Arnold Bax

Biography

Born: November 8, 1883; England   Died: October 3, 1953; Ireland  
Born of cultured and wealthy parents, Bax was insulated from the loss of direction that many composers felt during, and immediately after, the First World War. For him the prewar world of Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky was still alive in all its myth and mystery. He described himself as "a brazen romantic," and in many respects could be considered the last of the European post-Romantic school of composers.

During his five years at the Read more Royal Academy of Music, Bax was deeply impressed by the poetry of W.B. Yeats, founder of the Irish National Theater, an influence that led to a close association with Celtic culture and legend for the rest of his life. He wrote poetry under the pseudonym Dermot O'Byrne, and assisted his brother, the playwright and critic Clifford Bax, in editing a magazine called Orpheus, dedicated to the mystical arts.

His first mature work, In the Fairy Hills, is typical of the fantastic and exotic nature of his orchestral writing, chromatic and opulent, with a broad melodic sweep and luminous harmonies. The Garden of Fand (1916), an imaginative evocation of an ancient legend of sea gods and goddesses, is similarly impressionistic, though less naturalistic, than Debussy's La Mer. Tintagel, a tone poem inspired by traditional English stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was composed in 1919 after a holiday in Cornwall and quickly became Bax's most frequently performed work.

Living in the shadow of composers of the stature of Elgar and Vaughan Williams, Bax received little public recognition until late in life. Up to the late 1930s, his songs, choral works, and chamber music were rarely heard, and, had it not been for a broadening of his style and the championship of Sir Adrian Boult, conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Bax would probably be remembered, if at all, for his comparatively youthful works. Even in the 1960s the English music critic Burnett James was moved to call this neglect "myopic and moronic."

On a visit to Scandinavia in 1932, Bax met Sibelius and the two composers became friends; while Sibelius' influence is not obvious in Bax's symphonic style, he is clearly indebted to the Finnish master in his tone poems "Winter Legends" and "The tale the pine trees knew."

The symphony, a form to which he turned again and again between 1922 and 1939, provided an outlet for a more taut, structured and contrapuntal approach that nevertheless retains elements of fantasy and mysticism. Symphonies 1 and 3 were recorded in his lifetime, and for many years, the Symphony No. 3, with its exotic, colourful melodic lines and rich orchestration, remained popular with British orchestras as well as an occasional international performance. Symphony No. 5 is dedicated to Sibelius and No. 6 contains a brief quote from Sibelius' tone poem Tapiola.

Bax did not take well to approaching old age. He became withdrawn and dependent on alcohol. In 1943, he wrote a bitterly nostalgic memoir of his earlier years titled "Farewell, My Youth" (edited by Lewis Foreman; Scolar [sic] Press (Now Ashgate); 1992). In 1942, he was appointed Master of the Kings' Music and received a knighthood. His last work, written to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953, is a set of madrigals called "What is it like to be young and fair?" He died while on holiday in Cork, Ireland. Read less

Bax: Tintagel;  Rachmaninov: Symphony No 3 Op. 44 / Vänskä, London Po
Release Date: 11/18/2008   Label: Lpo  
Catalog: 36   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: The Garden of Fand

Browse 1-11 of 11 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    Sir Thomas Beecham: English Music - Delius, German, Bantock, Bax, Lord Berners
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 09915 Release Date: 03/22/2011   Number of Discs: 6
    Composer:  Frederick Delius,  Granville Bantock,  Arnold Bax,  Lord (Tyrwhitt) Berners  ... 
    Performer:  John [baritone (50s)] Cameron,  Maureen Forrester,  Jean Pougnet,  Rene Soames  ... 
    Conductor:  Sir Thomas Beecham
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  Beecham Choral Society,  Luton Choral Society  ... 
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  • 2.
    Sir John Barbirolli - The Great EMI Recordings - 40th Anniversary
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 57767 Release Date: 03/09/2010   Number of Discs: 10
    Composer:  Hector Berlioz,  Giacomo Puccini,  Sir Edward Elgar,  Johannes Brahms  ... 
    Performer:  Dame Janet Baker,  André Navarra
    Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hallé Orchestra,  London Symphony Orchestra
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  • 3.
    Beecham Collection - Brahms, Bax, Strauss / Beecham
    Label: Somm   Catalog: 21 Release Date: 10/23/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johannes Brahms,  Arnold Bax,  Richard Strauss
    Conductor:  Sir Thomas Beecham
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 4.
    Bax: Tone Poems / Boult, London Philharmonic
    Label: Lyrita   Catalog: 231 Release Date: 01/09/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Arnold Bax
    Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 5.
    British Orchestral Collection / Various
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8502502 Release Date: 11/15/2006   Number of Discs: 25
    Composer:  Ralph Vaughan Williams,  Bruce Montgomery,  Michael Hurd,  Haydn Wood  ... 
    Performer:  Roderick Williams,  Iain Burnside,  Graham Johnson,  John Metcalfe  ... 
    Conductor:  James Judd,  David Lloyd-Jones,  Michael Tippett,  Adrian Leaper  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra,  Duke String Quartet,  Royal Ballet Sinfonia  ... 
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  • 6.
    English Symphonies Collection / Various
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8502503 Release Date: 11/15/2006   Number of Discs: 25
    Composer:  Sir William Walton,  Ralph Vaughan Williams,  Alan Rawsthorne,  Sir Edward Elgar  ... 
    Performer:  David Timson,  Lynda Russell,  Paul Silverthorne,  Stuart Green  ... 
    Conductor:  Paul Daniel,  Kees Bakels,  David Lloyd-Jones,  Edward Downes  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Northern Philharmonia,  Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra,  Waynflete Singers  ... 
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  • 7.
    Bax: Tone Poems / Handley, Bbc Philharmonic
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 10362 Release Date: 04/18/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Arnold Bax
    Conductor:  Vernon Handley
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 8.
    Bax: Symphonic Poems / Lloyd-Jones, Et Al
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8557599 Release Date: 07/19/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Arnold Bax
    Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
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  • 9.
    Bax: Orchestral Works Vol 3 / Thomson, Et Al
    Label: Chandos   Catalog: 10156 Release Date: 11/25/2003   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Arnold Bax
    Conductor:  Bryden Thomson
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
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  • 10.
    Bax: Symphony No 1, In The Faery Hills, Etc / Lloyd-jones
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8553525 Release Date: 06/09/1998   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Arnold Bax
    Conductor:  David Lloyd-Jones
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Scottish National Orchestra
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  • 11.
    Bantock: Fifine at the Fair; Bax: Garden of Fand; Berners: Triumph of Neptune / Beecham
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 63405 Release Date: 01/01/1980   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Lord (Tyrwhitt) Berners,  Arnold Bax,  Granville Bantock
    Performer:  Robert Alva
    Conductor:  Sir Thomas Beecham
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
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