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Arthur Bliss



Arthur Bliss was born to an English mother and an American father in London in 1891. He was educated at Rugby School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, and continued his musical studies under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music. However, the outbreak of World War I cut these studies short and served in the army until the war's end.

After the war, he earned himself a reputation as something of an enfant terrible through experiments with the human voice in such works as Madame Noy, (1919) and Rout (1920). His Colour Symphony (1921), one of his best-known works, was commissioned for the 1922 Three Choirs Festival. In 1921, he was appointed professor of composition at the Royal College of Music, but left after a year to devote himself entirely to composing, moving to America in 1923 when his father retired. Whilst there, he continued to compose and conduct and also met his wife, Trudy Hoffmann.

He composed one of his most personal works in 1930. World War I had left a deep impression on him; he was wounded at the battle of the Somme and his brother was killed. He wrote Morning Heroes, using verses by Wilfred Owen, in memory of those who died.

During the 1930s, his music took a new turn and he began writing for film and the stage. His first film score, Things to Come (1935) and his first ballet, Checkmate (1937), for Ninette de Valois, were both huge successes. Three more successful ballets followed, Miracle in the Gorbals (1944), Adam Zero (1946) and The Lady of Shallot (1958). Further works for film include Caesar and Cleopatra (1944), Christopher Columbus (1949) and Seven Waves Away (1957).

When World War II broke out in 1939, he was in the USA and remained there to teach at Berkeley. He returned to England in 1941 and took up the post of Head of Music at the BBC a year later. Following his knighthood in 1950 he was appointed Master of the Queen's Musick. In this capacity he composed numerous works and fanfares for royal occasions including the investiture of the Prince of Wales (1969). He continued composing up until his death, in 1975, at the age of 83.

Although his early music, influenced by Stravinsky and Les Six amongst others, earned him a reputation as a modernist, he returned to a more approachable neo-romantic style in the 1930s. As well as his works for stage and film, he was a prolific writer for the concert platform. He wrote chamber music, operas and orchestral works, the more important of which include Introduction and Allegro (1926), an Oboe Quintet (1927), a Clarinet Quintet (1932), Music for Strings (1935), concertos for piano (1939), violin (1955) and cello (1970), the opera The Olympians (1949) and Meditations on a Theme by John Blow (1955).

Kin.

Tzu-Chao Chou; photo: Bill Cooper

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