of Bax’s Nordic affinity include Hardanger for two pianos (1927) and the orchestral tone-poem The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew (1931).

In 1910, a youthful fling with a Ukrainian girl, Natalia Skarginska, brought Bax to St. Petersburg, Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 and Lubny
Lubny is a city in the Poltava Oblast of central Ukraine. Serving as the administrative center of the Lubensky Raion , the city itself is also designated as a separate raion within the oblast...

, near Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....

, which led to a fascination for Russian and Slavonic themes. The relationship with Skarginska resulted in an emotional agony from which he never completely recovered. His conflicting feelings are perhaps reflected in the First Piano Sonata in F sharp (1910, revised 1917-20). The Russian and Ukrainian influence can also be heard in two works for solo piano from 1912, Nocturne–May Night in the Ukraine and Gopak (Russian dance).

In 1915 appeared In a Vodka Shop also for solo piano. In 1919, Bax was one of four British composers to be commissioned to write orchestral music to serve as interludes at Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev , usually referred to outside of Russia as Serge, was a Russian art critic, patron, ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, from which many famous dancers and choreographers would arise.-Early life and career:...

’s Ballets Russes
Ballets Russes
The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company from Russia which performed between 1909 and 1929 in many countries. Directed by Sergei Diaghilev, it is regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century. Many of its dancers originated from the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg...

 in London. For the commission, he incorporated the three above-mentioned piano works of Russian themes into Russian Suite for orchestra. In 1920, he wrote incidental music to J. M. Barrie
J. M. Barrie
Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, OM was a Scottish author and dramatist, best remembered today as the creator of Peter Pan. The child of a family of small-town weavers, he was educated in Scotland. He moved to London, where he developed a career as a novelist and playwright...

’s whimsical play The Truth About the Russian Dancers, his last work based on a clearly Russian theme. The Russian influence may be found in many of Bax's other scores and is especially predominant in his first three symphonies.

Rathgar circle

In January 1911, not long after he returned to Britain, Bax married Elsita Sobrino, a childhood friend. They settled in Bushy Park Road, Rathgar
Rathgar is a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, lying about 3 kilometres south of the city centre.-Amenities:Rathgar is largely a quiet suburb with good amenities, including primary and secondary schools, nursing homes, child-care and sports facilities, and good public transport to the city centre...

, Dublin. Here Bax’s brother Clifford
Clifford Bax
Clifford Bax was a versatile English writer, known particularly as a playwright, a journalist, critic and editor, and a poet, lyricist and hymn writer. He also was a translator, for example of Goldoni...

 introduced them to the intellectual circle which met at the house of the poet, painter and mystic George William Russell
George William Russell
George William Russell who wrote under the pseudonym Æ , was an Irish nationalist, writer, editor, critic, poet, and painter. He was also a mystical writer, and centre of a group of followers of theosophy in Dublin, for many years.-Organisor:Russell was born in Lurgan, County Armagh...

. Bax had already had some of his poems and short stories published in Dublin and to the circle he was simply known by the pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

 Dermot O’Byrne (the name was possibly inspired by a renowned family of traditional musicians in Donegal).

As Dermot O’Byrne, he was specifically noted for Seafoam and Firelight, published in London by the Orpheus Press in 1909 and numerous short stories and poems published in different media in Dublin. It was at Russell’s house where Bax one night met Irish Republican Patrick Pearse
Patrick Pearse
Patrick Henry Pearse was an Irish teacher, barrister, poet, writer, nationalist and political activist who was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916...

. According to Bax, they got on very well and, although they met only once, the execution of Pearse following the Easter Rebellion in 1916 prompted him to compose several laments, the most noted being In Memoriam Patric Pearse (1916), which contains the dedication ‘I gCuimhne ar Phádraig Mac Piarais’.

Alienation, conflict and success

The threat of war led to the dissolution of the Rathgar Circle as many members fled Ireland and Europe. Bax and his family returned to London; it was the loss of a blissful life. A heart condition prevented Bax from enlisting, and he spent the war years composing profusely. Although World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 unleashed previously unimagined horrors upon the world, it was the Easter Rebellion
Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily engaged in the First World War...

 and the destruction of Dublin that especially disturbed Bax.

As his Ireland — a haven and a retreat — was lost to bitter conflict and war, he sought refuge in a liaison with the younger pianist Harriet Cohen
Harriet Cohen
Harriet Cohen CBE was a British pianist.-Biography:Harriet Cohen was born in London and studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music under Tobias Matthay, having won the Ada Lewis scholarship at the age of 12. She made her debut at a Chappell's Sunday concert at the Queen's Hall a year later...

. What had started out as a purely professional alliance — Cohen playing and championing Bax's piano music — developed into a passionate relationship. Yet their love could not be sanctioned by the contemporary social code, which brought to both parties considerable emotional suffering.

This difficult period in Bax’s life led to the composition of several attractive tone-poems, including Summer Music (1916), Tintagel (1917) and November Woods (1914–1917). In Tintagel, Bax reached back to legends and dreams — specifically that of the doomed lovers Tristan and Isolde. Tintagel is undoubtedly the best known of Bax’s tone-poems and includes a colourful evocation of the sea. Bax's relationship with Cohen led some commentators to assume a Freudian link between Bax’s alleged sexual passion and the sea-theme in Tintagel.

However, the opening of Harriet Cohen's private papers and the research into them by scholars, such as the Norwegian musicologist Thomas Elnaes, indicates that such a link is at best speculative. Bax's works from this time reflect deep psychological conflicts that point forward to the passionate yet deeply troubled First Symphony in E flat, completed in 1922. After the war, British music was in demand as never before in England; and Bax won considerable fame with his works, which were widely performed.

Morar period

From 1928 onwards, Bax ceased to travel to Glencolumbkille and instead began his annual migration to Morar
Morar is a small village on the west coast of Scotland, south of Mallaig. The name Morar is also applied to the wider district around the village....

, in the west Scottish Highlands
Scottish Highlands
The Highlands is an historic region of Scotland. The area is sometimes referred to as the "Scottish Highlands". It was culturally distinguishable from the Lowlands from the later Middle Ages into the modern period, when Lowland Scots replaced Scottish Gaelic throughout most of the Lowlands...

, to work. He would sketch his compositions in London and take them to the Station Hotel at Morar for the winter, in order to orchestrate them. At this time, he found a new love in Mary Gleaves; and she accompanied him to Scotland.

In the Morar period, which lasted until the outbreak of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, Bax rediscovered his interest in Norway and the Nordic countries, and found a new musical hero in Sibelius. At Morar, he orchestrated Symphonies Nos. 3 to 7 and several of his finest orchestral works, including the three Northern Ballads (No. 5 is actually dedicated to Sibelius and shares something of his stylistic austerity).

All seven of Bax's symphonies were composed within a relatively short span of time (1922-39) and are perhaps the most coherent cycle of symphonies by any composer. They reflect his many influences and are profound works of art with a deep psychological dimension tied to evocations of scenery. The symphonies earned Bax a reputation as the successor to Elgar, as Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

, for instance, had only completed four symphonies by the time Bax had completed his seventh (Vaughan Williams's fourth is actually dedicated to Bax).

Peter Pan of composers

Bax received a knighthood in 1937 (Knight Bachelor
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...

), but he was not entirely prepared to enjoy this honour. He contended that there was a conflict between the knighthood and his profound affinity with Ireland, but accepted nonetheless. A feeling that his creative energies were drained started to manifest itself. Bax explained to his friends that he felt tired, restless and lonely. He contended that he had a hard time ‘growing up’. His increasing age depressed him, and he started to drink heavily. He also felt alienated by the new modernistic fashions in music, and realised, to his sorrow, that his style was falling out of critical favour.

In 1938 appeared his Violin Concerto. It was written for Jascha Heifetz
Jascha Heifetz
Jascha Heifetz was a violinist, born in Vilnius, then Russian Empire, now Lithuania. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time.- Early life :...

, who disliked it and never played it; instead, it was premiered in 1942 by Eda Kersey (1904-1944).

In 1942, Bax was appointed Master of the King's Musick, a decision the British musical establishment was not altogether happy with. To many, Bax was an atypical English composer, some especially pointing to the 'Irishness' of his music.

Of his later works, only the film scores for Malta G.C. and Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist (1948 film)
Oliver Twist is the second of David Lean's two film adaptations of Charles Dickens novels. Following the success of his 1946 version of Great Expectations, Lean re-assembled much of the same team for his adaptation of Dicken's 1838 novel, including producers Ronald Neame and Anthony...

 were really successful. They earned Bax a renewed (and deserved) public acclaim, but their popularity could not compensate for his being considered old-fashioned by many younger composers and critics. He retreated from the public scene and lived quietly at The White Horse Hotel in Storrington
Storrington is a village in the Horsham District of West Sussex, England, and one of two in the civil parish of Storrington and Sullington. Storrington lies at the foot of the north side of the South Downs. As of 2006 the village has a population of around 4,600. It has one main shopping street...

, Sussex
Sussex , from the Old English Sūþsēaxe , is an historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded on the north by Surrey, east by Kent, south by the English Channel, and west by Hampshire, and is divided for local government into West...


Ireland reaches out

In 1929, Feis Maitiú Corcaigh
Feis Maitiú Corcaigh
Feis Maitiú Corcaigh is an International Festival Member of the British and International Federation of Festivals. The annual event is hosted at Fr Mathew Hall, a 400-seat auditorium in Cork city, Ireland. Feis Maitiú Corcaigh runs for nine weeks, throughout which almost 15,000 participants take to...

, a prestigious music festival organized by the Capuchin Fathers
Order of Friars Minor Capuchin
The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin is an Order of friars in the Catholic Church, among the chief offshoots of the Franciscans. The worldwide head of the Order, called the Minister General, is currently Father Mauro Jöhri.-Origins :...

, invited Bax to become adjudicator. It was Irish pianist Tilly Fleischmann who suggested him, knowing that he was familiar with Ireland and Irish conditions. This was also the first time Bax met Irish musicians in Ireland, other than folk musicians. In Cork
Cork (city)
Cork is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland and the island of Ireland's third most populous city. It is the principal city and administrative centre of County Cork and the largest city in the province of Munster. Cork has a population of 119,418, while the addition of the suburban...

, he was introduced to such outstanding musicians as the pianist Charles Lynch
Charles Lynch (pianist)
Charles Edgeworth Cagney Lynch was an Irish pianist who premiered works by several important 20th century composers.-Background and early life:...

 and singer Maura O'Connor, both of whom went on to give many performances of Bax’s music.

Bax’s first visit to Cork marked the beginning of a 24-year friendship with the Fleischmann family. As performances of Bax’s music grew increasingly rare in Britain, Tilly Fleischmann demonstrated to Bax that his music had wide appeal in Ireland. Bax, however, did little to act on this, or to support further efforts; and his music was not heard nationwide in Ireland until Aloys Fleischmann
Aloys Fleischmann
Aloys Fleischmann was an Irish composer and musicologist. In addition he wrote several books and articles on Irish music.-Life:...

 began conducting his orchestral works with the Irish Radio Orchestra in Dublin just after the end of the war. In 1946, Bax became external examiner with both University College Cork and University College Dublin
University College Dublin
University College Dublin ) - formally known as University College Dublin - National University of Ireland, Dublin is the Republic of Ireland's largest, and Ireland's second largest, university, with over 1,300 faculty and 17,000 students...

, and he also gave individual tuition to aspiring young Irish composers. He received an honorary doctorate degree from the National University of Ireland
National University of Ireland
The National University of Ireland , , is a federal university system of constituent universities, previously called constituent colleges, and recognised colleges set up under the Irish Universities Act, 1908, and significantly amended by the Universities Act, 1997.The constituent universities are...

 in 1947.

In 1953, Bax was further honoured by appointment as a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Royal Victorian Order
The Royal Victorian Order is a dynastic order of knighthood and a house order of chivalry recognising distinguished personal service to the order's Sovereign, the reigning monarch of the Commonwealth realms, any members of her family, or any of her viceroys...

 (KCVO), an honour within the Queen's personal gift. He died during a visit to the Fleischmanns later that year, possibly from a complication of his heart condition. One of his last compositions was Coronation March for Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...


Not long before he died, Bax was asked by the editor of the The World of Music which were his own preferred works. He provided the following selection:
  • The Garden of Fand (1916)
  • Symphony No. 3
    Symphony No. 3 (Bax)
    The Symphony No. 3 by Arnold Bax was completed in 1929. It was dedicated to Sir Henry Wood and is perhaps the most performed and most immediately approachable of Arnold Bax's symphonies....

  • Winter Legends (1930)
  • The Tale the Pine Trees Knew (1931)
  • Symphony No. 6
    Symphony No. 6 (Bax)
    The Symphony No.6 by Arnold Bax was completed on February 10, 1935. The symphony was dedicated to Sir Adrian Boult, who often conducted Arnold Bax's works but criticized them for being formally loose. Arnold Bax's main aim with this work was to maintain his style but revert to a more classical form...


On another occasion, he said, of his Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, which had been commissioned by and dedicated to Gaspar Cassadó
Gaspar Cassadó
Gaspar Cassadó i Moreu was a Spanish cellist and composer of the early 20th century. He was born in Barcelona to a church musician father and began taking cello lessons at age seven. When he was nine, he played in a recital where Pablo Casals was in the audience; Casals immediately offered to...

, "The fact that nobody has ever taken up this work has been one of the major disappointments of my musical life".

He died at age 69 and was interred in St. Finbarr's Cemetery
St. Finbarr's Cemetery
St. Finbarr's Cemetery in Cork, Ireland, is the city's largest and one of the oldest cemeteries still in use. Located on the Glasheen Road, it was first opened in the mid 19th century....

, Cork.

Research and scholarship

The first biography of Bax was Colin Scott-Sutherland’s Arnold Bax, published in 1973. It offers a description of Bax's life and some insightful analysis of his music, especially the large-scale works. Scott-Sutherland also published the works of Dermot O'Byrne (Bax's literary pseudonym): Ideala: Poems and Some Early Love Letters of Arnold Bax including the Collected Poems of Dermot O'Byrne (2001). Bax’s principal biographer, however, is the English writer Lewis Foreman. Foreman's first major contribution to Bax scholarship was a 1983 biography entitled Bax, A Composer and His Times. A second edition appeared in 1988 and a third edition in February 2007.

The principal primary source for information regarding Bax’s life and philosophy is his anecdotal autobiography Farewell My Youth (1943), which, for personal reasons, ends at the year 1914. In it Bax attempted to create several myths about himself, but many of his own statements are contradicted by things he wrote elsewhere. Lewis Foreman's 1992 edition of Bax's autobiography is the most recent currently available. Entitled Farewell My Youth, and Other Writings by Arnold Bax, it also includes photographs and some letters. Another compendium of primary source material is Cuchullan Among the Guns (1998), a selection of letters from Bax's correspondence with the British conductor Christopher Whelen, edited by Dennis Andrews.

A significant event in Bax musicology was the publication of Graham Parlett's exhaustive list of Bax's works entitled A Catalogue of the Works of Sir Arnold Bax (1999). Recognising Parlett's achievement and contribution, Bax musicologists have now started to use his chronological numbering system as a universal system of reference (e.g. Bax's celebrated Third Symphony would be "Parlett #297" or simply P. 297). The doctoral dissertation of Dr. Paul R. Ludden and the M. Litt. dissertation of Thomas Elnaes (University of Dublin, Trinity College, 2006) use the succinct Parlett Numbers exclusively. As a composer Graham Parlett has also edited and orchestrated several Bax scores, including the Russian Suite and the film music to Oliver Twist.

Reception and recordings

After his death, Bax's music fell into neglect. He had always sustained a Romantic outlook, distancing himself from musical modernism
Modernism (music)
Modernism in music is characterized by a desire for or belief in progress and science, surrealism, anti-romanticism, political advocacy, general intellectualism, and/or a breaking with the past or common practice.- Defining musical modernism :...

 and especially Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School...

's serialism
In music, serialism is a method or technique of composition that uses a series of values to manipulate different musical elements. Serialism began primarily with Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique, though his contemporaries were also working to establish serialism as one example of...

, which was now being embraced by institutions worldwide. He was increasingly pigeon-holed as a 'musical pastoralist' together with Vaughan Williams and others. Consequently, Bax's works tended to fall out of the repertoire of orchestras which had once given them frequent performances.

Because of this decline, Bax's music was slow to reach recording. As late as the mid-sixties, there were only two recordings of his symphonies, one long deleted and the other on an obscure label. But from 1966 onwards, a revival of his music began with a series of recordings on Richard Itter's Lyrita
Lyrita is a classical music record label, specializing in the works of British composers.Lyrita began releasing LPs in October 1959 as Lyrita Recorded Edition for sale by mail order subscription. The founder of the company, Richard Itter of Burnham, Buckinghamshire, was a businessman and record...

 label. By the centenary of his birth in 1983 much of his music was available in modern recordings. The Lyrita recordings of the First and Seventh Symphonies were reissued in 2006; that of the Sixth Symphony, only previously available on LP, in June 2007; and those of the Second and Fifth Symphonies, also only on LP, in February 2008.

Naxos Records
Naxos Records
Naxos Records is a record label specializing in classical music. Through a number of imprints, Naxos also releases genres including Chinese music, jazz, world music, and early rock & roll. The company was founded in 1987 by Klaus Heymann, a German-born resident of Hong Kong.Naxos is the largest...

 have released a complete cycle of Bax’s symphonies and tone poems, recorded by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is Scotland's national symphony orchestra. Based in Glasgow, the 89-member professional orchestra also regularly performs in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, and abroad. Formed in 1891 as the Scottish Orchestra, the company has performed full-time since 1950,...

 under the baton of David Lloyd-Jones
David Lloyd-Jones
David Matthias Lloyd-Jones is a British conductor who has specialised in British and Russian music. He is also an editor and translator, especially of Russian operas.- Biography :...

, along with much of his chamber music. Chandos Records
Chandos Records
Chandos Records is an independent classical music recording company based in Colchester, Essex, in the United Kingdom, founded in 1979 by Brian Couzens.- Background :...

 have also championed Bax's orchestral music on CD with recordings of the tone poems often conducted either by Bryden Thomson
Bryden Thomson
Bryden Thomson was a Scottish conductor.Bryden Thomson was born in Ayr. He led several British orchestras, including the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra and the Ulster Orchestra from 1977 to 1985...

 or Vernon Handley
Vernon Handley
Vernon George "Tod" Handley CBE was a British conductor, known in particular for his support of British composers. He was born of a Welsh father and an Irish mother into a musical family in Enfield, London. He acquired the nickname "Tod" because his feet were turned in at his birth, which his...

, as well as two complete symphony cycles. The first cycle (released through the 1980s and 1990s) saw Bryden Thomson at the helm of the London Philharmonic Orchestra for all except the Fourth Symphony, which was played by the Ulster Orchestra. The second (released in 2003) was played by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Vernon Handley, a lifelong champion and connoisseur of Bax's music. This box set, which also contains recordings of Tintagel and the Rogue's Comedy Overture and includes thoughtful interviews in response to questions from Andrew McGregor and Lewis Foreman, garnered glowing reviews and won a Gramophone Award. It was followed (in 2008) by a further widely acclaimed disc of three of the tone poems plus the posthumous Sinfonietta conducted by Handley in 2005, this time with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Chandos has also released a recording of the complete scores to Oliver Twist and Malta G.C. (with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Rumon Gamba
Rumon Gamba
Rumon Gamba , is an English conductor. He studied music at Durham University, and then went to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studied conducting with Colin Metters, George Hurst and Sir Colin Davis. He became the first conducting student to obtain the DipRAM...

). Despite such successful championship on record, Bax’s orchestral music remains rarely performed in concert.

Although he was an able pianist, Bax's appearances as a performer were few and far between. There are recordings of him partnering with May Harrison and Lionel Tertis
Lionel Tertis
Lionel Tertis, CBE was an English violist and one of the first viola players to find international fame.Tertis was born in West Hartlepool, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, and initially studied the violin in Leipzig and at the Royal Academy of Music in London...

 in sonatas by Frederick Delius
Frederick Delius
Frederick Theodore Albert Delius, CH was an English composer. Born in the north of England to a prosperous mercantile family of German extraction, he resisted attempts to recruit him to commerce...

 and himself. He made a rare concert appearance at the memorial concert for Peter Warlock
Peter Warlock
Peter Warlock was a pseudonym of Philip Arnold Heseltine , an Anglo-Welsh composer and music critic. He used the pseudonym when composing, and is now better known by this name....

 in 1930. His piano music has been recorded by several artists, including Iris Loveridge
Iris Loveridge
Iris Gwendolyne M. Loveridge was an English classical pianist.Born in West Ham, London, she attended the Royal College of Music, and later the Royal Academy. She specialised in British contemporary music, including piano sonatas by Arnold Bax, Gordon Jacob , E.J. Moeran and Edmund Rubbra...

, John McCabe
John McCabe (composer)
John McCabe CBE is an English composer and pianist.- Biography :John McCabe was born in Huyton, Liverpool, Merseyside. A prolific composer from an early age, he had written thirteen symphonies by the time he was eleven...

, Eric Parkin, Ashley Wass
Ashley Wass
- Biography and career :Ashley Wass is a pianist who has performed and recorded many works as soloist, with orchestras and with chamber music groups. Wass first studied at Chethams Music School, and then won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied with Christopher Elton and...

 and Michael Endres
Michael Endres
Michael Endres is a German pianist.He was professor for piano from 1993 to 2004 at the Hochschule fuer Musik in Cologne, until 2009 at the Hochschule Hanns Eisler in Berlin—and since autumn 2009 has been professor for piano at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.-Early...

. However, no complete survey has yet been recorded.


  • Tamara (1911, orch. 2000)
  • From Dusk till Dawn (1917)
  • The Truth about the Russian Dancers (1920)


  • Symphony No. 1
    Symphony No. 1 (Bax)
    The Symphony No. 1 by Arnold Bax was completed in 1922 and dedicated to John Ireland. Its outer movements were based on a Piano Sonata in E-flat that Bax subsequently orchestrated, while the central movement was newly-composed for the symphony....

  • Symphony No. 2
    Symphony No. 2 (Bax)
    The Symphony No. 2 in E minor and C major by Arnold Bax was completed in 1926, after he had worked on it for 2 years. The symphony was dedicated to Serge Koussevitsky, who conducted the first two performances of the work on the 13th and 14 December 1929....

  • Symphony No. 3
    Symphony No. 3 (Bax)
    The Symphony No. 3 by Arnold Bax was completed in 1929. It was dedicated to Sir Henry Wood and is perhaps the most performed and most immediately approachable of Arnold Bax's symphonies....

  • Symphony No. 4
    Symphony No. 4 (Bax)
    The Symphony No. 4 by Arnold Bax was completed in 1930 and dedicated to Paul Corder. It was inspired by Bax's love of the sea and premiered in 1931 by British conductor Basil Cameron and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.-Scoring:...

  • Symphony No. 5
    Symphony No. 5 (Bax)
    The Symphony No. 5 by Arnold Bax was completed in 1932 and dedicated to Jean Sibelius. It is in many ways heavily influenced by Sibelius.It is scored for two piccolos, three flutes, two oboes, English horn, three clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, double bassoon, four horns, three trumpets,...

  • Symphony No. 6
    Symphony No. 6 (Bax)
    The Symphony No.6 by Arnold Bax was completed on February 10, 1935. The symphony was dedicated to Sir Adrian Boult, who often conducted Arnold Bax's works but criticized them for being formally loose. Arnold Bax's main aim with this work was to maintain his style but revert to a more classical form...

  • Symphony No. 7
    Symphony No. 7 (Bax)
    The Symphony No. 7 in A flat major by Arnold Bax was completed in 1939 and dedicated to The People of America. The work received its first performance in New York in 1940 under the baton of Sir Adrian Boult....


Tone poems

  • Cathaleen-ni-Hoolihan (1905)
  • Into The Twilight (1908)
  • In The Faery Hills (1909)
  • Rosc-catha (1910)
  • Christmas Eve (1912, revised c.1921)
  • Nympholept (1912, orch. 1915, revised 1935)
  • The Garden of Fand (1913, orch. 1916)
  • Spring Fire (1913)
  • In Memoriam (1916)
  • November Woods
    November Woods
    The tone poem November Woods was written by the British composer Arnold Bax in 1917. It is for many his greatest tone poem.It opens with a dramatic depiction of a stormy woodland landscape, followed by a much more peaceful section and development before the stormy opening mood returns towards the...

  • Tintagel
    Tintagel (Bax)
    Tintagel is a symphonic poem composed by Arnold Bax in 1919; it is perhaps his best-known orchestral work.Bax had visited Tintagel Castle during the summer of 1917, accompanied by pianist Harriet Cohen, with whom he was carrying on an affair at the time; he dedicated the work to her...

     (1917, orch. 1919)
  • Summer Music (1917, orch. 1921, revised 1932)
  • The Happy Forest (1922)
  • The Tale the Pine Trees Knew (1931)
  • Northern Ballad No. 1 (1927)
  • Northern Ballad No. 2 (1934)
  • Prelude for a Solemn Occasion (Northern Ballad No. 3) (1927, orch. 1933)
  • A Legend (1944)

Other orchestral works

  • Variations for Orchestra (Improvisations) (1904)
  • A Song of War and Victory (1905)
  • On the Sea Shore (1908, orch. 1984)
  • Festival Overture (1911, revised 1918)
  • Dance of Wild Irravel (1912)
  • Four Orchestral Pieces (1912–13)
  • Three Pieces for Small Orchestra (1913, revised 1928)
  • Symphonic Scherzo (1917, revised 1933)
  • Russian Suite (1919)
  • Mediterranean (1922)
  • Cortège (1925)
  • Romantic Overture (1926)
  • Overture, Elegy and Rondo (1927)
  • Three Pieces (1928)
  • Overture to a Picaresque Comedy (1930)
  • Sinfonietta (1932)
  • Saga Fragment (1932)
  • Rogue's Comedy Overture (1936)
  • Overture to Adventure (1936)
  • London Pageant (1937)
  • Paean (1938)
  • Salute to Sydney (Fanfare) (1943)
  • Work in Progress (Overture) (1943)
  • Victory March (1945)
  • The Golden Eagle (Incidental Music) (1945)
  • Two Royal Wedding Fanfares (1947)
  • Coronation March (1952)


  • Symphonic Variations, for piano and orchestra (1918)
  • Phantasy for Viola and Orchestra (1920)
  • Winter Legends, for piano and orchestra (1930)
  • Cello Concerto (1932)
  • Saga Fragment, for piano and orchestra (1932)
  • Violin Concerto (1938)
  • Piano Concertino (1939)
  • Morning Song, for piano and orchestra (1946)
  • Concertante for Three Solo Wind Instruments and Orchestra (1948/1949)
  • Concertante for Orchestra with Piano (Left Hand) (1949)
  • Variations on the name Gabriel Fauré for Harp & String Orchestra (1949)

Two players

  • Harp
    • "Fantasy Sonata for Harp and Viola" (1927)
    • Sonata for Flute and Harp (1928)

  • Violin
    • Violin Sonata No. 1 (1910)
    • Legend, for violin and piano, in one movement (1915)
    • Violin Sonata No. 2 (1915, revised 1922)
    • Ballad, for violin and piano (1916)
    • Violin Sonata No. 3 (1927)
    • Ballad, for violin and piano (1929)
    • Violin Sonata in F (1928)

  • Viola
    • Concert Piece for Viola and Piano (1904)
    • Viola Sonata (1922)
    • "Fantasy Sonata for Harp and Viola" (1927)
    • Legend, for viola and piano (1929)

  • Cello
    • Folk-Tale, for cello & piano (1918)
    • Cello Sonata (1923)
    • Cello Sonatina (1933)
    • Legend-Sonata, for cello & piano (1943)

  • Flute
    • Four Pieces for Flute and Piano (1912, revised 1915 & 1945)
    • Sonata for Flute and Harp (1928)

  • Clarinet Sonata (1934)

Three players

  • Trio in One Movement for Piano, Violin, and Viola (1906)
  • Elegiac Trio, for flute, viola, and harp (1916)
  • Piano Trio in B flat (1946)

Four players

  • String Quartet No. 1 in G major (1918)
  • Piano Quartet, in one movement (1922)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (1925)
  • String Quartet No. 3 in F (1936)

Five players

  • Quintet in G (1908)
  • Piano Quintet in G minor (1915)
  • Quintet for Harp and Strings, in one movement (1919)
  • Oboe Quintet (1922)
  • String Quintet, in one movement (1933)

Six or more players

  • In Memoriam, sextet for cor anglais, harp & string quartet (1916)
  • Nonet (1930)
  • Octet (1934)
  • Threnody and Scherzo, octet in two movements (1936)
  • Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Harp and String Quartet (1936)

One piano

  • Clavierstücke (Juvenilia) (1897-8)
  • Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1898)
  • Piano Sonata in D minor (1900)
  • Marcia Trionfale (1900)
  • White Peace (arranged by Ronald Stevenson 1907)
  • Concert Valse in E flat (1910)
  • Piano Sonata No. 1 (1910, revised 1917-20)
  • Piano Sonata in F# minor (1910, revised, 1911, 1919 & 1921)
  • Two Russian Tone-Pictures (1912)
  • Nympholept (1912)
  • Scherzo for Piano (1913)
  • Toccata for Piano (1913)
  • From the Mountains of Home (arranged by Peter Warlock
    Peter Warlock
    Peter Warlock was a pseudonym of Philip Arnold Heseltine , an Anglo-Welsh composer and music critic. He used the pseudonym when composing, and is now better known by this name....

    ) (1913)
  • The Happy Forest (1914)
  • In the Night (1914)
  • Apple-Blossom-Time (1915)
  • In a Vodka Shop (1915)
  • The Maiden with the Daffodil (1915) )
  • A Mountain Mood (1915)
  • The Princess’s Rose Garden (1915)
  • Sleepy-Head (1915)
  • Winter Waters (1915)
  • Dream in Exile (1916)
  • Nereid (1916)
  • On a May Evening (1918)
  • A Romance (1918)
  • The Slave Girl (1919)
  • What the Minstrel Told Us (1919)
  • Whirligig (1919)
  • Piano Sonata No. 2 (1919, revised 1920)
  • Burlesque (1920)
  • Ceremonial Dance (1920)
  • A Country-Tune (1920)
  • A Hill Tune (1920)
  • Lullaby (1920)
  • Mediterranean (1920)
  • Serpent Dance (1920)
  • Water Music (1920)
  • Piano Sonata in E-flat
    Piano Sonata in E-flat (Bax)
    Arnold Bax composed his Piano Sonata in E-flat in 1921. It is the original version of Bax's First Symphony and was not performed in public or published in the composer's lifetime.-Movements:The sonata is in three movements and lasts approximately 35 minutes....

  • Piano Sonata No. 3 (1926)
  • Pæan (c.1928)
  • Piano Sonata No. 4 (1932)
  • A Legend (1935)
  • Piano Sonata in B flat Salzburg (1937)
  • O Dame get up and bake your pies (1945)
  • Suite on the Name Gabriel Fauré (1945)
  • Four Pieces for Piano (1947)
  • Two Lyrical Pieces for Piano (1948)

Two pianos

  • Fantasia for Two Pianos (1900)
  • Festival Overture (arrangement of orchestral work 1911)
  • Moy Mell (1916)
  • Mediterranean (arranged for three hands by H. Rich 1920)
  • Hardanger (1927)
  • The Poisoned Fountain (1928)
  • The Devil that tempted St Anthony (1928)
  • Sonata for Two Pianos (1929)
  • Red Autumn (1931)


  • Fatherland (Runeberg, tr. C. Bax) [tenor solo] (1907, revised 1934)
  • A Christmas Carol (Anon.) [arranged for SATB by Hubert Dawkes] (1909)
  • Enchanted Summer (Shelley) [two soprano solos] (1910)
  • Variations sur ‘Cadet Rousselle’ (French trad.) [arranged by Max Saunders] (1918)
  • Of a rose I sing a song (Anon.) [SATB, harp, cello, double bass] (1920)
  • Now is the Time of Christymas (Anon.) [TB, flute, piano] (1921)
  • Mater, ora Filium (Anon.) [SSAATTBB] (1921)
  • This Worldes Joie (Anon.) [SATB with SATB divisions] (1922)
  • The Boar’s Head (Anon.) [TTBB] (1923)
  • I sing of a maiden that is makeless (Anon.) [SAATB] (1923)
  • To the Name above every Name (Crashaw) [soprano solo] (1924)
  • St Patrick’s Breastplate (Anon.) [SATB] (1924)
  • Walsinghame (Raleigh) (tenor, obbligato soparano) (1926)
  • Lord, Thou hast told us (Washbourne) [hymn for SATB] (1930)
  • The Morning Watch (Vaughan) [SATB] (1935)
  • 5 Fantasies on Polish Christmas Carols (trans. Śliwiński) [unison trebles] (1942)
  • 5 Greek Folksongs (trans. Michel-Dmitri Calvocoressi) [SATB] (1942)
  • To Russia (Masefield) [baritone solo] (1944)
  • Gloria [SATB] (1945)
  • Nunc Dimittis [SATB] (1945)
  • Te Deum [SATB] (1945)
  • Epithalamium (Spenser) [SATB in unison] (1947)
  • Magnificat [SATB] (1948)
  • Happy Birthday to you (Hill) [arr. SATB] (1951)
  • What is it like to be young and fair? (C. Bax) [SSAAT] (1953)

Songs with orchestra

  • 2 Nocturnes [soprano] (1911)
  • 3 Songs [high voice] (1914)
  • Song of the Dagger (Strettell and Sylva) [bass] (1914)
  • The Bard of the Dimbovitza (Strettel and Sylva) [mezzo-soprano] (1914, revised 1946)
  • Glamour (O’Byrne) [high voice] (1921, orchestrated by Rodney Newton 1987)
  • A Lyke-Wake (Anon.) [high voice] (1908, orchestrated 1934)
  • Wild Almond (Trench) [high voice] (1924, orchestrated 1934)
  • Eternity (Herrick) [high voice] (1934)
  • O Dear! What can the matter be? (trad. arr. Bax)

Songs with chamber ensemble

  • Aspiration (Dehmel) [arranged for high voice w/violin, cello, & piano] (1909)
  • My eyes for beauty pine (Bridges) [high voice with string quartet] (c.1921)
  • O Mistress mine (Shakespeare) [high voice with string quartet] (c.1921)

Songs with piano

  • The Grand Match (O'Neill) (1903)
  • To My Homeland (Gwynn) (1904)
  • A Celtic Song Cycle (Macleod) (1904)
    • Eilidh my Fawn
    • Closing Doors
    • The Dark Eyes to Mine
    • A Celtic Lullaby
    • At the Last
  • When We Are Lost (Arnold Bax) (1905)
  • From the Uplands to the Sea (Morris) (1905)
  • Leaves, Shadows and Dreams (Macleod) (1905)
  • In the Silence of the Woods (Macleod) (1905)
  • Green Branches (Macleod) (1905)
  • The Fairies (Allingham) (1905)
  • Golden Guendolen (Morris) (1905)
  • The Song in the Twilight (Freda Bax) (1905)
  • Mircath: Viking-Battle-Song (Macleod) (1905)
  • A Hushing Song (Macleod) (1906)
  • I Fear Thy Kisses Gentle Maiden (Shelley) (1906)
  • Ballad: The Twa Corbies [recitation with piano] ('Border Minstrelsy') (1906)
  • Magnificat (St. Luke 1.46-55) (1906)
  • The Blessed Damozel (Rossetti) (1906)
  • 5 Traditional Songs of France (1920)
  • I Heard a Piper Piping (Seosamh MacCathmhaoil, Joseph Campbell) (1922)

Biographical links

  • Sir Arnold Bax, an extensive archive of reviews and essays on Arnold Bax
  • Music & Men, a biographical website dedicated to Bax's lover, the pianist Harriet Cohen
    Harriet Cohen
    Harriet Cohen CBE was a British pianist.-Biography:Harriet Cohen was born in London and studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music under Tobias Matthay, having won the Ada Lewis scholarship at the age of 12. She made her debut at a Chappell's Sunday concert at the Queen's Hall a year later...

Other links

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