Alan Bush

1900 - 1995



Alan Bush was born in Dulwich, London on 22 December, 1900. In January 1918, he entered the Royal Academy of Music and was a student there until the summer of 1922. He studied organ with Reginald Steggall, piano with Tobias Matthay and Lily West, and composition with Frederick Corder. While at the Academy, he received many awards - these included the Thalberg Scholarship for piano playing and the Battison Haynes and Philip Agnew Prizes for composition. After leaving the Royal Academy of Music, he studied piano with Benno Moiseivitch and Mabel Lander, both former pupils of Theodor Leschetizky, from whom he learnt the Leschetizky method. In the mid-1920s, he studied piano with Artur Schnabel in Berlin. From 1922 to 1927, he studied composition with John Ireland. In 1925, he was appointed a Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, but was given leave of absence to pursue his studies in Berlin. In 1929, he entered the Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Berlin, studying philosophy and musicology. He also gave a number of piano and chamber recitals in Berlin, often of his own compositions. He intended to take a degree in philosophy and musicology, but the with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, he was obliged to return to London and resumed his professional musical life in 1931.

Early works include his String Quartet in A Minor (Opus 4), for which, in 1925, he won a Carnegie Award, and the Five Pieces for Violin, Viola, Cello, Clarinet and Horn (Opus 6). His quartet, Dialectic, (Opus 15) (1929), was another important work and composed in the form of a sonata; it is still regarded as one of his leading compositions and is one of Bush's best known works. Professor Westrup, described it in 1935 after its 1st performance by the BBC on 22 March 1935, "The writing has an almost Beethovenish directness...and the development of the whole work from the germs contained in the opening bars gives it an impressive unity". His Concert Piece for Cello and Piano (Opus 17) (1936) was also regarded as a work of great maturity. Dialectic and the Concert Piece were performed at festivals of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Prague and Paris in the 1930s. In 1931, Alan Bush resumed his position as Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy, and remained there until 1975, when he finally retired. In 1938, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music. He married Nancy Head, the sister of Michael Head, a singer and composer, in 1931 and later the same year returned permanently to Britain and settled in Radlett, Herts.

In 1936, he helped to found the Workers' Music Association. He became its first Chairman, until he was called up into the British army in 1941, when he was elected its first President, a post he held until he died in 1995. Alan Bush became the founder and conductor of the London String Orchestra in 1938, which continued with a break during the war until 1951. It was made up of many young, gifted string players of his day, such as Norman Brainin and Emanuel Hurwitz, who later made international careers.

In November 1941, Alan Bush was called up and entered the Royal Army Medical Service. He spent most of his period of service in London, where he organised an army choir and was able to continue to conduct his London String Orchestra, which gave numerous broadcasts, mostly on the BBC World Service. In 1944, Alan Bush played the piano part in the first performance in Great Britain of Shostakovitch's Piano Quintet, with the Philharmonic String Quartet, led by Jean Pouget. He was demobilised on 9 December 1945. Once the war was over, Alan Bush again pursued his career as a composer, and teacher, which continued almost until he died in 1995

Alan Bush has more than one hundred orchestral, instrumental and vocal works to his credit, together with four full length operas and four symphonies.

In 1968, he became a Doctor of Music of London University, and in 1970, the Doctorate of Music (Honoris Causa) was conferred upon him by Durham Univesity. He lived in Radlett, Herts from 1932 until his death in 1995. He had a very contented home life, being very happily married to his wife, Nancy, who collaborated with him both as a librettist for three of his operas and as the writer of lyrics for numerous songs.

His works have been performed in nearly every European country and in Canada, the U.S.A., South Africa and Australia. He made many appearances as composer, conductor, pianist and lecturer in Britain, Europe, the U.S.A. and Australia. A recent CD of "Music by Alan Bush" was produced by Redcliffe Recordings (RR 008).

Writing in Grove's Dictionary, 5th Edition, Colin Mason wrote: "His range is wide, the quality of his music consistently excellent. He has the intellectual concentration of Tippett, the easy command and expansiveness of Walton, the nervous intensity of Rawsthorne, the serene leisureliness of Rubbra. He meets these four contemporaries on their respective home grounds in Dialectic (for string quartet), the Violin Concerto, the Concert Piece for Cello and Piano and the Nottingham Symphony. He is surpassed, only in melody, as are all the others, by Walton, but not even by him in harmonic and orchestral richness, nor by Tippett in contrapuntal originality and the expressive power of rather austere musical thought, nor by Rawsthorne in concise, compelling utterance and telling instrumental invention, nor by Rubbra in handling large forms well...".

– Rachel O'Higgins, March 2000
Alan Bush Music Trust



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