GRANVILLE BANTOCK (1868 - 1946)
Granville Bantock was originally intended for the Indian Civil Service. The son of a Scottish doctor, he was born in London in 1868 and turned to music relatively late in adolescence, entering the Royal Academy in 1889 after a period of Trinity College of Music. Under his teacher Federick Corder, a former pupil of Hiller in Cologne, he did well enough to have a number of his student compositions performed at the academy, including a one-act opera, Caedmar, and Egyptian ballet suite from the incidental music to his own play Rameses II, a dramatic cantata, The Fire Worshippers, and Wulstan, a scena for baritone and orchestra, all marks of his very considerable ambition. In 1893 he left the academy and for the next three years edited the New Quarterly Music Review, while serving as a conductor for performances of light music, directing musical comedies for George Edwardes in a world tour in 1894 and 1985 and Stanford’s opera Shamus O’Brien. He followed this with an ambitious London concert devoted entirely to the music of contemporary British composers, most of whom are now forgotten, except for Bantock himself.
In 1897 Bantock became conductor at The Tower in New Brighton, where he remained for four years, taking the opportunity to do what he could to encourage British composers in a musical establishment of limited possibility, augmented in 1898 by the foundation of the New Brighton Choral Society. In 1900 he conducted a programme of British music in Antwerp, including first performances of some of his own compositions, among which was the symphonic poem Jaga-Naut, intended as the second of 24 projected symphonic poems, based on Robert Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama. Later tone poems followed, generally with some declared literary derivation.
In 1900 Bantock became principal of the Birmingham and Midland Institute School of Music, following Elgar as Peyton Professor of Music at the University in 1908, appointments which inevitably drew him into the musical establishment, leading in 1930 to a knighthood. The system of musical training he advocated involved a much wider education than is usual for music students and included general literature, mathematics and languages, a sign of his own breadth of interest, reflected in the variety of his compositions and in particular their wide literary terms of reference. These included the monumental setting of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam, a work in three parts that was first heard at music festivals in England and Wales and in 1912 received a successful performance in Vienna. His subsequent involvement with competitive festivals in England led him to write a considerable amount of music for this purpose. He retired from his position in Birmingham in 1934, continuing thereafter his activity as a composer, a conductor and an examiner for Trinity College of Music. Sir Thomas Beecham, 11 years Bantock’s junior, saw his gifts as principally operatic, praising what he describes as a “flow of genial melody, unmistakably of the ‘stagey’ sort, a solid but lively handling of the orchestra, and a by no means too common capacity for passing swiftly and easily from one contrasting mood to another”, finding in him one of the two outstanding figures in English musical life. Bantock died in 1946.