ARTHUR BLISS (1891 - 1975)
Arthur Bliss, having been knighted in 1950, was Master of the Queen’s Music in Great Britain from 1953 until his death. After a period in which he embraced a more radical approach to composition, he eventually followed the late-Romantic tradition of English music established by Elgar. In accordance with the perceived duties of his official position, he wrote various ceremonial pieces, in addition to music for the concert hall, theatre and cinema.
Familiar music by Bliss includes excerpts from his film score for HG Wells’s Things to Come and the patriotic march Welcome the Queen, also written for a film.
The ballets Checkmate (an allegorical game of chess, with choreography by Ninette de Valois), Miracle in the Gorbals (a morality play set in the slums of Glasgow, with choreography by Robert Helpmann) and Adam Zero (another Helpmann production, of 1946) made a strong impression on ballet audiences. Bliss was less successful with his opera The Olympians, a collaboration with JB Priestley, but his television opera of 1960, Tobias and the Angel, was well received.
Choral and Orchestral Music
Bliss enjoyed a reputation as a very competent conductor, and was therefore familiar with orchestral music both as conductor and composer. His compositions include A Colour Symphony (movements taking various hues), a Piano Concerto for Solomon, a Violin Concerto for Campoli, and, in 1970, a Cello Concerto for Rostropovich. His moving choral and orchestral work Morning Heroes was written in memory of his brother and all who had fallen in the Great War, in which he had also served. It makes use of melodrama, an orator speaking the chosen texts.
Bliss’s chamber music ranges from string quartets to works with wind instruments. In particular he wrote a Clarinet Quintet, an Oboe Quintet, Conversations for wind instruments and string trio, a Viola Sonata and a Piano Quartet, all of which contribute usefully to chamber-music repertoire.