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January 25th, 2010 will mark 50 years since the death of Rutland Boughton. At the height of his fame in the 1920s and 1930s, Boughton was as popular as Elgar surpassing, even, contemporaries such as Vaughan Williams and Holst. His innovative and highly successful annual festivals at Glastonbury between 1914 and 1926 were the first of their kind in England and his The Immortal Hour achieved a yet unbeaten world-record for the number of consecutive performances of any serious opera written in this country. Yet despite his remarkable success the composer became an unjustly neglected British composer; a 'forgotten national hero'.

Michael Hurd talks about Rutland Boughton's Immortal Hour (10mins rec 1979) recording courtesy of Barry Coward

During the 1960s and early 1970s, attempts were made to revive interest in Boughton's music which began with the publication of 'Immortal Hour', the biography by the late Michael Hurd. There were semi-staged performances of Boughton's The Queen of Cornwall and Alkestis in the mid-1960s and the first performance of his Reunion Variations was given in 1967 as part of a memorial concert by the Aylesbury Orchestra under lifelong friend, Charles Pope. In 1972, The London Opera Centre gave a fully staged production of Bethlehem but all of these were met with only partial success. It was not until 1978 when Michael Hurd both encouraged the BBC to broadcast substantial extracts from the music-dramas to commemorate the composer's Centenary year and helped establish the current Boughton Trust that real appreciation of Rutland Boughton began.

Through royalties generated from performances and occasional broadcasts of Boughton's music (such as The Immortal Hour in 1979 conducted by Vilem Tausky) it was possible for the Trust to pursue commercial recordings. With the support of Ted Perry at Hyperion a number of highly successful CDs began to emerge. These recordings, together with the subsequent broadcast of the Symphony No 3 in 1986 by the BBC Philharmonic, proved a revelation and convinced even the strongest critics that Boughton was a composer worth taking seriously.

In 1985, as part of the 'British Opera in Retrospect', the Trust part-sponsored Opera 70 in a fully-staged production of Boughton's The Lily Maid, the fifth opera in the cycle of Arthurian Music-Dramas. It was conducted by Michael Hurd who had spent some months previously preparing the scores for performance. Following his highly successful recording of Boughton's 3rd symphony and Oboe Concerto No 1 for Hyperion in 1989, the late Dr Vernon Handley was appointed President of the Trust. In the same year John Wallace gave the first public performance of the Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra composed in 1943. This led to him recording the piece with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra some years later. And in 1996, artist and Glastonbury resident, Paul Branson, created the Glastonbury Arts Festivals, a charitable organisation to promote the arts and music in Glastonbury and was based on Boughton's original ideas. There was a revival of The Immortal Hour at Street in Somerset that was received with enormous success and in the following year Branson encouraged the Bournemouth Sinfonietta to give the world premiere performance of the Concerto for String Orchestra. Unfortunately, he had to withdraw future plans for the Festival because the charity had gone into liquidation.

In 1993, Michael Hurd revised and republished his biography under the title of Rutland Boughton and the Glastonbury Festivals. For the next few years, enquiries of interest in Boughton increased and various performances of his music materialised, particularly the 3rd Symphony and 'Bethlehem'. Rutland Boughton was now firmly on the British musical map again.

Due to financial constraints, the Trust struggled with its main objective to have The Queen of Cornwall - considered by many as Boughton's best work for the stage - committed to disc. Subsequent appeals and fund-raising concerts were organised and only very recently have sufficient funds been realised to make the recording of this work a probability.

The loss of Michael Hurd in 2006 was a bitter blow to the Trust. He was universally recognised as the champion of Rutland Boughton and his knowledge and understanding of the works are irreplaceable. However, in recent years the Trust has been fortunate in finding in Paul Adrian Rooke someone who was not only sympathetic to Boughton's music but had 'Sibelius' skills that would enable complete unpublished works to be edited for performance and/or recorded. Since Paul's involvement, some of Boughton's early works have been explored for the first time in years resulting in some extraordinary surprises. These have included the Symphony No. 1 (Oliver Cromwell), completed in 1904 and originally awbandoned by the composer, and the Songs of the English, last performed by David Ffrangcon-Davies at the beginning of the 20th century. The symphony subsequently received its world premiere performance in Hitchin in 2005 and was quickly accepted for a commercial recording by Dutton with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Tod Handley. A recording of three of the five Songs of the English for baritone and orchestra soon followed, also featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra with Simon Yates conducting and Roderick Williams as soloist. Both recordings proved to be successful ventures under the able supervision of Lewis Foreman. In 2006, and under its own label, the British Music Society collaborated with the Trust to produce a quality CD of 23 songs with mezzo-soprano Louise Mott and pianist Alexander Taylor.

It was evident to the Trust that by 2010, the year which marks the 50th anniversary of Rutland Boughton's death, renewed vigour was required to promote the composer and as a result of a national campaign, the Trust has been able to compile the following impressive list of activities:

  • A public performance of the Flute Concerto
  • the world premiere performance of the Overture to the Cycle of Arthurian Music-Dramas (completed in 1945/6) plus performances of the Trumpet Concerto and Symphony No 2 (Deidre)
  • extracts from Bethlehem and The Immortal Hour
  • Trust sponsored commercial recordings of early symphonic works on the Dutton Epoch label
  • A sponsored commercial recording of The Queen of Cornwall on the Hyperion label.
  • A weekend Festival of Boughton music in Hitchin featuring chamber music and songs
  • exhibitions and displays in Aylesbury, Glastonbury and Newent
  • a display of Boughton scores at the Royal College of Music
  • presentations by Trust Committee members on the life and music of the composer to a number of music societies in the UK
  • a weekend course devoted to the life and music of Rutland Boughton at the Farncombe Estate
  • the release of a new documentary film about cultural figures of Glastonbury to include Rutland Boughton

It is also anticipated that Boughton's music will be heard at the BBC Promenade Concerts and on radio during the coming year, though any encouragement by enthusiasts would be much appreciated.

2010 promises to be an eventful year for Rutland Boughton and we hope many BMS members will join us in the celebration. For information about the above events, please visit the Trust website.

Ian Boughton
Administrator & Librarian, The Rutland Boughton Music Trust



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