Classical Editor: Rob
ENGLISH COMPOSERS FOR AMATEURS: No 4 - FELIX SWINSTEAD by Philip L Scowcroft
Felix Gerald Swinstead is another of those figures like Dunhill and Markham Lee that those of us who learned the piano associate with our early studies. It is true that many of his approximately 200 piano pieces were suitable for young performers; but as we shall see his horizons did stretch more widely that that. He was born in London on 25 June 1880 and entered the RAM after winning the Sterndale Bennett and Thalberg Scholarships. He trained there under Matthay and Corder and later returned as Professor of Piano. He gave piano recitals in London and the Provinces and examined in Canada, South Africa, Australia and the West Indies. He died in Southwold, Suffolk on 14 August 1959.
His compositions were primarily for piano solo. Many of them were indeed studies or genre pieces with titles like Cornfields, Aspiration, Cradle Song, A Gay Dance, March Past, Day Dream, In A Playful Mood, Malvern Hills, Patinage (Skating), Masque Dance, Valsette, Masquerade and Thanksgiving, which were easy enough for child performers from Grade 1 upwards. (There were also a few duets for young amateurs as well and The Distant View and Waltz for two pianos published as Opus 66). Some of them were grouped into suites or volumes with titles like Album Leaves, Opus 45, Fancies Grave and Gay, Opus 53, Idylls Opus 36 (of which the first is entitled Homage to Bach - he later published a Hommage à Chopin)), the Seven Preludes of 1908 and the Ten Waltzes of 1950. Rather more ambitious was the Ballad of 1948, while earlier pieces such as the Humoresque Opus 21, the Etude Arabesque, the Prelude Romantique, the Caprice Opus 34 Vol 1, the Polonaise Opus 46, the Concert Study Op. 21, a set of Variations and the Fantasie in B Minor may well have figured in his own recitals. (I have traced a professional performance - not by him - of the Prelude Romantique at a 1926 Doncaster Chamber Music Society Concert). I have found no sign of a Piano Sonata although he did produce a Sonata for violin and piano along with some other shorter pieces entitled Romance, Lilt, etc. for the same combination, plus a Romanza for cello and piano. The few songs I have discovered, Sea Wolves and the Sing-Song cycle of 8 songs - were composed with children in mind. His only known orchestral work is a Scarlatti Suite, arranged for piano and strings (published also for two pianos) from Domenico Scarlatti's harpsichord sonatas which have attracted transcribers from Charles Avison (1709-70) onwards and, arranged by Tommasini, furnished material for a ballet, The Good Humoured Ladies between the wars.
Swinstead's music appears to have disappeared more completely even than that of any of the predecessors (Alec Rowley, Eric Harding Thiman and Thomas Dunhill) in this series and perhaps this is a pity.
© Philip L Scowcroft
Dear Mr Scowcroft,
My mother, Barbara Wilkins (nee Swinstead) is Felix Gerald Swinstead's
daughter. She was delighted to read your piece on her father: English
Composers for Amateurs: No 4.
She informs me that a large collection of Felix's music has recently been
donated by the family to the Royal Academy of Music library, in the care of
Kathy Adamson (tel 02078 737373).
She would appreciate it if your piece could make mention of the collection.
In addition, there are one or two minor points concerning the material
1) An orchestral piece called "Red Gauntlet" was performed by the Royal
Academy of Music Orchestra under Ernest Reed at a concert in the Duke's Hall
of pieces by Felix Swinstead to honour him on his retirement.
2) Among the collection held by the Royal Academy of Music is a manuscript
copy of an orchestral work called "Concertstuck".
3) My mother is convinced that Felix wrote a sonata for piano but she does
not know the whereabouts of a copy.
4) The Ballad of 1948 which you list is in fact spelt Ballade. It was
written during the war.
on behalf of Barbara Wilkins
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