Sir Arthur Edward Drummond Bliss
(2 August 1891
- 27 March 1975
) was a British
Birth, Education and WWI
Born to an American father and English mother, Bliss attended Bilton Grange Preparatory School and Rugby before entering Cambridge University
. He was destined to display characteristics of both nations, his profound romanticism
balanced by an unquenchable energy and optimism. He began studies at the Royal College of Music
under Charles Villiers Stanford
, but First World War
broke out shortly after his first term and he left school to serve as a Grenadier Guards
officer in the field.
Becomes a composer
With the return of peace, Bliss’s career took off rapidly as a composer of what were, for British audiences, startlingly new pieces, often for unusual ensembles. Among these are a concerto for wordless tenor voice, piano and strings, and Rout
for soprano and chamber orchestra, in which the soloist sings phonetic sounds rather than words. Much of his early music shows the influence of Stravinsky
. A landmark was his Colour Symphony
of 1922 which explores the idea of the musical associations of different colours.
From the late 1920s onwards Bliss moved more into the traditional English musical scene with choral works such as Pastoral and Morning Heroes; in the 1930s he wrote the music for the film Things to Come and the ballet Checkmate. Bliss was always an ambitious, prolific composer, and some of his works were clearly intended for a wider international audience than they actually received. The Introduction and Allegro and the Piano Concerto are examples, the concerto being premiered by Solomon at the 1939 New York World's Fair.
WWII and the BBC
During the Second World War
Bliss became Director of Music at the BBC
, and formed ideas which led to the division of music broadcasting into categories after the war, such as the present day Radios 1 and 3. In 1950 he was knighted
and in 1953 he was appointed to succeed Arnold Bax
as Master of the Queen's Musick
By this point in his career, though, it was becoming apparent that Bliss had not attained the level of success he had been aiming for. His opera The Olympians
, despite a full-scale production at Covent Garden, was not popular, his oratorio The Beatitudes
was forgotten beside Benjamin Britten
's War Requiem
at the 1962 Coventry Festival
, and his cello concerto, written for the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich
, was overshadowed by those of Benjamin Britten
, Henri Dutilleux
and Witold Lutosławski
. The concerto received its first London performance from the British cellist Julian Lloyd Webber
. Bliss recorded fine interpretations of several of his major works, but they were not taken up widely by other conductors. His swansong, Metamorphic Variations
, a large orchestral work, was first performed in 1972, but not by Leopold Stokowski
as Bliss had hoped.
The Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra worked with Sir Arthur Bliss when he conducted them in a performance of his Piano Concerto at the 1970 Cheltenham Festival
with Frank Wibaut as soloist. An earlier concert performance of the concerto was also given at Loughborough
, again with Sir Arthur Bliss conducting. Later that year, Bliss recorded his Introduction and Allegro
with the orchestra for the Argo
label. The relationship with the LSSO continued well into 1975 with a new production of his ballet The Lady of Shalott
being staged at the Leicester Haymarket Theatre. This occasion was also featured in the television programme Girl in a Broken Mirror
(see external video links below).
After his death
Since his death Bliss's music has undergone a modest revival on radio and recordings, but his reputation remains insecure despite the personality of his output.
Girl in a Broken Mirror A documentary featuring the ballet The Lady of Shallot performed by school pupils from Leicestershire and the LSSO conducted by Eric Pinkett.