(b. London, 7 August 1868 – d. London, 16 October 1946)
Granville Bantock is one of the most important British composers of the early twentieth century, even though he is little known today and no in-depth monograph on him exists to date. In the main, Bantock was a choral composer – his a cappella symphonies Atalanta in Calydon (1911) and The Vanity of Vanities (1913) belong to the first complex contrapuntal choral works for over two centuries. His oratorio Omar Khayyam (1906) shows him to be a master of oriental styles; other spiritual oratories remind of Liszt, Gounod, Stanford, Parry, Dvorak and other composers of the nineteenth century. Wagner and Liszt, who like him had been students of Frederick Corder, had a strong influence on Bantock’s work, as his tone poems The Witch of Atlas (1902) and Fifine at the Fair (1901), as well as his programmatic symphonies show. This influence was particularly popular in the early twentieth-century British musical landscape. With the onset of the First World War, Bantock’s popularity, like that of other composers, waned in Germany, and by the 1920s, it had receded entirely.
Bantock was known to be a good conductor, although few audio recordings featuring him are available today. He was a contemporary of Elgar and dedicated the oratorio Christus (1901) to him. Percy Young ascribes him to the “old era” alongside Frederick Delius and Ethel Smyth, a judgement that is stylistically justified. Bantock was a friend of Havergal Brian and Josef Holbrooke and ceaselessly advocated the work of others, including Boughton, Vaughan Williams, Harty and Bax.
He initially studied with Gordon Saunders at Trinity College of Music in London. At the Royal Academy of Music, he was a student of Henry Lazarus (clarinet), Reginald Steggall (violin, viola and organ), Frederick Corder and Alexander Campbell Mackenzie. Here, as previously at Trinity College, he stayed on as lecturer. In 1893, he became editor-in-chief of Quarterly Musical Review. From 1897 to 1901, he was musical director at the New Brighton Tower. Thereafter, he accepted the post of Principal at the School of Music in the Birmingham Midland Institute (today Birmingham Conservatoire). In 1908, he succeeded Elgar as music professor at the University of Birmingham. He was knighted in 1930.
The overture The Frogs, completed on 27th August 1935, can be counted as one of his later works. In this, as also in other overtures from 1929 onwards, he takes up a subject that had been marginalised for some decades previously – ancient Greek plays, in this case, Aristophanes’ famous comedy Βάτραχοι [Frogs]. It is notable that Walter Leigh (1905–1942) composed music for a performance of the entire play, which was held at the University of Cambridge in 1936.
Fascinated by Greek antiquity and distant cultures throughout his life, Bantock’s overture might be termed a by-product of his symphony The Cyprian Goddess, completed January 1939. A general criticism of his work has been that, while literary and historico-cultural materials frequently formed the template for his orchestral works, the final composition does not feature any distinct narrative programme. The Frogs, however, which was first performed in a Queen’s Hall promenade concert on 9th September 1936, can be said to capture the essence of Aristophanes’ drama, both in terms of its surreal dramatic atmosphere and its humoristic components (e.g. the famous frog choir). In November 1945, the overture was recorded and produced on vinyl by Paxton Records. After Bantock’s death, it was arranged for brass and has since then featured frequently in brass players’ competitions.
Translation: Sabrina Stolfa, 2017
For performance material please contact Schott, Mainz. Reprint of a copy from the Musikbibliothek der Münchner Stadtbibliothek, Munich.