Rutland Boughton


Born: January 23, 1878; Aylesbury, England   Died: January 25, 1960; London, England  
Rutland Boughton is seldom mentioned in the ranks of important English composers. A contemporary of Ralph Vaughan Williams, his life also overlapped with such figures as Sir Edward Elgar and William Walton, yet he is never thought of as one of them, principally because his musical achievements were confined to England and were rooted in a style that was considered archaic in their own time.

Rutland Boughton was the son of a grocer. The
Read more family hadn't a hope of paying for music lessons, much less a full education, and Boughton was almost completely self-taught apart from a brief period spent at the Royal College of Music. In 1905, he got a position at the Midland Institute of Music and it was there that he began building a reputation as a choral conductor, teacher, and as a composer. He began working toward a uniquely English form of opera, although Boughton preferred the term "choral-drama." Culturally, he was an adherent to the beliefs of pre-Raphaelite author William Morris' Socialist League, which intermingled art and agrarian idealism; mixing these ideas with music, Boughton conceived the idea of a communal artistic life that took shape in the form of the Glastonbury Festival, which he co-founded in August 1914. It was there that he debuted The Immortal Hour on August 26, 1914. Boughton composed six more operatic works that were either premiered or performed at Glastonbury, including Bethlehem (1915), The Round Table (1916), The Birth of Arthur (1920), Alkestis (1922), and The Queen of Cornwall (1924). He was encouraged in his efforts by such figures as Sir Charles Hubert Parry, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Sir Henry Wood, and George Bernard Shaw, and the festival became a showcase for musical compositions from across a wide spectrum of composers, with over 300 performances staged in a 12-year period along with a third that many concerts, lectures, exhibitions, and classes. None of Boughton's operas displayed the hold on audiences of The Immortal Hour and it seemed to cry out for greater exposure. It was moved to the Birmingham Repertory Theater in 1921, where it proved a substantial hit, and was subsequently moved to the London stage. There, at the Regent's Theater, it was performed 216 times, commencing in October 1922, and was revived in November 1923 for 160 more performances. No other opera has ever held audiences over such a sustained period and The Immortal Hour became the central triumph of Boughton's career. The Glastonbury Festival lasted until 1926 and he later tried establishing festivals at Stroud, where he premiered The Lily Maid in 1934, and Bath, where he presented The Ever Young in 1935. Boughton's work was so English in its character and his style was so defiantly Romantic that his music -- like that of Stanford, Sullivan, and other late nineteenth century English composers -- fell into obscurity. He was sustained by his teaching and a reputation that remained substantial in England at least into the 1940s, and pursued his composing career for decades. In 1945, at age 63, he presented what he regarded as the crowning achievement of his career, a five-part opera cycle devoted to the legend of King Arthur, which he had been working on since age 30. He also wrote songs and smaller-scale choral works, and composed in the chamber and orchestral idioms; and he authored books and numerous articles devoted to music and also to the cause of Morris' brand of socialism, to which he remained an ardent adherent until his death in 1960. Read less

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