Classical Music on the Web

Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Brian Easdale died in 1995 and is in danger of being forgotten. His music is described by Christopher Palmer in The New Grove as being in "an eclectic English idiom that owes something to Britten as well as to the Bax-Bridge generations". With the proviso that the Britten influence is early Britten, as Easdale produced several major works during the 1930s, one would not wish to quarrel with such an assessment and it fits well enough his best-known work, the music for the ballet film documentary The Red Shoes, which admirably complemented the charming performance in the main dancing role of the young Moira Shearer, who is also happily still with us; it was a pleasure, by the way, to see her in the late 1980s television ballet film on L.S. Lowry, to music by Carl Davis, commissioned by the Salford Borough Council.

Easdale was born in Manchester on 10th August 1909 and educated at Westminster Abbey Choir School and the Royal College of Music, where he won the Foli Scholarship for composition. His first opera Rapunzel (1927) dates from this time. Subsequent operas were The Corn King, a "ritual opera" in a Prologue and two acts (1935; but not staged until 21st November 1950, in Paddington) and The Sleeping Children (1951: a chamber opera in three acts, to a text by Tyrone Guthrie, produced at the Opera House, Cheltenham in July 1951). Two opera productions so close together may perhaps be a reflection of the interest re-awakened in him by the success of The Red Shoes, whose plot interestingly features an opera composer; but it was his orchestral music rather than opera which brought his name to the fore in the 1930s. The Five Pieces For Orchestra were performed in Vienna in 1936, a Piano Concerto was broadcast in 1938 and other orchestral works from this period include Six Poems for small orchestra (1936) and Tone Poem (1939). A concert of his compositions was put on at the Wigmore Hall by Herbert Murrill.

By this time he had gone into films and he worked as a musical director those between 1937 and 1949 and at times thereafter. He composed widely for films, too; documentaries like The Big Money, about the G.P.O., The Red Shoes(1948) - the latter appeared in a piano version 1950 and in a revised orchestral suite, in four movements, scored for standard symphony orchestra in 1963 - and many will recall the stirring march tune he wrote for The Battle of the River Plate in 1956 and published for orchestra and for piano solo the following year. Other Easdale firm scores included The Small Back Room (1949), The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), The Heart of the Matter (1953), Peeping Tom (1959) and The Queen's Guards (1960) and The Voyage of Magellan, this latter for male voices and orchestra.

Easdale's output included some chamber music, which I have not heard, and the Evening Prelude for organ, published in 1951. His vocal compositions included the "lyric drama" Seelkie (1954) for chorus and a small orchestra of single woodwind, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, percussion, harp, piano and strings, the Missa Coventriensis for choir, congregation and organ, for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962 and inevitably overshadowed by the Britten War Requiem, and a song cycle entitled Leaves of Grass. after Walt Whitman.

It is clear that Brian Easdale, though never a prolific composer, has written in most musical forms and that his invention is craftsmanlike and attractive. Why then is he ignored by musicians and concert promoters?

© Philip L Scowcroft.

Enquiries to Philip at

8 Rowan Mount



Philip's book 'British Light Music Composers' (ISBN 0903413 88 4) is currently out of print.

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