About this Recording
8.223458 - GIBBS: Songs

Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889 -1960)

Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960)


Dr. Cecil Armstrong Gibbs was born in 1889 at Great Baddow in Essex. He was educated at Winchester College and then moved on to Trinity College, Cambridge with a History Exhibition. He studied music there under E.J. Dent and Charles Wood. Clive Carey, Cyril Rootham, Arthur Bliss, Steuart Wilson and W. Denis Browne were among his friends in the Cambridge University Musical Society.


Having turned away from the family soap business of D. & W. Gibbs and being neither a first class organist or pianist he believed that a career in music was unrealistic, though composition was his first love. He therefore opted for teaching at his old preparatory school, The Wick at Brighton. There he trained a boys' choir and wrote several settings of Walter de la Mare's poems including 'Five Eyes' and 'Song of Shadows'. They became life-long friends; de la Mare wrote 'Crossings', a fairy play for the school to perform. Gibbs wrote the incidental music, Dent produced the play and the young Adrian Boult conducted. The play had two West End performances with the composer at the piano.


Boult persuaded Gibbs to give up teaching and to spend a year at the Royal College of Music, generously offering to pay the fees. Here he studied under Vaughan Williams for composition and Boult for conducting.


He joined the staff of the Royal College of Music in 1921 and served there until 1939 as teacher of harmony and composition.


Besides writing a large number of songs in this early period he also composed several string quartets and music for plays by Maeterlinck, Clifford Bax and A.P. Herbert which were staged in London theatres.


In 1923 he began a long career in adjudicating at competitive festivals, becoming Vice-Chairman of the movement in 1937. This work was a great joy to him until he was forced to give it up in 1952 due to ill-health.


He moved to Westmorland in 1939 and played a big part in keeping music alive there during the war. He continued to write many cantatas, choral ballads, part-songs and orchestral works including the 'Westmorland' symphony and a cantata 'Before daybreak', words by Gordon Bottomley. His major choral symphony 'Odysseus' had missed a performance at the Albert Hall with the Royal Choral Society in 1939 because of the war. After the war he moved back to Essex and continued to compose songs for choirs and soloists besides writing orchestral and instrumental music.


In 1951 he was Chairman of the Selection Committee in the National Music Festival at the Festival Hall. His song 'The Listeners' was commissioned for Male Voice Choirs.


From the 1930s he had collaborated closely with the poet Mordaunt Currie who wrote the words for 'Odysseus' and the cantata 'Deborah and Barak' besides the lyrics for many songs. In the 1950s he worked with the writer Benedict Ellis in several choral works including 'Behold The Man' and 'The Turning Year'.


He died on May 12, 1960 leaving over 100 solo songs, about 150 part-songs, over 40 sacred works, 80 orchestral and instrumental works and music for about 20 plays, cantatas and other main choral works.


The Songs


If the name of Armstrong Gibbs is remembered at all in the last decade of the twentieth century, it is because of the lasting appeal of two of his solo songs - Five Eyes and Silver which are occasionally used as test-pieces for examinations or music festivals. The remainder of his output of at least 164 solo songs (not to mention his part-songs, string quartets, symphonies and works for stage) has unaccountably fallen into obscurity.


None of the songs on this compact disc have been commercially recorded before, and the listener will be surprised by the quality and variety of the music. Gibbs enjoyed a very fruitful collaboration with the poet Walter de la Mare, and eleven of the tracks on this disc have been devoted to de la Mare settings.


Gibbs believed that the words were paramount and he always allowed the poem to dictate the musical shape of the song. His word-setting is mainly syllabic for reasons of clarity. The piano accompaniments are largely based on a wide variety of ostinati which are highly descriptive and provide a constant background for the melodies which are often angular and meandering; voice and accompaniment are interdependent and the songs, though never difficult, require 'team-work' and are very satisfying to perform.


There are echoes of Gibbs' teacher Vaughan Williams, of Debussy, of Irish airs and show songs, of popular waltzes and folk melodies, but the style and harmonic language is always recognisably Gibbs. His style changed little over the 40 years in which he was composing, although his work sounds freshest during the period 1919-1933.


Very few of Gibbs' songs are currently in print and the aim of this recording is to show how much lovely music is remaining unsung and unplayed, in the hope that performers and audiences will seek to know more about Gibbs and his work.


Nik Hancock-Child


Nik Hancock-Child was born in 1960. He studied piano from an early age, and read Music and Classics at Keele University. It was only after leaving university that he began to take an interest in singing and took private lessons with Patrick Mcguigan of the Royal Northern College of Music and, for a short time, with the baritone Brian Rayner Cook. Nik Hancock-Child specialises in English and Scandinavian music and has recorded songs by Roger Quilter on compact disc.


Rosemary Hancock-Child


Rosemary Hancock-Child read Music at Oxford University. She sees herself primarily as an accompanist, a rôle which she feels is considerably more challenging than that of soloist. She is currently preparing a biography of Cecil Armstrong Gibbs and a comprehensive survey of his musical output.

Close the window