Arthur Bliss Biography (BBC)
Born in Barnes, West London, on 2 August 1891 to an American father and British mother, Arthur Bliss showed musical aptitude from an early age. Having graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge (where he studied music under Charles Wood), he entered London’s Royal College of Music in 1913. However, his composition studies with Stanford were soon interrupted by the outbreak of war. Bliss promptly signed up for duty: in 1916, he was wounded at the Somme and, two years later, gassed at Cambrai.
In the years following the war, Bliss was considered something of an enfant terrible in British musical circles; exploratory works (‘essays in timbre’) for voice and instrumental ensemble such as Madam Noy (1918), Rhapsody (1919) and Rout (1920) were thought terribly daring.
His breakthrough came with A Colour Symphony, commissioned by the 1922 Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester, and one of a clutch of orchestral offerings by Bliss that have maintained some kind of foothold in the repertory. These include the Mêlée fantasque (1921), Introduction and Allegro (1926), Music for Strings (1935) and Meditations on a Theme of John Blow (1955); all exhibit the generous lyrical impulse, big heart, tangy harmonic resource, keen sense of proportion and consummate craft that are the hallmarks of the composer.
At equal intervals throughout his career, Bliss produced four fine concertos: for two pianos (1929), piano (1938, dedicated to Solomon), violin (1955, for Alfredo Campoli) and cello (1970, inscribed to Rostropovich). His works for the stage suffered mixed fortunes. Widespread acclaim greeted the three ballets from the middle of his career, Checkmate (1937), Miracle in the Gorbals (1944) and Adam Zero (1946), whereas his two operas, The Olympians (1949) and Tobias and the Angel (1960), failed to establish themselves.
Among his many other vocal works, special mention must be made of the imposing and deeply personal symphony for orator, chorus and orchestra from 1930 entitled Morning Heroes. Dedicated to the memory of his younger brother Kennard (a gifted poet, painter and musician who was killed on the Somme in 1916), it continues to enjoy the occasional revival, as does the immensely appealing 1928 Pastoral: Lie Strewn the White Flocks‚ for mezzo-soprano, flute, chorus and chamber orchestra.
The prolific and versatile Bliss also excelled in the realm of chamber and instrumental music, penning two exceptionally eloquent string quartets, quintets for oboe and clarinet, as well as sonatas for viola and piano. He produced eight film scores in all and there can be few more indelible contributions to the genre than the magnificent music he supplied for Alexander Korda’s Things to Come (1936). Between 1942 and 1944, Bliss was the BBC’s Director of Music. He received a knighthood in 1950 and, three years later, succeeded Arnold Bax as Master of The Queen’s Musick. His personable autobiography, As I Remember, was published in 1970.The indefatigable octogenarian continued to compose right up to his death in London on 27 March 1975, aged 83.
Profile © Andrew Achenbach
Arthur Bliss Biography (Wikipedia)
Sir Arthur Edward Drummond Bliss CH KCVO (2 August 1891 – 27 March 1975) was an English composer and conductor.
Bliss's musical training was cut short by the First World War, in which he served with distinction in the army. In the post-war years he quickly became known as an unconventional and modernist composer, but within the decade he began to display a more traditional and romantic side in his music. In the 1920s and 1930s he composed extensively not only for the concert hall, but also for films and ballet.
In the Second World War, Bliss returned to England from the US to work for the BBC and became its director of music. After the war he resumed his work as a composer, and was appointed Master of the Queen's Music.
In Bliss's later years, his work was respected but was thought old-fashioned, and it was eclipsed by the music of younger colleagues such as William Walton and Benjamin Britten. Since his death, his compositions have been well represented in recordings, and many of his better-known works remain in the repertoire of British orchestras.
Arthur Bliss Tracks