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Sir Arthur Bliss

biography

"I now demand enhancement of life, which means that I must feel behind the music a great personality telling me something about an experience that I haven’t had before.”
Arthur Bliss

The English composer studied at Cambridge University and the Royal College of Music under Charles Villiers Stanford. After returning from WWI, he showed an affinity to Stravinsky and the French avant-garde (Milhaud, Tailleferre, Auric etc) in works such as Madam Noy (1918), Rhapsody, Conversations, Rout (all 1919) and the songcycle The women of Yueh (1923). Closer to the English tradition was A Color Symphony, written for the Gloucester Festival of 1922. Two years from 1923-25 were spent in California where he married Trudy Hoffman. He also composed here the Introduction and Allegro, dedicated to Stokowski (1926) and a Coolidge commission for Oboe quintet (1927).

He returned to England with his wife in 1925. Bliss’s work, although always adventurous in spirit, moved even closer to the established English forms in his symphony for orator, chorus and orchestra Morning Heroes, which was composed in memory of his brother Kennard, killed on the Somme in 1916. Unlike the overt pacifism of Britten’s War Requiem, this is an intensely personal and moving statement about the heroism of war as well as its futility.

Music for Strings followed in 1935. The Piano Concerto (1938) was composed for the New York World Fair and first per-formed by Solomon. Bliss wrote some of the finest of film music for H.G. Wells’s Things to Come (1935), which has survived better than the film itself. Of his stage works, the ballets Checkmate (1935), Miracle in the Gorbals (1944) and Adam Zero (1946) were markedly more successful than his opera The Olympians (1949) or his television opera Tobias and the Angel (1960).

Among other later works were the scena The Enchantress, written for contralto Kathleen Ferrier, the Meditations on a Theme of John Blow for orchestra (1955), to name a few.Bliss was Director of Music at the BBC during the years 1942-44 and he was appointed Master of the Queen’s Musick in 1953 in succession to Sir Arnold Bax. He assumed this office with considerable distinction and flair. Knighted in 1950, K.C.V.O in 1969 and C.H. in 1971.

I believe that the foundation of all music is emotion, and that without the capacity for deep and subtle emotion a composer only employs half the resources of his medium. I believe that this emotion should be called into being by the sudden awareness of actual beauty seen, or by the vision of beauty vividly apprehended. I believe that the emotion resulting from apprehended beauty should be solidified and fixed by presenting it in a form absolutely fitting to it, and to it alone. If I were to define my musical goal, it would be try for an emotion truly and clearly felt, and caught forever in a formal perfection.
Arthur Bliss


book tips


Arthur Bliss: "As I Remember."
Gregory Roscow (ed.), London, 1970.

"Bliss on Music. Selected Writings of Arthur Bliss 1920-1975."
Oxford, 1991.


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Arthur Bliss, 1937

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Arthur Bliss and Darius Milhaud at the first performance of the 1st String Quartet 1941 at the University of California, Berkeley