Edgar Bainton

Edgar Bainton

Edgar Leslie Bainton (14 February 1880 – 8 December 1956) was a British composer, most celebrated for his church music. Easily his most famous piece is the liturgical anthem "And I saw a new heaven", but during recent years Bainton's other musical works - for decades neglected - have become increasingly often heard in the concert repertoire.

Early life and career

Bainton was born in Hackney, London, the son of the Revd George Bainton, a Congregational minister, and his wife, Mary Cave. Bainton later moved with his family to Coventry and he showed early signs of musical ability playing the piano; he was nine years old when he made his first public appearance as solo pianist. He was awarded a music scholarship to King Henry VIII Grammar School in Coventry in 1891, and in 1896, he won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study theory with Henry Walford Davies. In 1899 he received a scholarship to study composition with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. At college he met and became friends with George Dyson, William Harris and especially Rutland Boughton, whose friendship and support continued throughout Bainton's career. Bainton kept a notebook listing nearly all his compositions, the first entry is his first known surviving work, "Prelude and Fugue in B Minor for piano", written in 1898.

In 1901 Bainton became piano professor at the Newcastle upon Tyne Conservatory of Music. He became involved in the local musical scene, composing, playing and conducting and in 1905, he married a former student, Ethel Eales, with whom he had two daughters. He became the Principal of the Conservatory in 1912, and acquired property for its expansion. The family lived in Stocksfield, near Hexham, Bainton would take long country walks, frequently accompanied by Wilfred Gibson, who introduced Bainton into the literary circle surrounding Gordon Bottomley. Bainton set many of Bottomley's poems and wrote an opera to one of his lyric dramas. He introduced his local area to previously unknown works by Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Arnold Bax amongst others. He developed friendships with poet George Dodds, and cathedral organist, William Ellis.

Prisoner-of-war and freedom

In the summer of 1914 Bainton visited Germany to attend the Bayreuth Festival, but was arrested after war broke out and as a male enemy alien of military age he was interned at a camp at Rühleben, near Berlin, where he remained for the next four years. Bainton was put in charge of all the music at the camp and became acquainted with Ernest Macmillan, Edward Clark and Arthur Benjamin, amongst other later successful musicians. He maintained many of these friendships throughout his career. In March 1918 his health deteriorated and he was sent to The Hague to recuperate. Following the Armistice, he became the first Englishman to conduct the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in two concerts of British music before returning to England.

Bainton's life returned to normal and he resumed work at the Conservatory. His choral works became features of the Three Choirs Festivals. Touring Australia and Canada from April 1930 to January 1931, he took a break from composing, and from August to December 1932 he visited India, giving a piano recital for the Indian Broadcasting Company. The noted poet and musician Rabindranath Tagore made him a guest in Calcutta and introduced him to Indian music. In 1933, Sir Edward Bairstow awarded him an honorary Doctor of Music at Durham University.


The New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music was impressed by his display of skills in 1930, and offered him the directorship in the Summer of 1933. Accordingly, in 1934 Bainton and his family started a new life in Australia.

Bainton conducted the choral and orchestral classes at the Conservatorium, and founded the Opera School. He introduced Australia to such new works as Elgar's Symphony No. 2 in 1934 and The Dream of Gerontius in 1936. Coinciding with Bainton's arrival in Sydney were moves to form a permanent professional orchestra for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the New South Wales Symphony Orchestra (later the Sydney Symphony). Bainton conducted their inaugural concert in 1934.

Music previously unheard in Australia was introduced by him, such as Arnold Bax's Third Symphony, works by Claude Debussy, Jean Sibelius, Frederick Delius, and William Walton amongst others. At the Conservatorium he taught Australian composers including Miriam Hyde.

At his peak in 1944, the premiere production by the Conservatorium Opera School of Bainton's opera "The Pearl Tree", received acclaim from the press and public alike. An additional night's performance was given due to demand, at which a bust of Bainton was unveiled in the foyer. Because of work regulations, Bainton retired aged 65, but continued to conduct (temporarily with the New Zealand Orchestra), and performed lecture tours in Canada. In 1956, a heart attack severely affected his health - his wife had died not long beforehand - and on the morning of 8 December he died on the beach at Point Piper, New South Wales.

Musical works

Chamber music

* "String Quartet in A Major"
* "Sonata for Cello and Piano".
* "Qunitet for Piano and Strings" Op.9.
* "String Quartet" Op.26

Chorus and Orchestra

* "The Blessed Damozel" (lyrics by Dante Gabriel Rossetti) Op.11 (with mezzo-soprano and baritone soloists).
* "Sunset at Sea" Op.20 (lyrics by Reginald Buckley), for chorus and orchestra
* "The Vindictive Staircase" Op. 29 (lyrics by W.W. Gibson), a Humoreske for chorus and orchestra
* "A Song of Freedom and Joy" (lyrics by Edward Carpenter), Op.24 for chorus and orchestra
* "The Tower" (lyrics by Robert Nichols), for chorus and orchestra
* "The Dancing Seal" (lyrics by W.W.Gibson), a Humoreske for chorus and orchestra
* "A Hymn to God the Father" (lyrics by John Donne), for chorus and orchestra
* "Mignon's Requiem" (lyrics by Goethe and Carlyle), for boys' voices, chorus and orchestra
* "The Transfiguration of Dante" Op.18, for soloists, chorus and orchestra
* "To The Name above every name", (lyrics by Richard Crashaw), for soprano, chorus and orchestra

Church music

* "And I Saw a New Heaven"
* "Fantasia on the plainsong melody Vexilla Regis"
* "Fiat Lux" for "4-part chorus S.A.T.B."
* "Who can number the Sands of the Sea?" for "S.A.T.B."
* "Open Thy Gates"
* "Christ in the Wilderness"
* "The Heavens Declare Thy Glory"

Songs and part songs

* "Two Songs" for Baritone and Orchestra Op. 13 (Lyrics: Edward Carpenter)
* "An English Idyll" (Lyrics: Neville Cardus) for Baritone and Orchestra.
* "Sweet Nightingale" - English folk song, arranged Bainton
* "Music for a Tragedy"
* "Music for film; 'Bush Policemen"'
* "Four Dances: Morris Dance, Minuet, Pavane, Valse" Op. 21
* "Celtic Sketches: Sea-Sorrow, Sea Rapture, Pharais" Op.23

Symphonies and orchestral works

* "Symphony no. 1 'Before Sunrise"' for Contralto Solo, Chorus and Orchestra
* "Symphony no. 2 in D Minor
* "Symphony no. 3 in C Minor
* "Symphony in B flat 'A Phantasy of Life and Progress"' Op. 5
* "Symphonic Poem: 'Pomplia"'
* "Symphonic Poem: 'Paracelsus' (After Browning)" Op. 8
* "Suite: The Golden River" Op. 16
* "Overture-Phantasy: 'Prometheus"' Op. 19
* "Three Pieces for Orchestra; Elegy, Intermezzo and Humoresque".
* "Concerto Fantasia" for Piano and Orchestra
* "Pavanne, Idyll and Baccanal" for Strings
* "Rhapsody: Epirhalamion"
* "Eclogue for Orchestra"

Audio sample

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* Jones, Michael, 'Bainton, Edgar Leslie (1880-1956)', "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, 2004. Online database article number 58729.
* [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A070147b.htm Bainton, Helen, 'Bainton, Edgar Leslie (1880 - 1956)'] , "Australian Dictionary of Biography", Volume 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, pp. 146-147.

External links

* [http://www.musicweb-international.com/bainton/ The Edgar Bainton (UK) Society]

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