Edward Norman Hay

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Edward Norman Hay (1889–1943) was a composer and musicologist.

He was born at 26 Newton Road, Faversham, Kent on 19 April 1889, the second son of Joseph Hay, an Inland Revenue Official, son of Edward Hay of Coleraine (d.1890), coachmaker and Margaret Taylor; and Janet Robb (1864–1891), the only daughter of Andrew Robb (1825–1900), a mill manager from Alloa, Scotland and his wife Mary Bennie Swanson. His parents had married in Edinburgh in 1884, and their first son Francis Edward Cecil Hay died in Peebles in 1885. Joseph and Janet moved to Faversham shortly afterwards. His mother Janet died aged only 26 in January 1891 and was buried in North Merchiston Cemetery, Edinburgh. Edward moved across to Coleraine in Ireland shortly afterwards to be cared for by aunts, although he is recorded as being in the Cottage Hospital in Faversham in the 1891 census. When young he contracted polio, which left him with a permanent limp, and apparently unable to walk until the age of 12. According to his own account he first studied the violin at the age of eight, but around the age of ten 'I was suddenly filled with a longing to play a keyboard instrument...and I took a vow one evening not to sleep until I had learnt the notes of the bass staff'. He went on to take piano lessons and 'during my five years with her (the teacher) I proceeded from Clementi and Dussek to the easier Beethoven, with not one trashy piece in between. And I think the finest thing she ever did was to leave Bach alone'.

Hay studied in Belfast and took a BMus at Oxford, and later a Doctorate in Music at Balliol College, Oxford for composition (1919). He was also a fellow of the Royal College of Organists.

In 1922-3 he served as Head of Music at Campbell College, Belfast, and from 1923-4 was the external examiner (degrees) at Trinity College, Dublin, and shortly before his death was lecturer in music at Queen's University, Belfast. From 1926 he served as the music critic for the Belfast Telegraph using the pseudonym Rathcol. He also was the general editor and arranger of 'Ulster Airs' for the BBC. He was also organist at Belmont Presbyterian Church, Belfast. He married a Coleraine girl Hessie Haughey at the Fitzroy Avenue Presbyterian Church, Belfast on 7 April 1920. They had two sons Michael (1927–2004) and Joseph Norman Haughey Hay (1924–2007).

He died on 10 September 1943 in Portstewart. His obituary in The Times (London) (13/9/1943) records that he 'won the Carnegie Award for a String Quartet in 1918, and from 1923 to 1924 was external examiner for degrees in music at Dublin University. After working for the BBC for a time he was appointed in 1941 Lecturer on Music, Queen's University, Belfast'. It continued ' Dr Hay's chief work was 'Paean', performed in 1932 at Worcester at the Three Choir's Festival. Notable orchestral works by him are the symphonic poem "Dunluce" and an "Irish Rhapsody".

Dunluce, mentioned above, was performed at the London Proms in 1925 (as was Paean in 1934). His work 'To Wonder' was commissioned for the Belfast Philarmonic Societies Jubilee in 1924, and was performed on the opening of the Belfast Station of the BBC.

Barry Burgess describes Hay's music as having expert orchestration and tonal harmony, described in Hay's own words as 'largely diatonic with chromatic decoration in a free modern manner'. Burgess also detects the influence of Irish folksongs in his melodic style.

His work was recently performed at Ulster Hall in 2002, and his sons were there to hear it.


He composed several compositions including:

  • The Silent Land, song for Contralto with cello accompaniment(1905)
  • Vesper Hymn. Words translated from the German of Herbert (1912)
  • Fantasy on Irish Folk Tunes (1917)
  • Sonata on Irish Folk Tunes (1917)
  • The Gilly of Christ (1917)
  • String Quartet (1918). Winner of Carnegie Trust Award)
  • A birthday, part song for ladies chorus, words by DG.Rossetti (1918)
  • String Quartet in A Major for two violins, viola and cello (1920)
  • The wind among the reeds -based on a poem by Yeats (Cantana 1921)
  • Dunluce, tone poem (1921)
  • Shed no tear, Part song for four voices, words by Keats(1923)
  • Behold, what manner of love (1923)
  • Fantasy on Irish Folk Tunes (orch) (1924)
  • To wonder, tone poem for solo voices (1924)
  • Thou O God hast taught me (1927)
  • Four Irish sketches (1929–32)
  • Paean, words G.Herbert. For mezzo soprano or contralto,solo,chorus and orchestra (1930)
  • An Irish Rhapsody, tone poem (1932)
  • Churnin' day -song - words by E.Shane (1936)
  • An intercessional hymn. Words by Rev.R.Hall (1939)
  • The Buttermilk Boy - Ulster Folk song - melody and words. (1939)
  • Tryste Noel, sacred song, words by L.I. Guiney (1940)

The above were mainly published by Stainer and Bell, but also J.Curwen and Sons, Novello and Co. and Weekes and Co.

Further reading[edit]

  • Entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians Ed. by Stanley Sadie
  • Entry on Hay written by Barry Burgess
  • The Folk Music of Ireland - Its past present and future, by A.W.Patterson (1920)