Elizabeth Poston

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Elizabeth Poston

Elizabeth Poston (24 October 1905 – 18 March 1987) was an English composer, pianist and writer.

Poston was born in Highfield House in Pin Green, which is now the site of Hampson Park in Stevenage. In 1914, she moved with her mother, Clementine Poston, to nearby Rooks Nest House, where E. M. Forster had lived as a child. Poston and Forster subsequently became good friends.[1] She studied at Queen Margaret's School, York, and with pianist Harold Samuel before attending the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in London, where she was encouraged by both Peter Warlock and Ralph Vaughan Williams. She won a prize from the RAM for her one movement Violin Sonata, which was subsequently broadcast by the BBC on 9 July 1928, with Antonio Brosa as soloist and Victor Hely-Hutchinson piano.[2]

When she graduated from the RAM in 1925, seven of her songs were published, and in 1928 she published five more. Poston went abroad between 1930 and 1939, where she studied architecture and collected folksongs. When she returned to England at the beginning of World War II she joined the BBC and became director of music in the European Service. During the war, Poston is said to have carried out secretive work as an agent; at the BBC she apparently used gramophone records to send coded messages to allies in Europe.[3] She left the BBC briefly in 1945, but returned in 1947 to advise on the creation of the BBC Third Programme.[4] Poston was the president of the Society of Women Musicians 1955–61.[5]

Composition and Writing[edit]

Poston composed scores for radio and television productions – over 40 for radio alone – and collaborated with C. S. Lewis, Dylan Thomas, and other writers. She wrote the score for the 1970 BBC television production of Howards End (broadcast on 26 December 1970 as Play of the Month, now lost[6]) while living in Rooks Nest House, which was the setting for the novel. The Nativity (1951) is one of several extended choral works. Another (and the only extended work of hers to have been commercially recorded) is An English Day Book, a 20 minute sequence of sacred and profane poetry settings relating to different times of the day and year.[7] The Concertino da camera on a Theme of Martin Peerson (1950) is a significant example of her music for chamber ensembles.[5] A Swiss radio broadcast of her 1960 Trio for flute, viola and harp can be heard on YouTube.[8] A six minute work for string orchestra, Blackberry Fold: Requiem for a Dog, received its first broadcast in February 1976.[9] Her carols, especially Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, remain widely performed. In total there are over 300 works, some still to be discovered. Elizabeth Poston's extensive archives are now housed at the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies in Hertford.[10][11]

In addition to composing, Poston was an academic, writer and editor. In 1947 she created a five-part lecture series on Peter Warlock for the BBC.[12] She wrote articles and programme notes for the Arts Council of Great Britain and was the editor of a number of folksong, carol and hymn anthologies, including three Penguin collections - The Penguin Book of Christmas Carols (two volumes, 1965 and 1971), and (with Alan Lomax) The Penguin Book of American Folksongs (1964) - as well as (with David Holbrook) The Cambridge Hymnal (1970).[13] She was also a respected performer, premiering Walter Leigh’s Concertino for harpsichord and strings in 1934 and playing the piano at the National Gallery lunchtime concerts organised by Myra Hess during the war.[5]

Poston continued to live at Rooks Nest House until her death at the age of 81 in 1987.[1] A catalogue of her works by her friend Dr John Alabaster published in 2018 lists some two dozen of her compositions considered lost.[14] One of them, the Festal Te Deum, first performed in 1959, has since been rediscovered.[15]


  1. ^ a b Dunne, Martin. "Stevenage composer's private papers archived". The Comet. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  2. ^ Radio Times issue 249, 8 July 1928, p 16
  3. ^ British Music Collection: Composer Profile
  4. ^ Obituary, Musical Times No 1731, May 1987, p 287-8
  5. ^ a b c Michael Hurd; Jamie Bartlett. "Poston, Elizabeth". In Deane L. Root (ed.). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved May 20, 2006. (subscription required)
  6. ^ BBC Genome
  7. ^ Signum Classics: An English Day Book. MusicWeb International review
  8. ^ Trio for flute, viola, harp (1960). Hieronymus Schaedler, flute, Nicolas Corti, viola, Priska Zaugg, harp. Radio DRS broadcast
  9. ^ BBC Genome
  10. ^ Alibaster, John. "The remarkable Miss Poston", in Hertfordshire Life, 28 July, 2014
  11. ^ Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
  12. ^ Radio Times, issue 1233, 1 June 1947, p 4
  13. ^ Goodreads.com
  14. ^ Alabaster, John. Elizabeth Poston: Catalogue of Works with Biographical Context (2018)
  15. ^ Northampton Chronicle, 27 July 2018

External links[edit]