Hugh Allen (conductor)

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three musicians Walford Davies (left), Hugh Allen (centre) and Cyril Rootham (right)
Sir Hugh Allen (centre) in about 1932 with fellow musicians Walford Davies (left) and Cyril Rootham (right)

Sir Hugh Percy Allen GCVO (23 December 1869 – 20 February 1946) was an English musician, academic and administrator. He was a leading influence on British musical life in the first half of the 20th century.

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Hugh Allen was born in Reading, Berkshire, England. His musical talent was apparent from an early age, and at 11 he was organist of a local parish church. He won an organ scholarship to Christ's College, Cambridge, graduating BA from Cambridge in 1895.[1] He became cathedral organist at St Asaph Cathedral and then Ely Cathedral, before, in 1901, becoming organist of New College, Oxford, where he revitalised the musical life of the whole university.[2]

In 1907 he was appointed conductor of the Bach Choir in London and in 1913 he shared the Leeds Festival with Artur Nikisch and Sir Edward Elgar.[2]

In 1928 he was very much an inspiration to William Walton, and helped him to compose very professionally.

Oxford and the RCM[edit]

In 1918 Sir Walter Parratt resigned the professorship of music at Oxford, and Allen succeeded him. But when Sir Hubert Parry died later in the year Allen was appointed director of the Royal College of Music in London, and Oxford thought it would lose him. Allen in fact retained his professorship for the rest of his life. He kept his rooms at New College, and for another seven years conducted the Oxford Bach Choir.[3]

As Director of the Royal College, as The Times later observed "he was then brought into a wider sphere and began to show unsuspected qualities of statesmanship."[2] He expanded the size of the college from 200 to 600 students and consolidated the alliance between the Royal College and the Royal Academy of Music. In addition to his duties at the college, he continued to conduct. The Royal Choral Society, the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Incorporated Society of Musicians owed much to his help when they experienced difficult times. He became for a time "the acknowledged but unofficial head of the music profession in this country."[2] At an Oxford dinner in honour of Ravel Allen was described as "notre ami qui fait chanter tout le monde."[2]

Retirement and death[edit]

At both the Royal College and at Oxford he modernised the curriculum and made the regulations for degrees both more liberal and more exacting. He retired from the college in 1937, but his years of work came to fruition in 1944 when Oxford founded a Faculty of Music.[3]

Allen received many honours, being knighted in 1920, and appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) in 1935. Besides receiving his Oxford doctorate he was awarded honorary doctorates by the universities of Cambridge (1925), Reading (1938), Sheffield (1926), and Berlin. He was also an honorary fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge (1926); and in 1937 he was Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians.[3]

On 17 February 1946, Allen was knocked down by a motorcyclist in Oxford, and three days later he died in the Radcliffe Infirmary from his injuries at the age of 76.[3]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Allen, Hugh Percy (ALN892HP)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ a b c d e The Times, 21 February 1946, p. 7
  3. ^ a b c d Stanton, W. K.: ‘Allen, Sir Hugh Percy (1869–1946)’, rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 18 Nov 2007