Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) was an English composer and conductor.
Composer full Name: Sir Arthur Edward Drummond Bliss
Date of Birth: 02 August 1891
Date of Death: 27 March 1975
Nationality: 🏴 English
Period/Era/Style: 20th Century
Bliss’s musical training was cut short by the First World War, in which he served with distinction in the army. In the post-war years he quickly became known as an unconventional and modernist composer, but within the decade he began to display a more traditional and romantic side in his music. In the 1920s and 1930s he composed extensively not only for the concert hall, but also for films and ballet.
In the Second World War, Bliss returned to England from the US to work for the BBC and became its director of music. After the war he resumed his work as a composer, and was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music.
In Bliss’s later years, his work was respected but was thought old-fashioned, and it was eclipsed by the music of younger colleagues such as William Walton and Benjamin Britten. Since his death, his compositions have been well represented on record, and many of his better-known works remain in the repertoire of British orchestras.
Biography: Early years: Bliss was born in Barnes, a London suburb, the eldest of three sons of Francis Edward Bliss (1847–1930), a businessman from Massachusetts, and his second wife, Agnes Kennard née Davis (1858–1895). Agnes Bliss died in 1895, and the boys were brought up by their father, who instilled in them a love for the arts. Bliss was educated at Bilton Grange preparatory school, Rugby and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied classics, but also took lessons in music from Charles Wood. Other influences on him during his Cambridge days were Edward Elgar, whose music made a lasting impression on him, and E.J. Dent.
Bliss graduated in classics and music in 1913 and then studied at the Royal College of Music in London for a year. At the RCM he found his composition tutor, Sir Charles Stanford, of little help to him, but found inspiration from Ralph Vaughan Williamsand Gustav Holst and his fellow-students, Herbert Howells, Eugene Goossens and Arthur Benjamin. In his brief time at the college he got to know the music of the Second Viennese School and the repertory of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with music by modern composers such as Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky.
When the First World War broke out, Bliss joined the army, and fought in France as an officer in the Royal Fusiliers until 1917 and then in the Grenadier Guards for the rest of the war. His bravery earned him a mention in despatches, and he was twice wounded and once gassed.
His younger brother Kennard was killed in the war, and his death affected Bliss deeply. The music scholar Byron Adams writes, “Despite the apparent heartiness and equilibrium of the composer’s public persona, the emotional wounds inflicted by the war were deep and lasting.” In 1918, Bliss converted to Roman Catholicism.
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