Granville Ransome Bantock (August 7, 1868–October 16, 1946) was a British composer of classical music who was born in London, England, on August 7, 1868. His father was an eminent Scottish surgeon. He was intended by his parents for the Indian Civil Service, but he suffered poor health and initially turned to chemical engineering. At the age of twenty, he began studying composers’ manuscripts at South Kensington Museum Library and was drawn into the musical world. His first teacher was Dr. Gordon Saunders at Trinity College of Music. In 1888 he entered the Royal Academy of Music where he studied harmony and composition with Frederick Corder, winning the Macfarren Prize in the first year it was awarded. Under Corder, a former pupil of Hiller in Cologne, he did well enough to have a number of his student compositions performed at the academy, including a one-act opera, Caedmar, an Egyptian ballet suite from the incidental music to his own play Rameses II, a dramatic cantata The Fire Worshippers, and Wulstan a scena for baritone and orchestra, all marks of his very considerable ambition.
In 1893 Bantock founded a music magazine, The New Quarterly Music Review, but this lasted only a few years. Early conducting engagements in 1894 and 1985 took him around the world directing the musical comedy troupe of George Edwardes and Stanford’s opera Shamus O’Brien. In 1897, he became conductor at the New Brighton Tower concerts, augmented in 1898 by the foundation of the New Brighton Choral Society, where he remained for four years and pioneered the works of Joseph Holbrooke, Frederic Hymen Cowen, Charles Steggall, Edward German, Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford, Corder and others, frequently devoting whole concerts to a single composer. In 1900 he conducted a program of British music in Antwerp, including first performances of some of his own compositions, among which was the symphonic poem Jaga-Naut, intended as the second of 24 projected symphonic poems, based on Robert Southey’s poem The Curse of Kehama. In 1900, he became Principal of the Birmingham and Midland Institute school of music. He was a close friend of fellow composer Havergal Brian. One of his earliest well-known works is The Witch of Atlas, a tone-poem which Bantock wrote in 1902. Succeeding Edward Elgar, he was Peyton Professor of Music at the University of Birmingham from 1908 to 1934.
Many of Bantock’s works have an “exotic” element, including the gigantic choral epic for soloists, choir and orchestra, Omar Khayyám (1906–09). Among his other better-known works are the overture The Pierrot of the Minute (1908). In addition, he was conductor of the Liverpool Orchestral Society with which he premiered Delius’s Brigg Fair on January 18, 1908. His music was also influenced by the Celtic folk songs of the Hebrides, as in his 1915 Hebridean Symphony, and the works of Richard Wagner. Yet his music never strayed far from the territory of wistful romanticism that he had found by the turn of the century. He was influential in the founding of the City of Birmingham orchestra, later the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, whose first performance in September 1920 was of his overture Saul. His Pagan Symphony dates from 1928. In 1934, he was elected Chairman of the Corporation of Trinity College of Music in London and was knighted in 1930. He retired from his position in Birmingham in 1934, continuing thereafter his activity as a composer, a conductor, and an examiner for Trinity College of Music. One of Bantock’s later famous orchestral pieces, his Celtic Symphony for string orchestra and the mythic-bardic strains of no fewer than six harps, was composed and first performed in the early 1940s.
Bantock’s long life and teaching at the University of Birmingham for 26 years put him at the center of British musical life. His students included the conductor and composer Anthony Bernard and the composer Eric Fogg. He wrote around 800 pieces in genres from opera to light music. Shortly after the composer’s death in London, on October 16, 1946, a Bantock Society was established. Its first president was Jean Sibelius, whose music Bantock championed during the early years of the century. Sibelius dedicated his Third Symphony to Bantock. Edward Elgar dedicated the second of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches to Bantock. Unfortunately, until recently, Bantock’s music had all but disappeared from the modern concert venue.
The following works by Granville Bantock are contained in my collection:
Celtic Symphony for String Orchestra and Six Harps (1940)
Hebridean Symphony (1913)
The Sea Reivers, Hebridean Sea Poem No. 2 (1917)
The Witch of Atlas, Tone Poem for Orchestra No. 5 (1902)
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources