Rutland Boughton

Rutland Boughton

who became well known in the early 20th century as a composer of opera and choral music.

A pupil of Charles Villiers Stanford and Walford Davies, Boughton's output included three symphonies, several concertos, part-songs, songs, chamber music and opera (which he called "Music Drama" after Wagner). His best known work was the opera "The Immortal Hour". His "Bethlehem" (1915), based on the Coventry Nativity Play and notable for its choral arrangements of traditional Christmas carols also became very popular with choral societies world-wide.

Other operas by Boughton were: The Birth of Arthur (1913),"The Round Table" (1916), The Lily Maid (1934), Avalon and Galahad (1945)(all five from the Arthurian cycle of music dramas);'The Moon Maiden" (1919), "Alkestis" (1922), and "The Queen of Cornwall" (1924).

Through the Boughton Trust (see below), many of his major works have been recorded and are available on disc including The Immortal Hour, Bethlehem,, Symphony No 1 "Oliver Cromwell", Symphony No 2, Symphony No 3, Oboe Concerto No 1, string quartets and various chamber pieces and songs.

In addition to his compositions, Boughton is remembered for his attempt to create an "English Bayreuth" at Glastonbury, establishing the first series of Glastonbury Festivals . (They ran with enormous success from 1914 until 1926). From 1927 until his death in 1960, he lived at Kilcot near Newent, Gloucestershire.


Rutland Boughton was the son of grocer William Boughton (1841-1905) whose shop occupied Buckingham Street in the town of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. From an early age he showed signs of exceptional talent for music although formal training opportunities did not immediately become available to him. In 1892 he was apprenticed to a London concert agency and six years later his attention was attracted by several influential musicians including the Rothschild family that enabled him to raise sufficient monies to study at the RCM in London. The amount raised, however, was only sufficient to maintain his studies for one year after which he left the RCM and took up ad-hoc work first in the pit of the Hayward Theatre then as official accompanist to the baritone David Ffrangcon Davies (whose daughter, Gwen, later became associated with the Glastonbury Festivals in her famous role Etain in "The Immortal Hour"). In 1903, he married former Aylesbury neighbour's daughter, Florence Hobley, that he was to regret years later. It was in 1905 (the year he completed his first symphony "Oliver Cromwell") that he was approached by Sir Granville Bantock [ [ Sir Granville Bantock at] ] to become a member of staff at the Birmingham Institute of Music (now the Birmingham Conservatoire).

Birmingham Institute of Music

It was whilst at Birmingham (1905 to 1911) Boughton was presented with many new opportunities and made many friends. He proved an excellent teacher and an outstanding choral conductor which won him much recognition. He was drawn into the socialist ideas through the writings of John Ruskin, William Morris, Edward Carpenter and George Bernard Shaw, the latter with whom he developed a good relationship. It was also during those years that he became attached to the young art student, Christina Walshe, who was later to become his partner and artistic "right-hand man" for his Glastonbury projects. His friendship with Shaw had begun when Boughton had been turned down from his invitation to collaborate on an opera. Shaw initially refused to be associated with any of Boughton's music but Boughton would not be sidelined and eventually Shaw realised they had something in common that was to endure.

Out of his process of self-discovery and self-education, came the artistic aims that were to occupy Boughton for all his life. As a young man, he planned a fourteen-day cycle of dramas on the life of Christ in which the story would be enacted on a small stage in the middle of an orchestra while soloists and the chorus would comment on the action. Although this did not come to anything, the idea remained with him and by 1907 Boughton's discovery of the theories and practices of Wagner, combined with his impression that the church's vision of Christianity had somewhat failed, he turned to another subject - King Arthur. Based upon the Ring Cycles at Bayreuth, and parallel to the ideas set about by the young poet Reginald Buckley in his book "Arthur of Britain", Boughton set out to create a new form of opera which he later called "choral drama". At this point, the three collaborators - Boughton, Buckley and Walshe - would set out to establish a national festival of drama. Whilst London's Covent Garden was ideal for the established operatic repertoire, it would not prove to be so for the plans set out by Boughton and Buckley and eventually they decided that they should build their own theatre and, using local talent set up a form of commune or cooperative. At first Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire was deemed a suitable location for the project (the Arts and Crafts Movement was significant at that time) but they later turned to the Somerset town of Glastonbury, the alleged resting place of King Arthur and a place steeped in legend. Meanwhile, Sir Dan Godfrey and his Bournemouth orchestra had established a reputation for supporting new English music and it was here where Boughton's first opera from the Arthurian cycle, "The Birth of Arthur", actually received its first performance. (It was also at Bournemouth where Boughton's 2nd Symphony got a first hearing and where "The Queen of Cornwall" was performed for the first time using an orchestra, and attended by Hardy himself).


By 1911, Rutland Boughton had resigned from Birmingham and moved to Glastonbury where, together with Walshe and Buckley, began to focus on establishing the country's first national annual summer school of music. The first production was not in fact the project of the Arthurian Cycle but that of Boughton's new choral-drama, The Immortal Hour (see below), which he composed in 1912 which with a national appeal to raise funds was produced with the full backing of people such as Sir Granville Bantock, Thomas Beecham, John Galsworthy, Eugène Aynsley Goossens, Holst, Dame Ethel Smyth and Shaw. Sir Edward Elgar promised to lay the foundation stone and Beecham promised to lend his London orchestra. However, in August 1914, the month set for the opening of the first production, World War 1 had been declared and the full plans had to be postponed. Boughton, however, was determined to proceed and the Festivals began and instead of Beecham's orchestra, he used a grand piano and instead of a theatre, he incorporated the local Assembly Rooms [ [ Glastonbury Assembly Rooms] ] that were to remain the centre of activities until the end of the Festivals in 1926, by which time Boughton had mounted over 350 staged works; 100 chamber concerts; a number of exhibitions, and a series of lectures and recitals - something never previously been seen in England. In 1922, Boughton's Festival Players went on tour and became established at Bristol in the Folk Festival House (now demolished) and at Bournemouth.

The most notable, and most successful, of Boughton's works is the opera "The Immortal Hour", an adaptation of the play by Fiona Macleod- the pseudonym name for William Sharp - based on Celtic mythology. Having been successful in Glastonbury and well received in Birmingham, the director of the then new Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Barry Vincent Jackson, decided to take the Glastonbury Festival Players production to London where it achieved the record breaking run of over 600 performances. On its arrival at the Regent Theatre in 1922, it secured an initial run of over 200 consecutive performances and a further 160 in 1923, with a highly successful revival in 1932. People came to see the opera on more than one occasion (including members of the Royal family) and especially to see and hear the young Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies whose portrayal as Etain began her professional acting career.

In addition to "The Immortal Hour" and "Bethlehem", his other operas "The Queen of Cornwall" (1924) - based on Thomas Hardy's play - and "Alkestis" (1922) - based on the Greek play "Euripides" (which reached Covent Garden in 1933), were also very well received. These latter works have not been publicly heard since the mid-1960s when the original Boughton Trust, organised by Adolph Borsdorf, sponsored professional concert performances held in London and Street in Somerset.

The downfall of the Glastonbury Festivals came about when Boughton, sympathising with the General Strike and the miners lockout of 1926, insisted on staging his very popular Nativity opera "Bethlehem" (1915) at Church House, Westminster, London, with Jesus born in a miner's cottage and Herod as the top-hatted Capitalist, flanked by soldiers and police. The event caused much embarrassment to the people of Glastonbury and they withdrew their support to Boughton causing the Festival Players to go into liquidation.

Later life

From 1927 until his death in 1960, Boughton lived at Kilcot, near Newent in Herefordshire where he completed the last two operas of his Arthurian cycle (Avalon and Galahad which to this day have not been performed) and produced some of his finest works, the quality of these of which has only been realised within the past 20 years. These include his 2nd and 3rd symphonies (the latter was first performed at the London Kingsway Theatre in 1939 in the presence of, among others, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Clarence Raybould and Alan Bush); a number of pieces for the oboe (including two concertos, one dedicated to his talented daughter Joy and the other to Leon Goossens); chamber music and a number of orchestral pieces. In 1934 and 1935, Boughton attempted to repeat his earlier successes at Glastonbury with festivals commissioned at Stroud and Bath and although these saw the release of new works - "The Lily Maid" (the third opera in the Arthurian Cycle) and "The Ever Young" - they were short-lived. Boughton's reputation, affected by his political leanings towards Communism, never recovered and his music was neglected for the next 40 years. Boughton died at the home of his daughter, Joy, in Barnes, London, in 1960.

Quotations about Boughton

"I believe that Boughton's works will eventually be regarded as one of the most remarkable achievements in the story of our music" - Charles Kennedy Scott, 1915

"'The Immortal Hour is a work of genius" - Edward Elgar, 1924

"...."The Immortal Hour" enchants me. The whole thing gripped me" - Dame Ethel Smyth, 1922

"Now that Elgar is gone, you have the only original personal English style on the market...I find that I have acquired a great taste for it" - George Bernard Shaw, 1934

"I remember vividly how Boughton made his characters live, and the masterly effect of the choral writing" - Sir Arthur Bliss on "The Immortal Hour", 1949

"In any other country, such a work as "The Immortal Hour" would have been in the repertoire years ago" - Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1949

The Rutland Boughton Music Trust

To restore the composer's reputation, The Rutland Boughton Music Trust [ [ The Rutland Boughton Music Trust] ] was established in 1978, the year of the composer's Centenary, to encourage performances and sponsor recordings of the works of Rutland Boughton. Many works, including some world premieres, now appear on disc with the Hyperion Records Ltd label. The "Oliver Cromwell" symphony - first heard in 2005 - and three of the "Songs of the English" (last heard around 1904/5) have been released by Dutton [ [ Dutton] ] as well as a selection of Songs for mezzo and pianoforte are on the British Music Society own label [ [ British Music Society label] ] .

Some major works

* The Immortal Hour
* Bethlehem
* The Queen of Cornwall
* Alkestis
* Symphony No 1, "Oliver Cromwell"
* Symphony No 2, Deidre
* Symphony No 3 in B minor
* Oboe Concerto No 1
* Oboe Quartet No 1
* String Quartet in A
* String Quartet in G
* Flute Concerto
* Oboe Concerto No 1
* String Concerto
* Trumpet Concerto
* Midnight
* Songs of Womanhood
* Five Celtic Love Songs

(NOTE: Details of all compositions can be obtained from The Rutland Boughton Music Trust - see below)


Some of Boughton's original manuscript scores can be viewed at the British Library, Euston Road, London. Enquiries about the availability of scores for performance should be made to The Rutland Boughton Music Trust



* Barber, Richard "King Arthur in Music", Boydell & Brewer, 1993
* Dent, Edward J, Opera, Penguin Books
* [ Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians]
* Hurd, Michael "Rutland Boughton and the Glastonbury Festivals", OUP 1993
* Mancoff, Debra N "The Arthurian Revival - Essays on Form, Tradition and Transformation", Garland Publishing Ltd, 1992

External links

* [ The Rutland Boughton Music Trust]
* [ Ian Boughton, Administrator & Librarian]
* [ Paul Adrian Rooke, Music Advisor]
* [ King Arthur in Music]

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