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Arnold (Edward Trevor) Bax

English Born 08 Nov 1883 Died 03 Oct 1953

 Arnold Bax was born in Streatham, South London, in 1883. At the age of 10, Bax began attending concerts at the Crystal Palace with his father. He began to compose soon afterwards. In 1900, Bax went to the Royal Academy of Music in London and studied under Frederick Corder, whose son Paul, another composer, became a firm friend of Bax. The two friends travelled to Dresden and there heard the music of Richard Strauss, which was to influence Bax’s music. His strongest influence, however, was Ireland and its culture. This is especially true of the poetry of W. B. Yeats, which in 1949 he said “meant more to me than all the music of the centuries”. Bax left the Academy in 1905. He lived in a very random fashion, rarely staying in one place for long, often living in hotels.

Bax is especially well-known for his tone poems, which are influenced by many things; as well as Ireland and the poetry of Yeats, Bax was impressed with the music of such composers as Richard Strauss, Debussy, Ravel and Elgar. His most famous tone-poems are The Garden of Fand (1916), November Woods (1917) and Tintagel (1919), this last being perhaps his best-loved work. The majority of Bax’s music was written in his younger years, and this includes chamber music such as the first String Quartet (1918) and piano music such as the second Piano Sonata (1919). He was married, briefly, to Elsita Sobrino, but then left his wife and children when he met pianist Harriet Cohen, for whom Bax wrote many compositions.

Between 1922 and 1939, Bax wrote seven symphonies, each dedicated to a favourite composer. In the late 1930s, however, his compositional output began to decline. In 1937 he was awarded a Knighthood, and in 1942 was made ‘Master of the King’s Music’. He wrote poetry and prose in Ireland under the pseudonym Dermot O'Byrne. One of his poems, which celebrates the martyrs of the Easter Uprising in Ireland, was banned by the British authorities as subversive. He died in 1953 in Cork, Ireland. Despite, or perhaps because of, his many influences, Bax’s music has a very distinctive style. He was very prolific, particularly in his earlier years, and much of his music is overlooked. Although he was an excellent pianist, he never made any public appearances and devoted himself entirely to composition.

Related Composers: R Strauss, Ravel, Rachmaninov, Ireland

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