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Bax at 26
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Bax at 63

BAXWORKS


Musical profile


Arnold Edward Trevor Bax was born in Streatham (then in Surrey, now in London). He and his younger brother Clifford, the poet and playwright, came from a wealthy family of Sussex Quaker origins and were of independent means. Arnold studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London, from 1900 to 1904, mainly under Frederick Corder. His musical influences were chiefly Liszt, Wagner and Strauss, but while still a student he discovered the poetry of W B Yeats, and, in his own words, 'The Celt within me stood revealed'. He thereafter spent much of his life in Ireland, where he learnt Gaelic and pursued a productive literary life under the pen-name Dermot O'Byrne. "W. B Yeats, speaking of [O'Byrne's] A Dublin Ballad, said it was by far the finest poem to come out of the 1916 Rebellion". (Harriet Cohen, A Bundle of Time, p.37.)

His style was now influenced by Irish folk music, and subsequently, through early travels in Europe, by Russian music (folk, concert, and especially liturgical). Later in life he discovered an equal affinity for Scandinavia and formed a sort of mutual admiration society with Sibelius. Despite his former association with Irish patriots, he was knighted in 1937 and appointed Master of the King's Music on the death of Walford Davies in 1942 - ironically, two years after he had completed the bulk of his life's work and given up musical composition, (fortunately, only temporarily).

Dustjacket of Farewell My Youth Bax's music cannot be appreciated without an understanding of his own self-description as a 'brazen Romantic', meaning that music for him was primarily for the expression of emotional states (and, one might add, 'events'). He was not interested in abstract sound for its own sake - even though, as it happens, he was a prodigious pianist and his formal structures are always tightly controlled. Another romantic tendency was his love of landscape in general and, in particular, of wild, remote and preferably sea-girt solitudes.

Yet another was his complex and brazenly heterosexual love life. His travels in Russia (1910) were in vain pursuit of an unrequited love for a vain and faithless Russian beauty. Returned home, he married in 1911 and tried to settle down (in Dublin), but within a few years left his wife to pursue a passionate relationship with the beautiful and celebrated pianist Harriet Cohen, whom he had met in 1912.

Despite this and other affairs, the real love of his life was the relatively obscure but charming and devoted Mary Gleaves, whom he met in 1926. Not that he lived permanently with her, or for long with anyone. Nomadic by nature, he spent much of his life on the move, living and working in hotels (notably at Morar, Scotland) or staying with friends in Ireland (especially Cork and Glencolumcille).

Dust jacket In 1940, having completed his seventh symphony, he temporarily retired from composition ('like a grocer', as he put it) and spent his remaining years at the White Horse Hotel, Storrington, Sussex, in an unheated room and without a piano. In 1943 he published Farewell my Youth, an autobiographical fragment covering his life up to about 1920 - a fluent and witty work, but full of pseudonyms and false trails that have since been researched by Lewis Foreman and explicated in his biography of the composer.

Arnold Bax died in Cork in 1953.