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Sir Arthur Edward Drummond Bliss, CH, KCVO (2 August 1891 – 27 March 1975) was a British composer.

Birth, education and WWI

Born to an American father and English mother, Bliss attended Bilton Grange Preparatory School and Rugbymarker before entering Cambridge Universitymarker. 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 Musicmarker 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 and Debussy. A landmark was his A 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.

Continuing compositions

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.

Leicestershire connections

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 Festivalmarker with Frank Wibaut as soloist. An earlier concert performance of the concerto was also given at Loughboroughmarker, 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.

His wife, Gertrude died on 21 November 2008 at the age of 104.

There is an Arthur Bliss Road in Newport, an Arthur Bliss Gardens in Cheltenham and a group of flats named after Sir Arthur Bliss on London Road in Mitchammarker, South London.

See also


External links


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.

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