John Foulds

Biography

Born: November 2, 1880   Died: April 24, 1939   Country: England  
John Foulds is one of the quintessential eccentrics who abound in the history of music in early twentieth century England, a prolific composer of so-called "light" music, on which most of his reputation today regrettably rests.

The son of a bassoonist in the Hallé Orchestra, he began piano lessons at age four and was composing by age seven. At ten, he switched to the cello (having made his way there via significant expertise with the
Read more oboe) and ran away from home at age 13 to make his living playing cello in local orchestras and seaside bands before joining the Hallé in 1900. A well-traveled man in his early manhood, Foulds met a wide variety of European composers who would influence his music, including Bartók, Mahler, Delius, Strauss, and Busoni. Mostly self-taught as a composer, he first came to public attention when Henry Wood premiered his orchestral piece Epithalamium at a 1906 Promenade Concert. At that time, he left the Hallé to concentrate full time on composing. Between 1914 and 1926, he lived mainly in London, supporting himself through theater work and conducting. Interestingly, he gave a number of concerts for the British forces during World War I. It was in this period that much of his lighter music was written, although the hugely popular Keltic Suite was actually composed somewhat earlier, in 1911. He also composed heavily for the theater, writing the incidental music for the first production of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan in 1924.

Foulds moved to Paris in 1927 with his second wife, violinist and theosophist Maud McCarthy, who had an abiding interest in Eastern music. This led to a lifelong interest in aspects of Ancient Greek and Indian music. In Paris, he wrote the Dynamic Triptych (essentially a piano concerto including innovative use of microtones), the Twelve Essays in the Modes for Piano (making use of Greek Dorian modes), and the apocalyptic Three Mantras. Returning to London in 1930, he continued his composition of "serious" music, including Hellas, April-England, and the Quartetto Intimo (String Quartet No. 9). He also published a fascinating, thoughtful, and revealing (and at the time widely read) survey entitled Music Today in 1934.

In 1935 he arrived in India, via a few side trips to Sicily and other exotic destinations, taking up his position with All-India Radio two years later. Based initially in Delhi, he threw himself into an in-depth study of Indian folk music and formed an experimental Indo-European orchestra, combining Western and native instruments. At the time of his death from cholera in Calcutta in 1939, he was working on a Symphony of East and West, intended to showcase the results of his studies in this area. Regrettably, the work is now lost, along with much of his huge output.

Once described as England's answer to Charles Ives, Foulds' place in musical history is difficult to precisely place. He certainly seems to have been the first English composer to write using quarter-tones. An early string quartet in 1896 (now lost) and the cello sonata both incorporate microtonality -- some time before Bartók experimented with them in his own string quartets -- as does his concert opera The Vision of Dante. His monumental World Requiem, written for a huge orchestra and chorus of some 1,200, enjoyed annual performances on Armistice Day from 1923 to 1926. Although he started his composing career as a fairly typical English late-Romantic, his experiments with exoticism, especially the combining of Indian and European tonalities, should place him in an important historical position, but since so little of this music has survived, there is little left on which to judge him. Read less
Browse 1-13 of 13 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    British Tone Poems, Vol. 2 / Gamba, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 10981 Release Date: 09/06/2019   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Foulds,  Eric Fogg,  Sir Eugene Goossens,  Ralph Vaughan Williams  ... 
    Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 2.
    Overtures from the British Isles, Vol. 2 / Gamba, BBC National Orchestra of Wales
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 10898 Release Date: 05/27/2016   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Sir William Walton,  Walter Leigh,  York Bowen,  Smyth, Ethel, Dame  ... 
    Conductor:  Rumon Gamba
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales
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  • 3.
    British Piano Concertos
    Label: Lyrita   Catalog: 2345 Release Date: 10/14/2014   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Malcolm Williamson,  Alun Hoddinott,  Charles Villiers Stanford,  Gerald Finzi  ... 
    Performer:  Malcolm Williamson,  Philip Fowke,  Malcolm Binns,  Peter Katin  ... 
    Conductor:  Leonard Dommett,  Barry Wordsworth,  Nicholas Braithwaite,  Vernon Handley  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  London Symphony Orchestra  ... 
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  • 4.
    John Foulds: Orchestral Works
    Label: Apex   Catalog: 645113 Release Date: 09/24/2013   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  John Foulds
    Performer:  Susan Bickley,  Daniel Hope,  Peter Donohoe
    Conductor:  Sakari Oramo
    CD: $18.99
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  • 5.
    British Works For Cello & Piano, Vol. 1 / Paul & Huw Watkins
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 10741 Release Date: 10/30/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Frederick Delius,  Granville Bantock,  John Foulds,  Charles H. Parry
    Performer:  Paul Watkins,  Huw Watkins
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  • 6.
    The Golden Age Of Light Music: A Return Trip To The Library
    Label: Guild   Catalog: 5183 Release Date: 01/10/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Cedric King Palmer,  Paul Fenoulhet,  Tom Wyler,  Laurie Johnson  ... 
    Conductor:  Walter Collins,  Tom Wyler,  Robert Farnon,  Dolf van der Linden  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Club Quintet
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    CD: $9.99
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  • 7.
    English Cello Sonatas
    Label: British Music Society   Catalog: 423 Release Date: 02/09/2010   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  John Foulds,  York Bowen,  Ernest Walker
    Performer:  John Talbot,  Jo Cole
    CD: $18.99
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  • 8.
    The Daniel Hope Collection
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 4690730 Release Date: 06/08/2009   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn,  John Foulds,  Dmitri Shostakovich,  Antonín Dvorák  ... 
    Performer:  Daniel Hope
    CD: $18.99
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  • 9.
    Artist Portrait - Daniel Hope
    Label: Warner Classics   Catalog: 433148 Release Date: 02/26/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Foulds,  Ravi Shankar,  Benjamin Britten,  Dmitri Shostakovich  ... 
    Performer:  Daniel Hope
    Conductor:  Sakari Oramo,  Paul Watkins,  Maxim Shostakovich,  Roger Norrington
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra,  BBC Symphony Orchestra,  Beaux Arts Trio  ... 
    CD: $7.99
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  • 10.
    Foulds: A World Requiem / Botstein, Charbonnet, Et Al
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 5058 Release Date: 02/05/2008   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  John Foulds
    Performer:  Catherine Wyn-Rogers,  Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet,  Gerald Finley,  Stuart Skelton
    Conductor:  Leon Botstein
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Crouch End Festival Chorus,  Philharmonia Chorus,  Trinity Boys Choir  ... 
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  • 11.
    Foulds: Le Cabaret, April-england, Etc / Barry Wordsworth
    Label: Lyrita   Catalog: 212 Release Date: 02/13/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Foulds
    Conductor:  Barry Wordsworth
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 12.
    Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto;  Foulds: Dynamic Tryptich
    Label: Lyrita   Catalog: 211 Release Date: 02/13/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ralph Vaughan Williams,  John Foulds
    Performer:  Howard Shelley
    Conductor:  Vernon Handley
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 13.
    Foulds: Piano Music / Kathryn Stott
    Label: Bis   Catalog: 933 Release Date: 11/15/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Foulds
    Performer:  Kathryn Stott
    CD: $19.99
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