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PERCY YOUNG - 1912-2004

Percy Marshall Young, who died on 9 May 2004 within a few days of his 92nd birthday, will be remembered primarily as a prolific writer on music. He published over fifty books plus at least four about football, including biographies, varying in length, of Handel, RVW, Sullivan, Elgar, George Grove and Britten. His History of British Music (1967), full of fascinating detail, spoke up especially for British music's supposedly 'dark era' between Purcell and Elgar.

Handel and Elgar, who for many of us are Britain's greatest composers, benefited most from Young's industrious research. His book on The Oratorios of Handel (1949) has been on my shelves for nearly fifty years; Messiah - A Study In Interpretation appeared in 1951. Elgar, OM (1955), a major biography, was followed by two volumes of Elgar letters, one devoted to the correspondence with A.J. Jaeger (‘Nimrod’), a book about Elgar's controversial lectures at Birmingham, a biography of Lady Elgar and Elgar, Newman and ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ (1951).

Young, who may fairly be described as a scholar but not really academic, was a stimulating lecturer. In Handel's bicentenary year (1959) I remember him talking about Saul with live illustrations from delighted Sheffield University students. And when I organised an Elgar festival in Doncaster in 1974, he agreed to come and speak topically on 'Elgar the European'.

Born on 17 May 1912 in Cheshire, Young was educated at Christ's Hospital and Selwyn College, Cambridge where he was Organ Scholar. He taught in Belfast (taking a Doctorate of Music at Trinity College Dublin) and was Director of Music at Wolverhampton College of Technology (1944-66) where he revived much forgotten music, notably by Handel. He broadcast frequently, often to children.

And he composed: many songs including The Virgin's Cradle Hymn, The Sailor's Consolation and, for children, Birds and Beasts (ten songs) and R.L. Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verse, plus Fugal Concerto (1954) for two pianos and strings, a Festival Te Deum (1961) for massed voices, semi-chorus and organ and other church music, the Lea Hall Overture for massed (NCB) brass bands and other band pieces and an Elegy for string orchestra. He compiled two suites of music from the early 17th century (he edited much other early music). And he realised Elgar's unfinished opera The Spanish Lady, which was performed on radio and 'live' in the 1990s, having previously published from it two songs and a five movement suite of dances for string orchestra, which has achieved considerable popularity.

Young was a man of wide interests. I have mentioned football (his books thereon included one on his local team, Wolverhampton Wanderers). And he served for a time as a councillor on Wolverhampton Borough Council. He retained his lively interest in music into his latter years. I recall meeting him at a conference on Music in 19th Century Britain at Durham University in the summer of 1999. His untiring enthusiasm and questing spirit will be greatly missed.

Philip L Scowcroft

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