Cecil Armstrong Gibbs


Born: August 10, 1889 Died: May 12, 1960
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs is not one of the more widely performed and recorded English composers of the twentieth century, but his songs are highly regarded among connoisseurs and much of the rest of his vast output may be unfairly neglected. Gibbs was both versatile and prolific, producing symphonies, concertos, opera, incidental music, cantatas, choral and sacred music, solo piano works, chamber music, and numerous songs and song collections. Many of his most successful songs were settings of poems by lifelong friend Walter de la Mare. Though Gibbs' larger works met with less success during his lifetime, several achieved significant artistic merit, including two comic operas, The Blue Peter (1923) and Midsummer Madness (1924), as well as his choral symphony Odysseus (1938). His more popular songs include Silver (1920; No. 2 from Op. 30), The Tiger-lily (1921), The Sleeping Beauty (1922), The Witch (1938), and Hypochondriacus (1949). Gibbs' style was conservative, with a warm lyrical sense in both his melodies and harmonies. His music is still reasonably popular in England, but abroad it is heard largely on song anthology recordings.

Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (who preferred to drop Cecil) was born on August 10, 1889, in Great Baddow, Essex, England. Owing to his mother's death when he was two, several aunts raised him. Cognizant of the boy's extraordinary musical gifts, they implored his father to pursue a musical education for him. But the father resisted, sending him to preparatory school, then to Winchester College. Gibbs began his first advanced musical instruction at Cambridge in 1911, studying composition with Charles Wood and E.J. Dent.

Conductor Adrian Boult was impressed by Gibbs' score for the 1919 play Crossings (text by Walter de la Mare), and arranged for further study for Gibbs at the Royal College of Music, where his chief composition teacher was Ralph Vaughan Williams. Gibbs joined the faculty there in 1921, teaching until 1939.

That year, his house in Danbury was converted by the government into a hospital for wounded soldiers, and thus Gibbs spent the war years in Windermere, where he remained active in composition and as a conductor. Following the war he returned to Danbury, where he revived the choral society he founded there in 1919. Gibbs' later works include his 1956 Threnody, for string orchestra, written to mark the passing of Walter de la Mare (1873-1956). Gibbs died in Chelmsford, England, on May 12, 1960.

There are 19 Cecil Armstrong Gibbs recordings available.

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