Thomas Dunhill

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Dunhill c. 1920

Thomas Frederick Dunhill (1 February 1877 – 13 March 1946) was an English composer and writer on musical subjects. His compositions include a song cycle, The Wind among the Reeds, and an operetta, Tantivy Towers.

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Dunhill was born in Hampstead, London, the fourth of five children of Henry Dunhill (1842–1901) and his wife Jane, née Styles (1843–1922).[1] Henry Dunhill was a manufacturer of sacks, tarpaulin and ropes; Jane Dunhill ran a small music shop. Their eldest son, Alfred later founded a tobacco company that bears his name.[1] Thomas was educated at the North London High School for Boys, and when the family moved to Kent, at Kent College, Canterbury.[1]

In 1893 Dunhill entered the Royal College of Music studying the piano with Franklin Taylor, counterpoint with James Higgs and W. S. Rockstro, and harmony with Walter Parratt.[1] In 1894 he began studying composition under Charles Villiers Stanford, whose pupil he remained after leaving the college, studying with him until 1901.[1] In 1899 Dunhill was the first winner of the Tagore Gold Medal, awarded to the College's outstanding students.[2]

Early 20th century[edit]

From 1899 to 1908 Dunhill was assistant music master at Eton. From 1905 he was also on the staff of the Royal College of Music as professor of harmony and counterpoint.[2] He began a career as an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, working in Britain and throughout much of the British Empire.[1]

From 1907 to 1919 Dunhill presented concerts of chamber music in London, featuring the works of British composers.[2] After the first, in June 1907, The Times observed:

A scheme of chamber music concerts, the object of which is to give a second hearing to modern works which are too apt to get laid on the shelf after what is pathetically spoken of as a "successful production," certainly deserves high praise, and, still more, practical support from musical people.[3]

Among the composers featured in the first concerts were James Friskin, Joseph Holbrooke, Cecil Forsyth and William Hurlstone. Later, Dunhill presented works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Charles Wood, Eugene Goossens, Rutland Boughton, J. B. McEwen, Richard Walthew and Nicholas Gatty.

During this period Dunhill was composing orchestral and chamber works and songs and song cycles. His cycle The wind among the reeds, setting four poems by W B Yeats for tenor and orchestra, was first performed in 1912 by Gervase Elwes at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert conducted by Sir Frederick Cowen.[4] The Times said, "Mr. Dunhill has caught the spirit of Yeats's poems very skilfully, and his music well conveys their quiet, unforced mysticism, their quick turns of humour and the easy flow of the lines. … Mr. Dunhill's setting never seems to miss a point, and never labours one."[4]

In the London musical world Dunhill was a figure of increasing prominence in the years before the First World War. He was invited to address the Musical Association in 1908 on the topic "The evolution of melody"; his remarks were widely reported in the general press.[5] At the outbreak of the war he joined the Artists Rifles and later became a bandsman with the Irish Guards.[1] In 1918 he was appointed a director of the Royal Philharmonic Society; he chaired the board meeting that reformed the constitution of the society after its wartime expedient of effective control by Sir Thomas Beecham.[6]

Light opera[edit]

One of the composers whom Dunhill greatly admired was Arthur Sullivan. He generally avoided Sullivan's influence in his own music,[7] but his 1928 study of Sullivan's music broke new ground: there had been many biographies and memoirs, but Dunhill's was the first book by a practising musician to analyse the music.[8] In addition to the 1928 book, Dunhill arranged 15 piano albums of music from all 14 Gilbert and Sullivan operas.[9]

In 1935 Dunhill's music came to a wider public with the comic opera Tantivy Towers to a libretto by A.P. Herbert. It ran at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith and then at the New Theatre, London for more than 180 performances.[10] It was revived in 1935 with Maggie Teyte and Steuart Wilson in the leading roles.[10] The opera humorously contrasted modern Chelsea artistic types with the traditional philistine county set. Dunhill was widely thought to have succeeded more with the music for the latter than for the former, and was criticised for avoiding any hint of jazz in his Chelsea music.[7]

Later years[edit]

Dunhill was a stalwart of organisations dedicated to the welfare of his fellow musicians: these included the Performing Rights Society and the Musicians' Benevolent Fund.[2] He was a director of the Royal Philharmonic Society and Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of London. He was in steady demand as musical examiner, lecturer, and adjudicator, and returned to teaching, first at the Royal College, taking the chamber music class, and later at Eton, where he returned during the Second World War.[1]

As a composer, Dunhill's later works included Elegiac Variations (1919–20) written in memory of Hubert Parry,[1] a ballet, Gallimaufry, premiered in Hamburg in 1937,[11] "Triptych" for viola and orchestra (1942) and an overture, "May Time" (1945) premiered at the Proms conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.[1] The Times called the last "a popular and unpretentious overture which makes its way cheerfully enough and cleverly draws on the true vitality of a Morris and one of Morley's best tunes.[12] His most substantial orchestral piece was the symphony in A minor composed several years earlier, but first performed in Belgrade in 1922.[1]

At a time when Elgar's music was out of fashion, Dunhill was a strong advocate for it. His 1938 book about the composer combined biography and musical analysis. The Times Literary Supplement praised Dunhill for his accessible analysis and for "a portrait drawn by one who knew and loved him well."[13]

Among the honours given to Dunhill were the Cobbett Chamber Music Medal (1924), of which he was the first recipient,[2] an honorary doctorate from Durham University (1940) and honorary fellowships of the Royal Academy of Music (1938) and the Royal College of Music (1942).[1]

Personal life[edit]

In 1914 Dunhill married Mary Penrose Arnold, the great-niece of Matthew Arnold, and the great-granddaughter of Thomas Arnold. There were two sons and a daughter of the marriage. Mary Dunhill died in 1929. In 1942 Dunhill married Isabella Simpson Featonby.

Dunhill died at his mother-in-law's house in Scunthorpe, aged 69.[1]

Compositions[edit]

  • The Wind among the Reeds (song-cycle, tenor and orch.)(1912)
  • The King's Threshold (overture)
  • Dance Suite for strings
  • Variations on an old English tune (cello and orchestra)
  • The Chiddingfold Suite (string orchestra)
  • Tantivy Towers
  • Elegiac variations in memory of Hubert Parry (Gloucester Festival 1922)
  • Symphony in A minor (1916,[14] Belgrade 1922)
  • Quartet in B minor (pianoforte and strings)
  • Quintet in E flat (pianoforte, wind and strings)
  • Phantasy-trio (pianoforte, violin and viola)
  • Phantasy Suite in six short movements (clarinet and pianoforte), Op. 91
  • Phantasy string quartet
  • Sonatas for violin and pianoforte, no 1 in D, no 2 in F.
  • Songs and part songs (various)
  • 3 children's cantatas (John Gilpin; Sea Fairies; The Masque of the Shoe)
  • Pianoforte pieces for children (various)
  • Pieces for violin; pieces for cello (various)
  • Lyric Suite; bassoon and piano
  • A Song of Erin
  • Cornucopia; six miniatures for horn and piano

Writings[edit]

  • Chamber Music: A Treatise for students (Macmillan, London 1913)
  • "Edward German, An Appreciation" in Musical Times, Vol. 77, No. 1126 (Dec. 1936), pp. 1073–1077.
  • Sullivan's Comic Operas – A Critical Appreciation (Edward Arnold, London 1928).
  • Sir Edward Elgar (Blackie & Son, London, 1938)

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Dibble, Jeremy, "Dunhill, Thomas Frederick (1877–1946)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 13 October 2011 (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e Kington. Beryl "Dunhill, Thomas" Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, accessed 13 October 2011(subscription required)
  3. ^ "Concerts", The Times, 10 June 1907, p. 4
  4. ^ a b "Music – Philharmonic Society", The Times, 22 November 1912, p. 9
  5. ^ "Our London Correspondence", The Manchester Guardian, 22 April 1908, p. 4; and "The Musical Association", The Times, 23 April 1908, p. 13
  6. ^ "Thomas Frederick Dunhill" Bach Cantatas, accessed 7 May 2013
  7. ^ a b "The Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith – 'Tantivy Towers'", The Times, 17 January 1931, p. 8
  8. ^ "Sullivan's Operas", The Times Literary Supplement, 12 April 1928, p. 269
  9. ^ They were published by Chappell and Co: Trial by Jury (1925 – OCLC 498795573 ), The Sorcerer (1924 – OCLC 42298598 ),H.M.S. Pinafore (1924 – OCLC ), The Pirates of Penzance (including "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain" originally from Thespis (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ), Patience (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ), Iolanthe (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ), Princess Ida (1925 – OCLC 498795573 ), The Mikado' (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ), Ruddigore (1925 – OCLC 498795573 ), The Yeomen of the Guard (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ), The Gondoliers (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ), Utopia, Limited (1925 – OCLC 498795573 ), and The Grand Duke (1925 – OCLC 498795573 ), and two collections, "The Sullivan piano solo album: twenty one charming melodies from the famous Gilbert & Sullivan operas" (1924 – OCLC 221506885), and "An album of marches from the Gilbert & Sullivan operas" (1934 – OCLC 22996982).
  10. ^ a b "The Theatres – Revival of "Tantivy Towers," The Times, 27 May 1935, p. 12
  11. ^ "British Ballet in Hamburg", The Times, 18 December 1937, p. 10
  12. ^ "Promenade Concert – Thomas F. Dunhill's New Overture", The Times, 11 September 1945, p. 6
  13. ^ "Music and Literature", The Times Literary Supplement, 5 November 1938, p. 704
  14. ^ "The English Symphony 1880–1920". 25 March 2007. Archived from the original on 28 June 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2007. 

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