JOHN FOULDS: THE MANCHESTER YEARS
by Stuart Scott
John Foulds (1880-1939) produced works of original and distinctive
character. He composed inventive and adventurous music which
stood easily alongside that of other European composers of his
day, and among British composers his voice is unique.
He was a thoroughly practical musician, a professional cellist
who could turn his hand to composing successful light music
pieces or theatre music in addition to pursuing the more serious
aspect of his art, through development of a modernistic musical
Although he lacked a formal education he seems to have been
well read and maintained a healthy interest in all aspects of
the arts. What he absorbed throughout his childhood years and
early career in Manchester was tremendously important to his
later development as both composer and person.
John’s parents, Fred (b.1853) and Mary (b.1852, née Greenwood)
had married and started a family (Edith b.1876) in Todmorden
around 1875 but within two years or so moved into the city and
settled at 49, Dorset Street, Hulme. Fred was a Hallé bassoonist
and no doubt soon realized the advantages of being closer to
his work and other opportunities that Manchester had to offer.
By the time his son, John was born in 1880, Fred was busy with
Charles Hallé’s first complete Manchester performances of Berlioz’s
Faust. Music in the Free Trade Hall had become an essential
part of his professional life and out of town concerts along
with the theatres of Oxford Street and Peter Street offered
extra employment, as they would do much later for his son, John.
John Foulds was brought up in a busy musical household, and
was in constant contact with musicians from a very early age.
One visitor to the house was his godfather, Signor Michele Alassio
Raspi (1813-1885) who came to Manchester with Charles Hallé
in 1857. In later years, Foulds was to describe him as a worthy
Italian bassoon player who told his father that any aspirations
his son might have as a composer would be “doomed to failure
because all the best melodies had already been used”.
Under the watchful eye of his father and Hallé colleagues, the
young John commenced his music education with piano studies
at the age of four. These studies continued and Foulds became
a proficient pianist who later used his acquired skills to good
effect when composing, performing and working in theatres and
cinemas. At the age of seven he started composing and three
years later took up the cello which became his main instrument
and means of earning a living. We can only guess who his teacher
might have been but serious and committed study must have followed
for him to have entered professional life as an orchestral cellist
at the age of fourteen.
In 1891 Fred and Mary Foulds found it necessary to move home
to 53a Halston Street, Hulme, in order to accommodate their
newborn son, Frank and Mary’s widowed mother. The family were
not very well off. Only Fred and his eldest daughter Edith,
who worked as a draper’s assistant, brought in any money. Mary’s
health seems to have been causing problems too and Fred’s busy
professional life left little or no time for the growing needs
of his son, John, who now required guidance for his future career
as a musician.
The death of John’s brother, Ernest (b.1879) the following year,
the crowded household and the need to prepare for the future,
probably prompted the decision to allow John to leave the family
home in 1893 when, according to his (John’s) daughter, he was
taken in by a lady who acted as protector, educator and manager
of his early career. Although his activities at this time are
not very well documented, it is certain that from the age of
fourteen he made a living performing in theatre bands, small
local orchestras in and around Manchester and the north of England.
There also seem to have been opportunities to travel abroad
as some time before 1896 he attended a rehearsal in Vienna at
which Bruckner was present. He studied symphonic scores, read
Heine’s poetry and prose, composed music derived from the works
of Austro-German composers and developed a keen interest in
It was probably at this time too, that John Yeend King (1855-1924),
landscape and genre painter, who exhibited in London, Birmingham,
Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester Art Galleries between 1874
and 1924, befriended young Foulds and took him on outdoor sketching
trips. An interest in painting and sketching remained with Foulds
all his life and pictures were to become a valuable source of
inspiration for some of his more serious compositions. According
to his second wife, Maud MacCarthy, his own watercolours, executed
in India in the years leading up to his death, showed the colour,
light and mood of the oriental landscape to very good effect.
Whatever the ins and outs of the period of his general education,
it is clear that Foulds was still making new contacts in Manchester
and was serious about being a composer. March 1897 brought the
first public performance of one of his compositions when Hallé
violinist, Rawdon Briggs (1869-1948), accompanied by the pianist,
H. F. Webster, gave Rhapsodie nach Heine in Halifax.
It is a virtuoso display piece showing the young composer’s
considerable mastery of technical skill and is dedicated to
Arthur Catterall (1883-1943), a pupil of Willy Hess and Adolph
Brodsky, who was later to become Hallé leader.
Of the other works from the same period it is undoubtedly his
Dichterliebe for piano (1897-98) which deserves mention.
This is music on a grand scale – a long and ambitious, romantic
piece lasting nearly half an hour. The dedication reads, “Ideala
gewidmet”, and the work is unfinished but it is clear that the
last movement was to have been fugal in character. Here we find
the influence of Schumann and Wagner in language and form. There
is also the use of a motto (Thema von Ideala) which appears
in different movements and one whole section of the work is
a rhapsody on themes from Das Rheingold. Foulds’ interest
in and active pursuit of artistic work at this period shows
itself in the immaculately written manuscript and the elaborate
woodcut design he executed for use on the title page. The presentation
of this score would put many copyists to shame.
Whilst living away from the family home, Foulds had gained much
in the way of education and the beginnings of a career as a
professional cellist. However, his family were now living at
80, Dorset Street, Hulme and he returned there in about 1898
with no fewer than three string quartets to his credit and wrote
a fourth the following year.
Foulds later referred to his having made use of quarter-tones
in a string quartet performed that same year (1898), making
him undoubtedly the first British composer and possibly the
first European to introduce such intervals into his music. Fortunately,
there seems to have been little difficulty in gaining a hearing
for the new work as Foulds played regularly in the Bauerkeller
String Quartet. Wilhelm Bauerkeller (b.1844), Hallé violinist
and teacher of the young Delius, lived in Acomb Street, just
a few minutes away from the Foulds’ family home. His wife, Annie
(b.1853) and his older son, Rudolph (b.1879) were both violinists
and probably took part in either rehearsal or performance of
the new work.
It is clear that Foulds was beginning to compose for larger
ensembles and experiment with musical language and technique.
He was gaining confidence as a composer through his participation
in chamber and orchestral music. From the late 1890s he played
in the Llandudno Pier Orchestra throughout the summer months,
and it was there that his recent orchestral work, Undine:
Suite d’orchestre, after Froissart Op.3, was first performed
No sooner had the summer music faded than the Hallé season opened
in Manchester with the much awaited Hans Richter in charge.
He had been eager to secure the services of the best players
for his concerts and to that end had invited his key principals,
Paersch, Fuchs, and Hoffmann (horn, cello and double-bass respectively)
to a meeting at the Grand Hotel to discuss a shake-up amongst
the personnel of the orchestra before the start of a new season.
As a result, John Foulds joined his father in the Hallé’s ranks
of 100 players and after their concert at Newcastle in November
1900, the critic Herbert Thompson noted that “the superb tone
of the violoncellos in the 13th variation [Enigma]
was so conspicuous as to deserve very special mention. A good
deal of new blood has been infused into the orchestra since
last season, not before it was wanted and it wanted little imagination
to find traces of youthful energy in the Smetana overture …”.
Much later, Eugene Goossens stated that the Hallé Orchestra
under Richter was without doubt one of the finest in Europe.
As a member of the orchestra, Foulds gained a tremendous amount
of experience, not only as a performer, but in many other aspects
of music which were useful to him as a composer. He had contact
with many distinguished musicians too. His friend Arthur Catterall
had joined the orchestra at the same time as he and the renowned
Carl Fuchs and Walter Hatton were his section leaders and mentors.
But Rawdon Briggs, a member of the Brodsky Quartet and leader
of the orchestra from 1905, became a mentor of a different kind,
assisting with Foulds’ quest for an understanding of the esoteric,
philosophical and religious aspects of life. Briggs, a cultured
man and sensitive musician, was a leading member of the Theosophical
Society and could often be heard lecturing on a variety of subjects
at the City Lodge in Victoria Street, where no doubt, the young
Foulds gained an interest in and an understanding of the movement
which he carried with him for the rest of his life. At the same
time he was rejecting the narrower outlook of his Plymouth Brethren
upbringing and broadening the horizons of his enquiring mind
which, amongst other things, was to have consequences for his
development of a serious musical language for use in future
However, Foulds continued to compose throughout the hectic days
he spent as a professional cellist and still made time for summer
seasons at Llandudno with his father. In 1902, the orchestra
there consisted of forty players and concerts were conducted
by Arthur Payne, who by 1904 had become leader of the London
Symphony Orchestra. Foulds appeared as soloist on five occasions
during the 1902 season alone which included a performance of
Bruch’s Kol Nidrei on May 4th.
Foulds was well acquainted with the Belgian violinist, Henri
Verbrugghen (1873-1934) who, at this time, was about to form
a string quartet. Verbrugghen was conductor of the pier orchestra
in Colwyn Bay but had previously played at Llandudno. He was
not only a good musician but a cultivated man of wide knowledge,
well informed on painting and sculpture.
The fourth quartet of 1899 may have received a performance in
Glasgow where Verbrugghen was appointed professor at the Glasgow
Athenaeum in 1904, often performing with his own string quartet.
As pointed out by Malcolm MacDonald, this work contains “the
seeds of a creative epiphany”.
Foulds worked tirelessly in the mid-1900s to produce symphonic
works and between 1905 and 1908 was occupied with the huge score
of his Vision of Dante, a concert opera for 5 soli, double
chorus, semi-chorus and orchestra, the text by Foulds himself
being a skilful précis of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
His greatest success during this period seems to have been with
Epithalamium (Music Poem No.2) for orchestra (1905-06)
which was given its first performance by Henry Wood at the Queen’s
Hall Promenade Concerts, 1906 but there is much to be said for
the Apotheosis (Music Poem No.4) Op.18, an elegy for
violin and orchestra dedicated to Joseph Joachim. Rawdon Briggs,
pupil of Joachim, would have been proud to lead the orchestra
at the Liverpool Sunday Society Concert conducted by Foulds
in 1909, when the work received its first performance. The soloist
on that occasion was John Lawson, friend, colleague and first
violinist in the Hallé Orchestra.
As a composer, the young Foulds was developing well, gaining
a reputation and confidence but not earning much money from
the small number of works receiving performances. Hallé players
in Richter’s time were only in secure employment for about six
months of the year and so Foulds saw the necessity of obtaining
work in Llandudno each summer and taking on the odd pupil such
as George Carter from Levenshulme who later had a career as
cellist and conductor.
Richter regularly took players with him to London and Birmingham
in order to reinforce other orchestras and in March 1904 Foulds
would have found himself travelling to Covent Garden for the
Elgar Festival during which Richter gave the first London performance
of The Apostles and Elgar himself conducted his
new overture, In the South.
Almost exactly one year later Foulds was meeting another composer
of considerable stature when Richter directed the British premiere
of Sibelius’s Second Symphony in Manchester on 2 March 1905.
The writer in Musical Times complained that “It was played
without creating any pronounced impression”. Later in life,
Foulds recalled the occasion in writing, “A vivid impression
remains in my mind of meeting [Sibelius] in a cold concert room
one morning in , a lone unhappy shivering nervous creature
who was waiting for his turn to rehearse. With the camaraderie
which a similarity of profession and aims naturally confers,
as well as the esteem which one rehearsal and a glance through
the scores of En Saga and the Second Symphony gave rise
to, I paid him my respects”.
There were further opportunities the following year of meeting
other composers too. Perhaps through Richter, Foulds was invited
to attend the Tonkunstlerfest des Allgemeines Deutschen Musikvereins
in Essen where he met Mahler, Strauss, Humperdinck and Delius.
“Meeting at a concert which included his [Delius] Appalachia
variations we had a long and interesting talk on the constitution
of orchestras”, wrote Foulds. In 1910 he visited Munich for
the premiere of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. Being practically
involved with the composers of his day was important to his
By 1909 Foulds had married Maud Woodcock, daughter of a Llandudno
business man and established a home of his own at 80, Acomb
Street, Hulme, a few doors away from his friend Wilhelm Bauerkeller.
Havergal Brian visited occasionally and noted that the new domestic
arrangements in no way hindered his composing. As usual, the
summer months included work in Maud’s home town and they attended
the first performance of his Impromptu on a theme of Beethoven
for 4 cellos, given by the cellists of the Pier Company’s
Orchestra – J.E. Hambledon, W.J. Claxton, and principal Maurice
There was also a performance of Holiday Sketches, a suite
for orchestra written the previous year and dedicated to Arthur
Payne, conductor of the Llandudno orchestra. This work first
appeared on 20 February 1909 at a Manchester Promenade Concert
and marked a new direction in Foulds’ career. It was his first
attempt at writing light music and Suite Francaise and
Keltic Suite soon followed. Foulds found that writing
light music helped considerably in supporting a wife, home and
young son, Raymond (b.1911). This was the beginning of a long
series of light orchestral works which spanned his career. Undoubtedly,
his most successful piece in this genre was Keltic Suite
which received its first performance at a Manchester Promenade
Concert conducted by Foulds himself in 1911. It remained popular
and was regularly broadcast well into the 1950s.
Unhappily, there was now less time for the creation of more
serious works using larger forces and most pieces of that type
remained unpublished and unperformed during his lifetime. Nevertheless,
work of that nature continued whilst the resourceful Foulds
found yet another source of income through the theatre.
Since 1908, Annie Horniman had financed a repertory theatre
company performing at the Gaiety Theatre in Peter Street, and
in 1912 Foulds wrote his first incidental music for a Lewis
Casson production. Wonderful Grandmama was staged at
the Gaiety over Christmas 1912. The play by Harold Chapin (1886-1915)
was accompanied by nearly 40 numbers from Foulds’ pen all composed
in a matter of days. The march for the character, Captain Scarabang
of the Horse Marines was singled out by the Guardian critic
who thought it would become very popular before the end of the
Foulds later used some of the music to create his Miniature
Suite which he conducted the following year. It was then
lost but rediscovered in the library of the Hallé Orchestra
in 1982. According to Malcolm MacDonald, it is a work of “considerable
sparkle and delicate instrumentation”.
The incidental music to Wonderful Grandmama was the first
of many theatre scores Foulds was to write during his career
and the beginning of a close association with Lewis Casson and
Although still busy as a Hallé cellist and theatre composer,
Foulds continued to produce a small number of his more ambitious
scores. In 1911 he had begun a series of works entitled “Music
Pictures” and the following year completed Music Pictures
Group 3 for orchestra. These works present the composer’s
reaction to and impressions of various paintings. Foulds, interested
in a synthesis of art forms since his early Rhapsodie nach
Heine, thought it was possible to make a musical, poetical
and pictorial presentation of a single idea.
It comes as no surprise then, that he should choose William
Blake’s picture, The Ancient of Days as the basis of
the first movement of Music Pictures Group 3. Blake often
represented his ideas in both poetry and pictures but Foulds
was about to complete the music-poetry-picture cycle, or at
least extend Blake’s idea into a third dimension with an austere
score using woodwind, brass and percussion only.
The picture and the artist had long been admired by Foulds.
In 1908 the ink and watercolour picture was to be found exhibited
in the new galleries of Grove House (now Whitworth Art Gallery),
only two minute’s walk away from Acomb Street, and it is certain
that Foulds would have made the acquaintance of a fair number
of other pictures there too.
Music Pictures Group 3 gave him the opportunity to use
quarter-tones once again, found in the second movement (Columbine
– Brunet) subtitled “A study in full tones, half-tones
and quarter-tones”. A movement in strict Phrygian mode and
a wonderful finale after a painting by Boutigny completes the
Foulds must have been overjoyed to learn that Henry Wood was
to give the work its first performance at a Queen’s Hall Promenade
Concert on 4 September, 1912. He must have been encouraged too,
by the very favourable press reports and probably started to
think about the possibilities of further London performances
of his more ambitious works.
When Richter’s reign at the Hallé ended in 1911, his final subscription
concert on March 16th included the first performance
of Foulds’ Cello Concerto Op.17 with Carl Fuchs (b.1865) as
soloist. Immediately after the concert, conductor and orchestra
sailed for Belfast where they were to play the following day.
But change was in the air and Foulds was beginning to look elsewhere
for the furtherance of his art. He probably moved to London
late in 1913 but continued to appear as Hallé cellist for a
while after that. He certainly played at Dr. Pyne’s Town Hall
Concerts in December 1914 along with other Hallé members before
leaving the city for good.
After the Manchester years, Foulds led the life of a cellist,
pianist, theatre musician, conductor, arranger and copyist.
He found that his light music and theatre work continued to
provide a much needed income but his more important scores did
not receive the attention they deserved.
In works such as these his music is original and complex. Foulds
can certainly hold his own amongst British composers of his
time, but much of his music remains unknown to the general listener
of today. However, through recent performances and recordings,
the music of John Foulds is becoming available to a wider audience
for evaluation and it is already clear that his scores are rich
in ideas and have purpose, direction and much individuality.
© Stuart Scott, 2007
MacDonald, Malcolm John Foulds and his Music, Kahn &
Averill, London, 1989
Fifield, Christopher True Artist and True Friend, A Biography
of Hans Richter, Oxford, 1993