Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
MAN OF PARTS: HERBERT BEDFORD
Herbert Bedford (1867-1945) was the husband of the composer Liza Lehmann (his grandson* is the conductor Steuart Bedford) and was also a composer, but he excelled in other things besides music. He painted miniatures and wrote books, some of which were about music, like the Essay on Modern Unaccompanied Song (sprechstimme in effect) and a Life of Robert Schumann but he also published a survey of The Heroines of George Meredith illustrated by twenty of Bedford's own miniatures, while his catholicity of interests was borne out by his Chart of the Arts including Music, Painting, Poetry, Sculpture and Architecture from the Vth Century B.C. to 1900. While serving in London's anti-aircraft defences in the First World War he invented an AA ranging device which the War Office adopted for the instruction of all AA gunnery officers.
Educated at the City of London School and the Guildhall School of Music his composing career took off after his marriage in 1894. His output included two operas, the 1 act Kit Marlowe (1897) and, described as a masque, The Daughters of Dawn and many orchestral works several of which earned particular exposure at Bournemouth under Dan Godfrey's benevolent guidance: the symphonic phantasy The Optimist (1922), the suite after Shakespeare Queen Mab, the overture Sowing the Wind (1900), Prelude to a Tragedy, the 12-minute long tone poem Hamadryad (1930), a Lullaby and the oriental dance The Lonely Dancer of Geilar (1926), a Nocturne for horn and small orchestra, a Concertante for violin and orchestra, a Ceremonial Fanfare, the Divertimento for piano and strings in one movement Op 44 and Mélodie Solenelle for strings (1905). Two ballets Peribanou and (described as a "Chinese Ballet") The Mask of Gold, may also be mentioned here.
But it was his writing for voice which showed the greatest flexibility and variety. Some items like The Coming of Love, To a Water Lily at Evening and the French traditional air Viens Dans ce Bocage were also with piano as usual. Other settings were unaccompanied some making use of the sprechgesang he advocated, others "standard" partsongs. He must have created an unusual and satisfying sound with his Nocturne for six female voices, horn, harp and drums. With orchestral accompaniment he set the Love Scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Summer Dawn (alto solo), Shelley's Ode to Music (baritone solo), Vox Veris (1913 soprano solo) and the "Pastoral" The Shepherd and His Pipe. Of particular interest were Bedford's many settings for solo voice and chamber ensemble. For voice and string quartet there were Homecoming and The Heart Has Chambers Twain. For voice, string quartet and harp he produced versions of To a Water Lily at Evening and Summer Dawn. Night Piece No 1, subtitled The Dance was for voice, string quartet and bass triangle (!); Night Piece No 2 (The Shepherd) won a Carnegie Award in 1925 and was praised for its clear and transparent writing - for voice, piano, flute and oboe - and for its delicacy and beauty of outline. Doubtless his Lyric Interlude subtitled Pathways of the Moon Op 50 though without voice but for piano, flute, oboe, violin and viola had similar qualities. His other major chamber composition, Piano Quintet, was an early effort dating from 1894.
Besides his highly original work in unaccompanied song and song plus chamber ensemble, Bedford is to be noted also for his military band pieces - the Three Roundels of 1922 and Over The Hills (1923) at a time when most "serious" composers ignored the medium. It is, however, the slightly later effusions of Vaughan Williams and Holst in this genre that we remember and hear today. On the whole we may feel that he earned his award, bestowed in Hamburg in 1935, of the Brahms Medal, he being the first British composer to receive this honour.
© Philip L Scowcroft.
Enquiries to Philip at
8 Rowan Mount
S YORKS DN2 5PJ
Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is currently out of print.
I just wanted to point out an inaccuracy on your website
- Steuart Bedford
(my uncle) is not Herbert and Liza's son, he's their grandson. Steuart's
father was Lesley Bedford (son of Herbert and Liza), his mother Leslie
Bedford (nee Duff) - he has two brothers, David Bedford the composer (my
Dad) and Peter Bedford who sadly passed away last year.
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