Alan Bush

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Alan Bush (right) with Stephan Hermlin, 1952.

Alan Dudley Bush (22 December 1900 – 31 October 1995) was a British composer and pianist. He was a committed communist, and politics sometimes provided central themes in his music.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Alan Bush was born in Dulwich, London, to Alfred Walter Bush (1869–1935), a director of the manufacturing chemists, W. J. Bush & Co., and his wife, Alice Maud Brinsley (1870–1951).[2] He was educated first at Highgate School (1911–17) and then at the Royal Academy of Music (1918–22), where he studied composition under Frederick Corder and piano with Tobias Matthay. Later he studied musicology and philosophy with Johannes Wolf and Friedrich Blumein at the University of Berlin (1929–31), as well as taking composition lessons (1922–27) with John Ireland. He also studied the piano under Benno Moiseiwitsch and Artur Schnabel.[3]

One of his fellow composition students was Michael Head, who introduced Bush to his younger sister Nancy. They married in 1931. She provided libretti for three of his four full-length operas, three children's operas and other works.[4]

Music and politics[edit]

From 1925 to 1978 he taught at the Royal Academy of Music where his compositions included A Homage to William Sterndale Bennett. His academic training, particularly in Berlin, put him in contact with well-known socialist artists from different traditions, such as Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler.

In April 1940 he conducted the British premiere of Aram Khachaturian's Piano Concerto in D-flat with Moura Lympany as soloist. She had agreed after Clifford Curzon had declined Edward Clark's offer, even though the score was still in manuscript and she had only one month in which to learn the piece. Clark was a conductor and influential former BBC producer, but was in this instance acting in his capacity as a member of the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR. Bush had been friends with Clark for some years; Clark was also left-leaning but not a committed Communist like Bush.[5][6] In 1930 Bush had dedicated his Dance Overture for Military Band to Edward Clark.[7]

He was known as an outspoken advocate of Marxism, holding posts as conductor of the London Labour Choral Union. Bush composed the music for and conducted the choir at the Pageant of Labour at the Crystal Palace on 15–20 October 1934.[8] This influence can also be seen in many of his works, including the operas Wat Tyler (1948–50) and Men of Blackmoor (1954–55), and his piano concerto which has a communist text declaimed by a male chorus in the last movement. A broadcast embargo on signatories to the People's Convention in 1941 that included Bush led to Ralph Vaughan Williams refusing broadcast rights for a new work in protest, even though he did not share the group's political views. Other works include four symphonies (No. 1 in C; No. 2, The Nottingham;[9] No. 3, Byron Symphony and No. 4, Lascaux Symphony); Variations, Nocturne and Finale on an English Sea-song, Op. 60, for piano and orchestra; and Songs of the Doomed. Many of these works were performed first in Eastern Europe.

In 1936 he was co-founder of the Workers' Music Association, becoming President in 1938[10]:6 continuing to be President until his death in 1995. During this time Topic Records was formed as a mail order label to provide recordings to the members of the WMA.


Dolly Collins, older sister of Shirley Collins was a student of his in the late 1950s and early '60s.[10]:6 Another notable student is Michael Nyman.[11]

Other notable students include Timothy Bowers (currently Alan Bush lecturer at Royal Academy of Music), Hubert du Plessis, Carl van Wyk, Hafliði Hallgrimsson, and Judith Bingham.


He died in Watford in 1995 after a short illness.



  1. ^ Alan Bush Trust
  2. ^ Richard Stoker (2004). Bush, Alan Dudley (1900–1995). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  3. ^ Obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 3 November 1995
  4. ^ Bush, Alan (1980), "In my eighth decade", In my eighth decade and other essays, London: Kahn and Averill (Stanmore Press Ltd), p. 19, ISBN 0-900707-61-5 
  5. ^ jstor
  6. ^ Ivory Classics
  7. ^ Alan Bush Trust
  8. ^ Official Book and Programme of the Pageant of Labour, 1934
  9. ^ Naxos Music Library – Invaluable Resource for Music Enthusiasts and Collectors
  10. ^ a b Three Score and Ten Accompanying Book
  11. ^ Michael Nyman Biography – ARTISTdirect Music


  • Richard Stoker, 'Bush, Alan Dudley (1900–1995)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 17 February 2008

Further reading[edit]

  • Bullivant, Joanna. 2009. "Modernism, Politics, and Individuality in 1930s Britain: The Case of Alan Bush". Music & Letters 90, no. 3 (August): 432–52.

External links[edit]