[Sir] Arnold Bax (1883-1953)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes
Life
[Arnold Edward Trevor Bax; pseud. “Dermot O’Byrne”; orig. “Dermot McDermott”]; b. Streatham, S. London, raised in affluence nr. Hampstead, N. London; supported himself largely through private income; read W. B. Yeats’s Wanderings of Oisin while music student in 1902; travelled to Dresden and Russia, where he romantically pursued a Ukrainian girl; invited to Ireland by his br. Clifford, then staying at Glencolumcille; learnt Irish in the Gaeltacht there during long visits; stayed with AE at Breaghy country cottage; settled in Ireland 1911-13;
 
wrote Deirdre, a five act drama with music later employed in trilogy of tone poems called Eire - comprised of “Into the Twilight”, “In the Faery Hills” (1909) and “Roscatha”; set poems by Fiona MacLeod and Padraic Colum to music; contrib. stories ot Irish Review; he wrote The Sisters and Green Magic (1912), two stories; Children of the Hills (1913), collection of stories incl. “Ancient Dominions” and “The Death of Mache Goldhair”, and Wrack and Other Stories (1918), all exploring western Irish peasant life and Irish historical themes;
 
tried to write ‘Irishly, using figures and melodies of a definitely Celtic curve’ moved by the 1916 Rising, though evidently more interested in the event as theme than sympathetic with the politics of the leaders; wrote In Memoriam, a musical elegy for Patrick Pearse (first performed in 1998); his “Dublin Ballad - 1916” suppressed by the Government in 1918; issued orchestral and concert music including “November Woods” (1917), reflecting his mood after 1916;
 
pronouced ‘my son in music’ by Sibelius about this time; produced seven symphonies in all; his best-known musical work includes The Garden of Fand (1916), suggested by and evocative of the Atlantic; and Summer Music (1921), both orchestral tone poems, as well as Tintagel (Symphony No. 1; 1919), all with autobiographical overtones; in Dublin days he was regarded as a novelist and poet no less than a composer; returned to the west of Ireland frequently over 30 years;
 
knighted, 1937; his musical career was effectively over by 1939; wrote score for David Lean’s Oliver Twist (1948); appt. Master of the King’s Musick, 1941; issued Farewell My Youth (1943); d. 3 Oct., in Cork; called himself a ‘brazen Romantic’ and a ‘tireless hunter of dreams’; performed by NSO under Bryden Thomson in the 1980s and, latterly, by the German pianist Michael Endres. ODNB DIW DIL OCEL OCIL

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Works
Poetry
  • Seafoam and Firelight [Orpheus Series, No. 2] (London: Daniel 1909);
  • Poems Dramatic and Lyrical [Orpheus Ser. No. 9] (London: Daniel 1911).
 
Fiction
  • The Sisters and Green Magic [Orpheus Series] (London: Daniel 1912), 76pp.;
  • Children of the Hills (Dublin: Maunsel 1913), 148pp.;
  • Wrack and Other Stories (Dublin: Talbot Press 1918), 195pp.
 
Plays
Red Owen; A Drama in Three Acts (Dublin: Talbot Press 1919), 51pp.
 
Autobiography
Farewell, My Youth (London: Longmans 1943).
 
Collected works
  • Colin Scott-Sutherland, ed., Ideala: Collected Poems, Love Letters, Ephemera, &c. of Arnold Bax (Petersfield: Fand Music Press 2001), 320pp.; 70 ills.
 
Miscellaneous
  • ed., Florence Farr, Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats (Dublin: Cuala Press 1941)

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Criticism
Colin Scott-Sutherland, Arnold Bax (London: Dent 1973), espec. pp.17-26; see also Graham Parlett, A Catalogue of the Works of Arnold Bax (OUP [q.d.]) and Prof. Aloys Georg Fleischmann, intro., Music in Ireland (Cork UP 1952). See also website at www.fandmusic.com.

See also Tony Williams, ‘An Irishman’s Diary [Arnold Bax: English Composer who embraced Ireland]’, in The Irish Times (5 Oct. 2002).

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Commentary
Patricia Boylan, All Cultivated People (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1988), recounts that Bax entertained musically at Arts Club (p.13). Further, he detected at least six unintegrated personalities in Yeats and called him a ‘chameleon genius’; ‘if we were merely willing ears to AE we were even fainter apparitions to Yeats, as when, after talking to a lady for an hour, he politely peered forward and asked ‘Am I speaking to Mrs Podmore or Mrs Dryhurst?’; Yeats was the key to the Celtic wonderland to Bax’s ‘wide-eyed youth, and his the finder that pointed to the magic mountain when I was to dig all that may be of value in my own art’; Ireland informing his art so that it became ‘strengthened and purged of many alien elements and I began to write Irishly, using figures and melodies of a definitely Celtic curve, an idiom which, in the end, as so much second nature to me that many works of mine have been called Irish or Celtic when I supposed them to be purely personal to the British composer Arnold Bax [...]. All the days of my life I bless his [Yeats’s] name’ (p.224).

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Keith Jeffrey, ‘Irish Culture and the Great War’, in Bullán (Autum 1994), p.93, observes that Bax wrote an elegy to Pearse (“In Memoriam: Pádraig Pearse”) which he later used as the theme music for David Lean’s Oliver Twist, marking the distance he had travelled from his earlier attachment to Ireland as his ‘spiritual home’.

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Quotations
The Lifting of the Veil” [1912]: ‘I think that in the lives of all men there must be fleeting moments invested by the imagination from some intangible cause with a vast and awe-inspiring siginficance out of all proportion to the avtual event ... For in such an instant the veil of enchantment that was woven about our memories in the case of birth is lifted, only to fall again, alas! before our vision has time to become accustomed to the light that broods upon eternal things ... On very rare occasions it happens, perchance, to some men to be able to seize for a fraction of a second the hem o the departing dream, and between the clouds of its twilight hair to catch a half-glimpse of those fateful eyes before they fade again into the folded shadows of the ages.' (Quoted in programme notes of Chandas ABTD edn. of “Tintagle” [Symphony No. 1, 1919].

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References
Anthologies, Frank O’Connor, Book of Ireland (London: Collins 1959), selects “Dublin Ballad - 1916”; and do., Donagh MacDonagh, The Oxford Book of Irish Verse (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1958).

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Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances and Folklore [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), lists The Sisters and the Green Magic (1912), tales of peasant love set in Donegal; Children of the Hills (Dublin Maunsel 1913), stories from Irish Review and Orpheus; Wrack (Talbot Press 1918), stories, viz., Wrack, Before Dawn [on gunrunning], From the Fury of the O’Flahertys, A Coward’s Saga [Desmond Wars], The Invisible City of Coolanoole, The King’s Messenger [man slain to convey message to the dead], The Vision of St. Molaise [early Christian times]; Brown says, ‘unhuman, works of pure fantasy, untouched by feeling ... intimate knowledge of the idiom of Gaelic’.

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Chandos ABTD Cassette Tape edn. of “Tintagel” (Symphony No. 1 in 3 movements), played by Ulster Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thompson; cover notes include quotation and remarks: ‘in a moment the Celt within me stood revealed’ on reading Wanderings of Usheen [sic]; travelled to Ireland, where his existence was ‘unrelated to material actualities’, staying mostly at Glencolumcille; returned frequently during following thirty years; also visited Dresden, and pursued a Ukrainian girl to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the Ukraine; watched Prince Igor and the Russian Imperial Ballet; early compositions modelled on Chopin and Schumann; later absorbed Tschaikovsky, Wagner, and Richard Strauss; in Ireland tried to write ‘Irishly, using figures of a definite Celtic curve’; influenced later by Debussy and Stravinsky; String Quartet in A Major, 1902, revealing the form of the later symphonies in which scherzo and finale combine in third movement; Quartet in E Major, 1903, with a slow movement prefaced by a quotation from W. B. Yeats, orchestrated as the first orchestral tone poem with the title “Cathleen-ni-Houlihan”; wrote massive Germanic symphony in Dresden; String Quarter in G, symphonic score, 1904; five act drama called Deirdre, with music later employed in trilogy of tone poems called Eire (comprised of Into the Twilight, In the Faery Hills, and Roscatha); orchestral setting of pastoral scenes from Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, entitled Enchanted Summer; most successful with the tone poems and their orchestral scores, The Garden of Fand (1913), orchestrated 1916); Summer Music (1917, orchestrated 1921); Tintagel (1917; orchestrated 1919); Novembers Woods (1917); all had autobiographical overtones; Piano Quartet (1914-15); Symphonic Variations (1916-18), for piano and orchestra; First Symphony (1921-22), conceived as piano sonata; Second Symphony, completed March 1926; Third Symphony (1928-29); Winter Legends (1930), for piano and orchestra; in this year his First and Third Symphonies were performed in London; Fourth Symphony (Feb. 1931); further symphonies in 1932, 1934, and 1939; his knighthood acknowledged past achievements rather than a current musical force; Tintagel arising from sojourn in Cornwall with his lover, the pianist Harriet Cohen, during a six-week absence from his wife and children in Aug. and Sept. 1917 [... &c.].

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The British Library holds [1] Arnold Bax. [With a portrait.] Eng. & Fr.. pp. 10. J. & W. Chester: London, Genève, [1921.] 8o. [2] Farewell, My Youth. [Reminiscences.] Title [Another copy.] Farewell, my Youth. Title [A reissue.] Farewell, my Youth.. pp. 112. Longmans & Co.: London, 1943. 8o.. London, 1943. 8o.. London, 1949. 8o. [3] Bulletin. no. 1, etc. Feb. 1968, etc.. [London,] 1968- . 8o. [4] A Handbook on Arnold Bax's Symphonies. [With musical notes.]. pp. 51. Murdoch, Murdoch & Co.: London, [1932.] 8o. [5] Arnold Bax: a catalogue of his music, compiled by Graham Parlett.. London: Triad Press, [1972]. pp. 52; port. 23 cm. [6] Arnold Bax.. London: Dent, 1973. ISBN 0 460 03861 3 pp. xviii, 214: plates; music, ports. 24 cm.

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Belfast Central Library holds Children of the Hills (n.d.); Red Owen (1919); Wrack and other stories (1918). UUC JORD holds mus. scores, Bax, A Composer, Foreword by Felix Abrahamian (London 1983), and a biog. and study called Bax [no details].

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Notes
Authorship of Poems Dramatic and Lyrical [Orpheus Ser. No. 9] (London: Daniel 1911) is sometimes ascribed to his brother Clifford, who also issued Florence Farr, Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Letters (Cuala Press 1942; NY 1942).

His lovers incls. Harriet Cohen, et al.

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