Roger Quilter

English Born 01 Nov 1877 Died 21 Sep 1953

An English composer best known for his songs, Roger Quilter was a member of the Frankfurt Group of composers, whose ranks also included Henry Balfour Gardiner, Cyril Scott and Percy Grainger. Quilter found composition difficult but his works, which include a few orchestral pieces in addition to smaller forms, do not betray the difficulties he encountered; they sound polished and graceful with a large dose of melodic charm. A founder member of the Musician's Benevolent Fund, his benevolence helped many struggling young musicians, and in the 1930s, he used his wealth to aid Jews fleeing Austria in the face of Nazi tyranny.

Quilter was born in Hove to a wealthy family on 1 November 1877. He was educated at Eton and at the Hoch conservatory in Frankfurt (c1897-1901) where he studied piano with Ernst Engesser and composition with Ivan Knorr. In March 1901, Quilter had his first success when his Four Songs of the Sea were sung at Crystal Palace. From this point on, major singers such as John Coates and Gervase Elwes regularly sang his songs, and Quilter's reputation as a songsmith was secured.

In addition to songs, Quilter wrote the incidental music for a children's play Where the Rainbow Ends. From this he extracted his popular orchestral work, A Children's Overture. It was first performed at the Proms in 1919 and was included in the BBC's first broadcast concert in 1922. In its skillful blending of nursery rhymes, it achieves a easy melodious atmosphere that continues to delight both young and old.

Quilter also wrote several light operas in the 1930s, but neither were a big success. In later life, Quilter suffered from severe psychological illness and may have been blackmailed for his homosexuality. He died in London on 21 September 1953.

Most of Quilter's best songs were written before 1923 and are incontrovertibly English in style. Many were arranged for various combinations of instruments, often by the composer himself. His influence was acknowledged by Warlock, and many of the songs, such as the Tennyson setting Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, remained very popular for many years.

Related composers: Peter WarlockPercy Grainger, Cyril Scott, Henry Balfour Gardiner

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