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Arnold Bax: Arnold Bax (b. London, 8 Nov 1883; d. Cork, 3 Oct 1953).
An English composer, Arnold Bax was also author of literary works under the pseudonym of Dermot O'Byrne. He was trained at the R.A.M. under Tobias Matthay (piano) and Frederick Corder (composition) and travelled widely in youth, particularly to Ireland, to which country - and to the realm of Celtic mythology - he was peculiarly drawn. Being of independent means he was able to devote his life entirely to composition; the only official appointment he ever held was that of Master of the King's Musick (1941-53), for public activities of any kind ill-suited his retiring and hyper-sensitive nature. His was a lavish talent, not restricted to music, as his autobiographical Farewell my Youth and pseudonymous poetry make clear. This lavishness with its associated tendencies to prolixity and complexity have certainly hindered thoroughgoing exploration of his work and a just estimate of his stature, which as an 'unabashed romantic' (his own much-quoted phrase) of the 'English Musical Renaissance' is considerable. Ecstasy is the keynote of his work; that mystical withdrawal from the daily round and common task which he sought and found in the music of Beethoven, Delius, Sibelius; in Yeats whose poetry came to him as a lightning-flash of illumination, in the Celtic and Nordic mythology in which he was steeped, and to which he gave pantheistic expression in the symphonic poems In the Faery-Hills , Tintagel, The Garden of Fand. The Tale the Pine Trees Knew, and may earlier large-scale pieces still hardly known (the orchestral Spring Fire and Sympholept, Enchanted Summer for soloists, orchestra and chorus); in the seven symphonies in which is graven the spiritual odyssey of a lifetime; in the four piano sonatas; in a host of intricately-wrought piano pieces, songs and chamber works. His was a spirit wracked by conflict: the lyric poet of Summer Music and Maytime in Sussex is also the epic dramatist of the symphonies and a motive force in the strife of the elements in the symphonic poem November Woods, the three orchestral Northern Ballads and Winter Legends for piano and orchestra. Arnold Bax emerged almost as a ready-made musical personality; the apprentice-period was unusually short-lived and Gerald Abraham's description of the sources of his style as 'the debris of impressionism' is realistic if accepted in a positive sense. He steered a wholly personal course which came to its appointed end with the Seventh Symphony (1939); thereafter age took a heavy toll on him, although he was still capable of the occasional spirited sally, as in the case of the film-score Oliver Twist. After his death his music fell into an oblivion the clouds of which are only just beginning to clear.
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