Composers volunteering in 1914

Every now and again I come across a name that’s completely new to me, but the other day while looking into Geoffrey Toye (the composer of the once famous ballet The Haunted Ballroom) I found a whole list of musicians who enlisted in the Army very early on the war in the November 1914 edition of the Musical Times, most of whom are unfamiliar. I reproduce the list below out of interest:

  • George Butterworth (composer), private, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
  • John Coates (singer), corporal, Hampstead Battalion of the London Division of the National Reserve.
  • A. J. Rowan Hamilton (composer), 2nd lieutenant, Irish Guards.
    C. A. Harrison, (Athol Yates) (composer), corporal, Empire Battalion of the 7th Royal Fusiliers.
  • H. V. Jervis-Read (composer), private, Empire Battalion of the 7th Royal Fusiliers.
  • Frank Lambert (composer), private, National Reserve, Class II.
  • Edward Mason (conductor), private, 1st Public School Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers
  • Douglas Sharpington (singer), private, 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters).
  • Geoffrey Toye (conductor), private, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
  • F. B. Wilson, private, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
    Warren Wynne, 2nd lieutenant, 4th Highland Light Infantry (Special Reserve Battalion).

The article goes on to list others apparently mentioned in the Daily Telegraph: “Mr. F. S. Kelly (pianist), Mr. Steuart Wilson (tenor), Mr. Francis Harford (bass), Messrs. Harold Bonarius, Thomas Peatfield, and Frank Thistleton (violinists), Mr. R. O. Morris, Mr. Geoffrey Gwyther, Mr. Coningsby Clarke, Mr. Wilfrid Page. Mr. Norman Wilks and Mr. Vivian Hamilton are at the front as interpreters. Mr. Reginald Herbert is Major Reginald Herbert Joseph, of the Royal Engineers.”

Of the names there, I recognise very few. Butterworth of course is well known, although it’s interesting to note Butterworth is a private in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, his first posting, before he gained his commission in the Durham Light Infantry. F.S. Kelly the Australian composer, pianist and Olympic rower is discussed on the main War Composers site. Steuart Wilson was part of the same Cambridge circle as Kelly and Denis Browne, but wasn’t really a composer.

R.O. (Reginald Owen) Morris (1886 – 1948) survived the war and is familiar as the author of several books on harmony and music theory, and listed Gerald Finzi, Michael Tippett and Constant Lambert amongst his harmony and counterpoint pupils. He also composed and arranged choral music, as well as writing a violin concerto and various chambers works. He may well appear on the site at some point.

A. J. Rowan Hamilton is rather hard to track down. He was the dedicatee of an early Piano Trio by Arnold Bax, Lewis Foreman notes that the two composers visited Dresden in 1906-7 when the dedication is likely to have been made. However, the only published composition I can find for Rowan Hamilton is Meditation. “Lonely Longing.” for solo cello printed in 1917. Rather sadly, as with many composers on the site, this must have been posthumous as he was killed in action on 21st October 1915, and he is commemorated on the war memorial at St Bartholemew the Great’s Church, London.

Frank Lambert appears to have survived the war. He was a composer of piano minatures and songs, some of which were performed in the early years of The Proms. He died in 1928.

Geoffrey Matheson Gwyther attended Gresham’s School and then New College Oxford. Early in his career he wrote mostly songs, including a cycle of seven settings of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. He fought with the Suffolk Regiment in World War 1, rising to the rank of Captain. After the war he became a theatre composer and actor – according to Philip Scowcroft’s Light Music Garlands his musical, Patricia ran for 160 West End performances in 1924-5. He was appointed director of the Comedy Theatre London in 1934. He later moved to the U.S., one assumes to pursue a Broadway career. He died in New York aged 51 in Ju1y 1944. This posting on YouTube may well be him singing circa 1930.

H.V. (Harold Vincent) Jervis-Read (1883-1945) also published a reasonably large collection of descriptive piano miniatures, a Piano Sonata and various songs, including settings of Rupert Brooke and Oscar Wilde. There is also a “Symphonic Ode for tenor solo, boys voices, mixed voices, orchestra and organ” setting of Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound of Heaven. Unusually, a collection of 350 of his private letters are currently for sale on Abe Books.

If anybody can shed any light on any of the other names on this list, I would be interested to hear from you at robert@warcomposers.co.uk

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