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PHILIP PROSPER SAINTON Hon. ARCM (1891-1967) by Barbara Clark

A review of the latest Sainton CHANDOS CD which includes ‘Nadir

Philip Prosper Sainton, who was born in France on November 10th 1891 came of a distinguished artistic family which for nearly a century had been closely associated with English music and art. Philip Sainton’s grandfather, Prosper Philippe Sainton, first visited England in 1844 and appeared as a violinist at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert conducted by Mendelssohn. In the following year he settled in London, became a professor at the Royal Academy of Music, led the Royal Phiharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Italian Opera Orchestra at Covent Garden, the Monday Popular Concerts, the Birmingham Festivals and various chamber music ensembles. In 1860 Prosper Sainton married Miss Helen Dolby the famous English contralto to whom Mendelssohn dedicated his “Six Songs Op. 57” and wrote the contralto solo part in “E1ijah” with the special idea of her singing it.

Philip Sainton’s father, Charles P. Sainton, however, did not pursue music as a career, but became an R.I. and one of the leading exponents of silver-point etching. A fine collection of his work is in the possession of the Royal Family at Sandringham Palace.

From the age of seven to eighteen Philip Sainton lived at Godalming, Surrey and went to Hillside Preparatory School where he met Julian Huxley. It was intended that his next move should be to Charterhouse for which he was accordingly entered, but owing to ill health caused by a sever attack of double pneumonia, it was decided that his education should be completed under the guidance of a private tutor. During this time he studied the violin and continued his musical studies. In 1913 he won a prize at the Royal Academy of Music and continued studying composition under Frederick Corder and relinquished the study of the violin for the viola.

Philip Sainton’s first professional engagement was as an orchestral viola for the German Opera Season at Covent Garden in January 1914. There he obtained his first orchestral experience under those two great conductors, Nikisch and Bodansky. In 1915 he joined the Army as a 2nd lieutenant in of the Machine-Gun Corps in the Royal Sussex Regiment: He went on active service in Palestine and later was transferred to the Intelligence Department GHQ Cairo, and was one of five cipher officers.

In June 1918 he was invalided out of the Army. Not being fit enough to resume work in the musical profession, he obtained a post as an analytical chemist with the L.N.W. Railway Company at the Stonebridge Park laboratory. However, about a year later he found the call of music too strong to resist and he joined the Queen’s Hall Orchestra as Number 4 viola, and after four years touring, Sir Henry Wood promoted him, to the post of Principal Viola which he retained until 1929 when he gave up orchestral playing to take over H. Waldo Warner’s place in the London String Quartet, which at that time was touring America. 1t may be mentioned that in 1925 he was also appointed principal viola of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and was given a recording contract with the Columbia Gramophone Company as principal viola.

During the 1926 General Strike, he became a special constable and drove a London bus.

In addition to Philip Sainton’s activities as a viola player, he turned his attention, to composition for which he has given ample proof of skilful craftsmanship and an original and sensitive musical feeling. In 1923 he conducted his first work for orchestra, two “Sea Pictures” at the Queen’s Hall promenade concerts and this work was repeated the following year with great success. In 1925 at the same series of concerts he conducted the first performance of another orchestral work “Harlequin and Columbine”. In 1928 another work of his, “Dream of a Marionette.” - a Ballet, was also given a first performance at the promenades. In view of the success of the performance of his orchestral compositions at the Queen’s Hall further performances were given by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Scottish Orchestra.

In 1930 on returning from his American tour with the London String Quartet Philip Sainton joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra as sub-principal later to become principal viola and since that time most of his works, which include several songs, have been broadcast.

Philip Sainton (left) with the BBC Symphony Orchestra

The above is a copy of notes that I found at the bottom of my father’s Deed box. I will carry on from where they end.

In 1935 at a Brahms concert his “Serenade Fantastique” for viola and orchestra was given a first performance by Sir Henry Wood with Bernard Shore as the soloist. He later re-arranged this work for oboe and strings.

Also in 1935, he met and married my mother Raymonde McGeoch, a beautiful, intelligent Scotswoman. Two years later I was born to them. My father spent some time in Bristol near the start of the war. I think it was because the BBC Symphony Orchestra was there but I am not certain. I know that Bristol was being bombed at that time because my father witnessed a child being killed. He was greatly disturbed by this and wrote his second tone poem “Nadir” in which he expressed his feelings about the futility of war.

His other tone poem “The Island” was broadcast in 1942 and was performed at a Sunday concert in 1946.

In 1954/5, while he was Professor of Ensemble at the Guildhall School of Music, my father and his music were introduced to the film director John Huston. The result of this meeting was that Mr Huston commissioned my father to write the score for his film “Moby Dick” (1956). Waiting until the film had been completed, watching it and then being given six weeks to write the score did not appeal to my father. He pointed out that to write a score in six weeks was a physical impossibility let alone a creative one, so it was agreed therefore that my father would see scenes being shot and then write the music for those scenes, throughout the making of the film. He wrote with a stopwatch in one hand and a pen in the other with the piano somewhere in between. He was then commissioned to write the score for Charlie Chaplin’s “King in New York” but my father begged to differ from Mr Chaplin on certain points and so resigned.

He always said that he had a symphony in him somewhere but in his later years was troubled by ill health and money worries which bruised his creativity. He was a loyal and devoted husband and father.

© Barbara Clark


The Island was written in 1939 during Sainton’s time with the BBC as principal viola. It is dedicated to the first trumpet of that era, Ernest Hall. The première was given on 5 June 1942 with the BBC Orchestra conducted by Clarence Raybould. The Radio Times described the piece thus:

“The opening passage on unaccompanied trumpet represents the rocks’ challenge to the sea. The composer depicts the island on a warm and lethargic spring day, in summer’s glory, on the approach of winter and in the storm. Throughout the work the opening phrase recurs. The island is small and on its shores pine trees grow down to the great rocks. The music is not intended to be pictorial but it is impressionistic. It represents the emotional effect of the scenery and of the varying lights on the composer.”


Balaton *
Fiesta *
Mechanical Energy
Stonehenge *
Serenade Fantastique
The Island (tone poem)
Nadir (tone poem)
Dream of a Marionette - ballet
The Clipper

[Note: the works marked with ‘*’ may well be orchestrations of works by J.S. Gerber)

He Was My King
Leaves, Shadows and Dreams
Night in Spring
Wind Bell
Shieling Song
Jonah’s Hymn (from Moby Dick)

Moby Dick

The Island Tone Poem for Orchestra
Philharmonia conducted by Matthias Bamert
Chandos CD CHAN9181
(coupled with Patrick Hadley’s The Trees So High)

Nadir Tone Poem for Orchestra
Philharmonia conducted by Matthias Bamert
Chandos CD CHAN9539
(coupled with works by Sainton and Patrick Hadley)

The Dream of the Marionette for Orchestra
Philharmonia conducted by Matthias Bamert
Chandos CD CHAN9539
(coupled with works by Sainton and Patrick Hadley)

‘WORKS BY J.S. GERBER (1902-1979) orchestrated by PHILIP SAINTON’
Balaton Rhapsody
Prelude - Stonehenge
The Sea

Claremont SO conducted by Charles Vandezand
Prestige Records Limited
South African CD.

There is also the long-deleted recording of a few excerpts from the score of Moby Dick RCA LPM1247C

Impending (possibly November 1998) is the CD recording of the full score of Moby Dick. This will be on Marco Polo 8.225050. BUT NO ORDERS SHOULD BE PLACED UNTIL RELEASE IS PUBLICLY ANNOUNCED.

There is also at least one video version of the John Huston film Moby Dick with Sainton’s music. This is on LUM 2107 in the UK and is believed currently to be unavailable.



Shortly after recording the complete House of Frankenstein score for Marco Polo, Bill Whitaker and I were throwing around film titles for possible future recordings and Bill brought up Philip Sainton’s score for John Huston’s version of Moby Dick.  I wanted to do a complete recording of CURSE (NIGHT) OF THE DEMON by Clifton Parker. I was very familiar with Moby Dick; having seen the film many times and having the old RCA soundtrack album which was issued at the time of the film’s release.

Knowing full well that this was one of the finest scores to come from England during the fifties, and also knowing that the soundtrack album had very poor mono sound with lots of artificial reverberation added, I agreed with Bill that the time was right to attempt a rerecording of this score with modern stereo sound. My enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the fact that so few British scores survive in written form, and also knowing that piano/conductor books, prevalent in American-studio films, were very rarely used in Britain. This meant that if the full scores or/and orchestral parts couldn’t be found, a complete, authentic reconstruction would not be possible.

Bill’s enthusiasm led him to Barbara Clark, Philip Sainton’s daughter, who not only had the full scores, but was very enthusiastic about a new recording of this tremendous film score. Since we had only recorded American film scores up to this time, I conferred with conductor William Stromberg on his feelings and he shared our excitement regarding the project. With the blessing of Klaus Heymann and Anthony Anderson, our bosses at Marco Polo, we started the restoration process.

Barbara Xeroxed the music and sent it to us. The restoration of the score was quite difficult as the original score was marked up with music and sound editing/mixing notes for the final dub of sound effects, dialogue and music. Since photocopying was not widespread at that time, the original score was marked on, obliterating notes on the page. There were pages missing here and there, which conductor Bill Stromberg and myself reconstructed. It took several months to get the music ready so new instrumental parts could be made. The score was also filled with errors, which we tried to correct. Since we didn't have the original parts, we had to go through everything line by line. Since there was music that was cut, we decided to record it substantially the way Sainton originally conceived it and not try to conform it to the film's music track. It quickly became apparent that the written music contained a great deal more music than ended up in the final film as released. Wanting this to be a definitive recording of the score, we elected to record the music as Philip Sainton conceived it without making the arbitrary cuts because of last minute editing of the film itself.

Making this restoration difficult was the fact that several score pages were missing. For these, we listened to the film’s soundtrack and reconstructed these vital bars. Furthermore, since the original orchestral parts didn’t survive, we had to have all new parts for the orchestra prepared from the score. Normally this would not be a problem, but the music had so many changes (deletions, additions) hastily written in, we had to proof read and annotate a great deal of the score. On top of this, the score was obviously used as reference for the music dubbing after the music was recorded with written notations, timings, etc. obliterating portions of the score. (Unfortunately, we didn’t have the luxury of phoning the composer to ask him what he meant by his cryptic shorthand symbols!) After a few months of detailed work on the score, we were able to send it off to Moscow to have the instrumental parts prepared.

The orchestra is a modest one - especially by Hollywood standards -and includes three flutes (one doubling piccolo and alto flute), two oboes (one doubling english horn), two clarinets in A and Bb (one doubling bass clarinet), two bassoons (one doubling contra bassoon), four horns in F, three trumpets in C, three trombones and tuba. The percussion includes two sets of chromatic timpani, bass drum, various cymbals, snare drums, triangle, gong, tambourine, and vibraphone. Also included is one keyboard player (piano, celeste and organ), small choir and strings.

I want to thank the good people at Marco Polo, Bill Whitaker, Bill Stromberg and Barbara and Terry Clark for their enthusiasm and inestimable contributions in making this recording possible.

© John Morgan



Certainly Sainton has his own voice. Occasionally it borders on the lushness of Ravel, but in more forceful sections it boasts an almost sinewy texture. In whatever mood he finds himself, whether it be his concert works or his one and only film score Moby Dick, Sainton’s voice is always his own. While wisps of other composers may come to mind here and there, the overall effect is ever that of a distinctively unique composer, relaying the impulses of a stubbornly singular muse.

My own fascination with Sainton goes back to that horrible-sounding RCA LP of Moby Dick (RCA LPM1247C) and my belief that it was high time a new re-recording of this exhilarating and vibrant score be mounted. I had contacted Chandos about doing such a project but they said it was beyond them. Guessing that the film music had disappeared and that only a suite mentioned by the composer was still available, I went about seeing if even it could be found.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was talking with the wonderful folks at the Vaughan Williams Trust and they informed me that the entire film score was still in existence. What’s more, they said the merits of the complete score were so extensive and so worthy of praise as to make the recording of a mere suite ridiculous. That was their notion, not mine. They were right, too. So much for the idea of critical minds frowning upon the notion of complete film scores being re-recorded!

Anyway, the trail led to Barbara Clark, who is Philip Sainton’s daughter. She signalled an eagerness to see the score rescued from oblivion, and my colleagues John Morgan and Bill Stromberg, the driving forces being Marco Polo’s classic film music series, began work restoring the music for recording in Moscow. The work was recorded April 1997 and we hope to have it out on CD sometime late this summer or early this fall.

American Record Guide critic Philip Haldeman has heard an advance tape of the new recording and has pronounced it “among the most thrilling, gorgeous scores ever written.” Those who continue to look down upon film scores in general probably won’t agree, but Morgan, Stromberg and I found it a uniquely rewarding project.

[In response to my comments on the Baxian similarities in Sainton Bill added]: Many moments in Moby Dick recall Arnold Bax’s later period, though I think you’ll hear more of that on the upcoming Marco Polo than on the old RCA album. For instance, there’s a disturbing scene in the film where Captain Ahab refuses to help a fellow sea captain search for sailors lost at sea, preferring instead to pursue the accursed leviathan. Without Sainton’s stormy, nightmarish music, Gregory Peck’s portrayal of the obsessed, quite mad Ahab might have seemed well over the top. Instead the scene comes off as chillingly believable. Such is the power of great music - and Moby Dick is a great score, however unheralded it may be.

© Bill Whitaker


A review of the latest Sainton CHANDOS CD which includes ‘Nadir

Nadir - Symphonic Elegy for orchestra 13’ 40” (1948?)
The Dream of the Marionette 18’27” (1929)
La belle dame sans merci 9’59” (1) (3)
One Morning in Spring - a sketch for orchestra 4’14” (1942)
Lenten Meditations (1962) 18’57” (1) (2) (3)

Neill Archer (tenor) (1)
Stephen Richardson (bass) (2)
Philharmonia Chorus (3)
Philharmonia Orchestra
c. Matthias Bamert


Here are the works of two neglected British composers. Sainton is certainly an obscure figure - the least known of the two. Sainton (1891-1967) wrote a handful of orchestral works and various songs. His widest claim to fame is his score for the John Huston film of Moby Dick (1956). The film starred Gregory Peck as the obsessed Ahab. The complete film score is expected to be released sometime this year by Marco Polo and the release of that CD will be a significant event for British music. There is also a concert suite arranged by Sainton and enterprising concert promoters should consider programming the piece.

Nadir has its origins in Sainton having witnessed the death of a child during a bombing raid on Bristol. Sainton stayed in the city during its exile there to escape the heavier bombing in London. Even so the orchestra suffered some deaths and eventually moved on to Bedford. Nadir’s intense atmosphere is a corrective to any sense of triumphalism after the second world war. The work was premiered in 1949 by the Hallé conducted by Barbirolli. In its vivid energy it can be compared with Stanley Bate’s wartime Third symphony and Arthur Benjamin’s Symphony. The sound-world has striking similarities to that of mature Bax during his Northern phase. Certainly if you enjoy the Bax Symphonies 5/6, Northern Ballads 1/2 and Tale The Pine Trees Knew you will like this. The disc is a worthy follow up to Chandos’ earlier CD of the Sainton tone poem The Island - a fine wild essay again in a strongly Baxian vein with not a trace of pastoral idyll. Barbirolli commented on Nadir’s ‘tragic intensity.’

The Dream of the Marionette (in five tracks) is less impressive although very enjoyable. Impressionistic cross-references are strong here and Ravel comes across as an influence. It was one of Sainton’s earliest successes in the 1929 BBC Proms. Certainly a brilliant orchestral essay it is well worth hearing though unless you are sympathetic to these things I suggest you skip reading the ‘plot’ of the ballet.


Hadley is perhaps closer to Moeran and Howells than Vaughan Williams. His natural habitat was the choral one. He wrote some meltingly tender music for choir and soloists with orchestra. We know little enough of his music to be able to comment on which is the strongest but, of the works I have heard, The Trees So High (the coupling with Sainton’s The Island - Chandos CHAN 9181) is the best place to start.

A taster of his orchestral style is to be found in One Morning in Spring - written for RVW’s 70th birthday as a tribute. This is a bright-eyed pastoral essay - all glittering waters, warm breezes and warm countryside. There is some Delian dreaming but not much. A delight to try if you have already fallen for Moeran’s Symphony, Bridge’s Summer, the second of his Two Jefferies Poems or Enter Spring, RVW’s Pastoral Symphony or (and how’s this for an apparent non-sequitur) Philipe Sarde’s score for Tess.

La belle dame sans merci sets the famous Keats poem which also drew a setting by Cyril Scott. Scott’s setting is for baritone, chorus and orchestra. It was broadcast by the BBC in 1979. The Scott work was written in 1916 and revised for performance by Beecham at the Norwich Festival in 1934. The Hadley work dates from 1935 and the Scott was perhaps the stimulus for the setting. The rich choral writing has a Delian ecstatic quality leaning towards the delirious delights of Howell’s Hymnus Paradisi and there is also a something of Van Dieren’s Chinese Symphony in this music although Hadley’s gift for melody is much stronger than Van Dieren’s. Hadley conducted a rare performance of Delius’s Song of the High Hills in Cambridge in 1945.

Lenten Meditations dates from 1962 - his last work for voices with orchestra. This has all the characteristic Hadley fingerprints but is marred (for me) by the choral hymn sections which sound too much like church congregation singing and lack the uncurbable wildness of his other works. This anthology has its own British antecedents in the shape of Bliss Morning Heroes, Britten War Requiem and Vaughan Williams Hodie and Dona Nobis Pacem. An attractive work then and well worth hearing despite the occasionally stifling ‘churchy’ atmosphere partly offset by the bright orchestral colours. It is work of surprises too: some of the words are spoken by one of the singers. Track 10 ‘A babe in Bethlem’s manger’ is classic Hadley setting high-lying women’s voices at the extremes of their register - we hear something similar to equally devastating effect in The Trees So High and by boys in I Sing of Maiden.


Excellent notes by Bernard Benoliel (let’s hope we can hear some of his music one day soon). The RVW Trust working discreetly and quietly are to be thanked for their support for these valuable recordings. I await future volumes although none are promised.

We need all of Hadley’s output on disc. His batch of cantatas for solo voice and small ensemble would make a fine collection so come on Hyperion …. or Chandos. Hadley’s setting for soprano and ensemble of Scene from Thomas Hardy’s Woodlanders is another gem. Marty South’s lament is wonderfully set - a touching score which must stand very high in the literature of Hardy settings. Ephemera is a setting of words by W B Yeats. Mariana and Lines from The Cenci are similar works.

Of Hadley’s bigger works we need a reissue of the 1970s EMI recording of The Hills - voluptuously scored again. I do not know the two late cantatas with orchestra: ‘Fen and Flood’ and ‘Connemara’ but I would certainly wish to see them on CD or at least to hear a BBC revival of them. They are very rare pieces as is Travellers to a similar format.

On the next CD in this series please let us have Hadley’s Travellers and the tone poem Kinder Scout coupled with Sainton’s orchestral pieces The Clipper, Serenade Fantastique (preferably in the original version for viola and orchestra), Harlequin and Columbine and the Two Sea Pictures.

The recording is vivid and clear and the disc is highly recommended. Rob Barnett (April 1998).



SAINTON, Philip [1894 - 1967]

Sainton’s music, at least on the evidence of The Island, is influenced by the likes of Bax and Moeran. Sainton’s grandfather was Prosper Sainton the eminent French violinist and friend of Mendelssohn, Wagner, Liszt and Dickens.

Sainton was a violist with the BBCSO from 20 July 1930 to 2 February 1944.

Before this he had been leader in the viola section of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

The Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust included in their list of important but neglected British Music the Symphonic Poem, The Island and the Scherzo for viola and orchestra and have offered to subsidise first performances.

The Island is now available on a Chandos CD with the LPO conducted by Mathias Bamert.

During the early 1950s he was working on songs.

He is pictured with Arnell, Jacob, Richard Hall, Tate and Moeran (1949) in Frank Howes’ booklet on the Cheltenham Festival (Oxford 1965). A picture also appears on plate 37 of Donald Brook’s Conductors’ Gallery (Rockliff, 1947).(above)

Another source has indicated his death as being registered at Petersfield, Hampshire aged 76 in the third quarter of 1967.


Two Orchestral Pictures (* Proms 4.9.1923, orch/comp, Queen’s Hall);

Study, Harlequin and Columbine (* Proms 1.10.1925, Queen’s Hall);

Ballet, The Dream of a Marionette (* Proms 1929, Queen’s Hall);

Symphonic Poem, The Island (* 1939, BBC Orch/Clarence Raybould, 5.6.1942, ded Ernest Hall, also BBCNO/Charles Groves);

Symphonic Elegy, Nadir (1949, Cheltenham);

Phantom Gavotte;

Viola Concerto, Serenade Fantastique for viola and orchestra (* Proms 1935, Bernard Shore/BBCSO/Henry Wood, Queen’s Hall);

Serenade Fantastique for oboe and strings - an arrangement of the above (* Petersfield November 1953?; Cheltenham Festival with Leon Goossens then London Proms 1951, Royal Albert Hall, later Ian Wilson/BBC Welsh Orchestra/Rae Jenkins);

Film: Moby Dick (1956);


E-mail enquiries about Sainton can be directed in first instance to Rob Barnett, Editor, British Music Society Newsletter at

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