Julius Harrison

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Julius Allan Greenway Harrison (26 March 1885 – 5 April 1963) was an English composer who was best known as a conductor of operatic works.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Harrison was born in Lower Mitton, Stourport in Worcestershire, England, the eldest in the family of four sons and three daughters of Walter Henry Harrison a grocer and candle maker, and his wife, Henriette Julien née Schoeller, a German-born former governess.[2] He was educated at a Dame School in Stourport,[3] and at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Hartlebury.[2] The family was musical; Walter Harrison was conductor of the Stourport Glee Union and Henriette Harrison was Julius's first piano teacher. He later took organ and violin lessons from the organist of Wilden parish church, and sang in the church choir.[2]

At the ago of 16 Harrison was appointed organist and choirmaster at Areley Kings Church, and at Hartlebury Church at the age of 21. When he was 17 he directed the Worcester Musical Society in a performance of his own Ballade for Strings.[3] He gained two Firsts in music in Cambridge local examinations and studied under Granville Bantock at the Birmingham and Midland Institute of Music where he specialised in conducting.[1][3] He first came to wider public notice in 1908 with his cantata Cleopatra. The work won the first prize at the Norwich Musical Festival, adjudicated by Frederick Delius, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Ernest Walker.[4] The Times commented on the inadequacy of the libretto, and praised Harrison's orchestration and melodies but complained that the work was "a series of pictures of unbridled passion devoid of all that ordinary people call beauty."[5] The reviewer in The Manchester Guardian was more complimentary; though he commented on the obvious influence of Bantock, and over-elaborate orchestration, he wrote that Harrison had undoubted talent.[4]

Harrison moved to London, where he took a job with the Orchestrelle Company, a manufacturer of rolls for player-pianos.[2] He conducted amateur ensembles and was organist of the Union Chapel, Islington. In the latter capacity he wrote several pieces for the choir during 1910 and 1911, and his symphonic poem Night on the Mountains was played at the Queen's Hall by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Harrison at the invitation of Hans Richter.[2] The Times said, "The orchestral colouring is laid on with so thick a brush that the outlines get somewhat obscured in places, but it still contains some promising ideas".[6]

Conducting and later career[edit]

For most of his career Harrison was obliged to earn a living by conducting and other musical work, to the detriment of his composing.[2] In early 1913 he was engaged as a répétiteur at Covent Garden, where he had the opportunity of observing Arthur Nikisch prepare Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. Later that year Harrison was appointed to the conducting staff for the season.[2] In 1914 he was assistant conductor to Nikisch and Felix Weingartner in Paris, rehearsing Parsifal for the former and Tristan und Isolde for the latter.[2]

In 1915 Thomas Beecham and Robert Courtneidge presented a season of opera at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Harrison was recruited as a conductor along with Percy Pitt, Hamish MacCunn and Landon Ronald.[7] After a second season with Courtneidge, Beecham set up on his own account in 1916, and established the Beecham Opera Company at the Aldwych Theatre of which his father Sir Joseph Beecham was the lessee.[8] Harrison, together with Pitt and Eugene Goossens, joined him as assistant conductors.[8] In 1916 Harrison joined the Royal Flying Corps and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the technical branch. He was based in London, and was frequently able to conduct for Beecham, often wearing his uniform.[9]

From 1920 to 1923 Harrison was co-conductor of the Scottish Orchestra with Ronald, and from 1920 to 1927 he was also in charge of the Bradford Permanent Orchestra.[2] From 1922 to 1924 he was a conductor for the British National Opera Company, specialising in Wagner.[2]

In 1924 Harrison left the opera company and took up an appointment at the Royal Academy of Music where he was director of opera and professor of composition until 1929.[2] He returned to conducting in 1930 as conductor of the Hastings Municipal Orchestra, running an annual festival and, during the summer season, conducting up to twelve concerts a week. He raised the standard of the orchestra to challenge that of its south-coast rival, the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra.[10] He secured the services of guest artists including the conductors Sir Henry Wood and Adrian Boult, pianists such as Clifford Curzon and Benno Moiseiwitsch and singers including George Baker. He presented concert performances of neglected works such as Sullivan's and German's The Emerald Isle.[11] After the outbreak of the Second World War the Hastings orchestra was disbanded. From 1940 to 1942 Harrison was director of music at Malvern College. He then accepted a post as a conductor with the BBC Northern Orchestra in Manchester.[2]

The onset of deafness forced Harrison to give up conducting. He had been closely associated with the Elgar Festival in Malvern, and his last appearance on the podium was at the final concert of the 1947 festival.[2] He was a founder member and vice-president of the Elgar Society.[3]

Harrison died in 1963, aged 78, in Harpenden in Hertfordshire where he settled after leaving Malvern towards the end of the 1940s.


His biographer, Geoffrey Self, writes that after 1940 Harrison wrote a series of substantial works; he instances Bredon Hill (1942) and the Violin Sonata (1946), works which, in Self's view, are influenced respectively by Brahms and Vaughan Williams.[10] Self rates Harrison's finest works as the Mass in C (1936–47) and the Requiem (1948–57), which he describes as "conservative and contrapuntally complex, influenced by Bach and Verdi respectively [with] a mastery of texture and a massive yet balanced structure".[10]

Harrison's writings about music include Handbook for Choralists (London, 1928) and Brahms and his Four Symphonies (1939), and chapters on Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms and Dvořák in Robert Simpson's two volume study of The Symphony (London, 1967), which is dedicated to his memory.[10]

Selected works[edit]

  • Autumn Days
  • CA Fantasy of Flowers
  • I Love the Jocund Dance
  • In Celia's Face
  • Pastoral
  • Rapunzel (1917)
  • Rhapsody
  • Rosalys
  • Song of the Plough
  • Spring in the Air
  • The Canterbury Pilgrims (unfinished opera)
  • The Rival Fourth Fingers
  • The Wanderer's Song
  • Variations on Down Among the Dead Men
  • Ballade for string orchestra (1902)
  • Prelude Music for string orchestra and piano (or harp), Op.16 (1912); original for harp and string quartet
  • Widdicombe Fair, Humoreske for string orchestra, Op.22 (1916); original for string quartet
  • Worcestershire Suite (1918); original for piano
  • Romance, a Song of Adoration for orchestra (1930)
  • Cornish Holiday Sketches for string orchestra (1935)
  • Autumn Landscape for string orchestra (1937); premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in February 1937
  • Troubadour Suite for string orchestra, harp (or piano) and optional horns (1944)
  1. The King of Navarre's Chanson
  2. The Marriage of Yolande
  3. Song of Spring
  4. Dancing Song
  • Serenade for Strings
  • Bredon Hill, Rhapsody for violin and orchestra (1941)
Chamber music
  • Prelude Music, Quintet in G major for harp and string quartet, Op.16 (1912); also for string orchestra and piano (or harp)
  • Scaramouche for violin and piano (1915)
  • Pensée fugitive for violin and piano (1915)
  • Widdicombe Fair, Humoreske for string quartet, Op.22 (1916); also for string orchestra
  • Fanfare for a Masked Ball for 4 trumpets (1921)
  • Sonata in C minor for viola and piano (1945)
  • String Quartet
  • Paean and Tonus Peregrinus: Homage to Cesar Franck
  • Rhapsody, Intermezzo and Capriccio (1903)
  • Barcarolle (1917)
  • Worcestershire Suite (1918); also orchestrated
  1. The Shrawley Round
  2. Redstone Rock
  3. Pershore Plums
  4. The Ledbury Parson
  • The Pixie Man, Suite (1920)
  • Silver Bells and Cockle Shells (1920)
  • Severn Country, Suite (1928)
  1. Dance in the Cherry Orchard (Ribbesford)
  2. Twilight on the River (Bewdley)
  3. Far Forest
  • Town and Country (1948)
  • Wayside Fancies, Suite (1948)
  1. March Humoresque
  2. An Old Legend
  3. Columbine's Waltz
  4. Summer Breeze
  5. The Jolly Huntsman
  • Mr. Alberti Takes a Stroll (1952)
  • Outdoor Song: At the fair (1952)
  • Musette
  • Six Short Songs for medium voice and piano (1907)
  • Bonny Blue-cap for medium voice and piano (1908); words by Sir Walter Scott
  • Songs of Fancy, 4 Songs (1913); words by P. Ashbrooke
  1. Little Untrodden Paths
  2. Oh, Little Mist from the Sea
  3. Silent Trees
  4. At Daybreak
  • Four Songs of Chivalry for voice and piano (1915); words by William Morris
  1. Sir Giles' War Song
  2. Guendolen
  3. The Eve of Crecy
  4. The Gilliflower of Gold
  1. You Bring Me Pearls
  2. O Jewel of the Deep Blue Sea
  3. Caravan of Love
  • Four Narratives from the Ancient Chinese for medium voice and piano (1917)
  1. The Soldier
  2. The Last Revel
  3. There Was a King of Liang
  4. The Recruiting Sergeant
  • Three Sonnets from Boccaccio for high voice and piano (1919); words by Giovanni Boccaccio
  • On the Beach at Otahai (1920); words by E. J. Brady
  • Three Songs (1921–1927)
  1. Merciless Beauty; words by Geoffrey Chaucer
  2. The Escape from Love; words by Geoffrey Chaucer
  3. A Lament; words by Sir Thomas Wyatt
Boot, Saddle, To Horse and Away
King Charles
Marching Along
  1. Come Away Death
  2. Jolly Robin
  3. O Mistress Mine
  4. Clown's Song
  • Cleopatra, Dramatic Poem (Cantata) for soli (soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor), chorus and orchestra (1908); performed at the Norwich Festival in 1908
  • Harvest Cantata for soprano (or tenor) and contralto (or baritone) soli, chorus and piano or organ (1910); words by Rose Dafforne Betjemann
  • Christmas Cantata for soli and chorus (1911); words by Rose Dafforne Betjemann
  • Viking Song, Part-song for male chorus and pianoforte or orchestra (1911); words by Fred Adlington
  • Open Thy Gates, Introit Anthem for mixed chorus (with organ ad libitum) (1913); words by Robert Herrick
  • Prevent Us, O Lord, Anthem for mixed chorus and organ (1914)
  • Blows the Wind To-day for mixed chorus a cappella (1915); words by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • In the Forest for mixed chorus a cappella (1913); words by Heinrich Heine; translation by Francis Hueffer
  • Easter Carol for female chorus and piano (1921); words by Frederick Elliott
  • The Little Men for female chorus (1921); words by William Allingham
  • The Blessed Damozel for female chorus a cappella (1928); words by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • A Sunny Shaft, Part Song for female chorus and piano (1929); words by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Merry Miller, Folk-jingle for mixed chorus a cappella (1932); words by Helen Taylor
  • Magnifcat and Nunc dimittis for unison voices and organ (1941)
  • The Wild Huntsman, Fantasia for male chorus a cappella (1946)
  • The Dark Forest, Part-song for mixed chorus a cappella (1947); words by Edward Thomas
  • Mass in C for solo voices, chorus, organ and orchestra (1936–1947); premiered at Stoke-on-Trent in 1948; twice broadcast in 1952 and 1955
  • Missa liturgica for mixed chorus a cappella (1950)
  • Psalm C (Psalm 100) for mixed chorus and organ (1953)
  • Requiem Mass for soprano, alto, tenor and bass soli, mixed chorus and orchestra (1948–1957); first performed in 1957 at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival
  • Requiem for Archangels

Harrison's many arrangements include versions of Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, sundry Schubert songs (entitled Winter and Spring) and a "concert version" of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride all for mixed chorus.[12]


  • Julius Harrison Orchestral Music; Hubert Clifford Serenade for Strings; Dutton Epoch CDLX7174 (2006)
    Matthew Trussler (violin); Andrew Knight (harp); BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth
Worcestershire Suite for orchestra (1918)
Bredon Hill, Rhapsody for violin and orchestra (1941)
Troubadour Suite for orchestra (1944)
Romance, a Song of Adoration for orchestra (1930)
Prelude-Music for harp and string orchestra (1912)
Widdicombe Fair, Humoresque for string orchestra (1916)
Hubert CliffordSerenade for Strings (1943)
Samuel Coleridge-TaylorLegend (Conzertstück), Op.14 (1897); Romance of the Prairie Lilies, Op.39; Violin Concerto in G minor, Op.80 (1912)
Julius Harrison – Bredon Hill, Rhapsody for violin and orchestra (1941)
  • Viola Sonatas: Edgar Bainton and Julius Harrison (World Premiere Recordings); 3 Pieces by Frank Bridge; British Music Society BMSCD415R (2008)
    Martin Outram (viola); Michael Jones (piano)
Edgar Bainton – Viola Sonata (1922)
Julius Harrison – Viola Sonata in C minor (1945)
Frank BridgePensiero (1905); Allegro Appassionato (1908); Allegretto (1905?)


  1. ^ a b MusicwebInternational. accessed 27 December 2009
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Baker, Anne Pimlott. "Harrison, Julius Allan Greenway (1885–1963)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 29 February 2012
  3. ^ a b c d Worcestershire's other composer This is Worcestershire 14 April 2001 accessed 27 December 2009
  4. ^ a b "The Norwich Festival", The Manchester Guardian, 31 October 1908, p. 10
  5. ^ "Norwich Musical Festival", The Times, 31 October 1908, p. 13
  6. ^ "London Symphony Orchestra", The Times, 6 December 1910, p. 13
  7. ^ Lucas, p. 125
  8. ^ a b Lucas, p. 131
  9. ^ Lucas, p. 140
  10. ^ a b c d Self, Geoffrey. "Harrison, Julius", Grove Music Online Oxford Music Online., accessed 29 February 2012 (subscription required)
  11. ^ "Hastings Festival", The Musical Times, Vol. 77, No. 1118 (April 1936), p. 364 (subscription required)
  12. ^ Musicweb-composerconductors accessed 27 December 2009


  • Lucas, John (2008). Thomas Beecham – An Obsession with Music. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ISBN 978-1-84383-402-1. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Rubbra, Edmund (1950) Julius Harrison's Mass Oxford University Press.
  • Self, Geoffrey (1993) Julius Harrison: And the Importunate Muse, Scolar press, ISBN 0-85967-929-2