Victor Hely-Hutchinson

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Christian Victor Hely-Hutchinson (26 December 1901 – 11 March 1947)[1] was a British composer. He is best known for the Carol Symphony and for humorous song-settings.

Early life[edit]

Hely-Hutchinson was born in Cape Town, Cape Colony (now in South Africa). His father, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, was the Governor of Cape Colony from 1901 to 1910 during the Boer War. He initially lived in Kent, then moved back to South Africa in 1907. He was taught the piano by Dr Thomas Barrow Dowling (1861–1926), the organist of Cape Town cathedral. Victor was a child prodigy, composing many pieces before the age of ten. In England in 1910, he was taught piano by Donald Tovey and was initially educated at Heatherdown School, near Ascot in Berkshire. In 1914, his father died. Victor was then educated at Eton College, followed by Balliol College at the University of Oxford to study history. Music, however, prevailed and after one year at Oxford he was granted permission to study for a Mus. Bac. at the Royal College of Music, where he studied conducting under Adrian Boult. In 1922, he returned to Cape Town to teach at the South African College of Music, which was later incorporated into the University of Cape Town.

Later life[edit]

He joined the BBC at Savoy Hill in 1926, becoming a conductor, pianist, and accompanist. He moved to Hampstead, where his two sons were born. In 1933, he moved to Birmingham to become Midland Regional Director of Music for the BBC, where he formed and conducted the Midland Studio Orchestra. In 1934, he left the BBC to become Professor of Music at the University of Birmingham, taking over from Sir Granville Bantock. In 1938, he saw signs of war, and moved his family out of Birmingham to a nearby village. During the war he became an ARP warden. He became a D.Mus from Oxford University in 1941. He also joined the university's officer cadet force. In 1944, he returned to the BBC to become Director of Music. He moved to St John's Wood. He never purchased a car, always using his bicycle.

The winter of 1947 was very long-lasting and to save fuel (which was still rationed), Hely-Hutchinson refused to switch on the radiators in his office. He developed a cold, which became pneumonia. He died on 11 March 1947 at the premature age of 45. His wife Marjorie died in 1988. Astra Desmond sang at his memorial service.


The Carol Symphony was written in 1929.[2] This symphony has four movements and is based on the traditional English Christmas carols:[3]

The third movement was used for the title music of the 1943 Children's Hour and 1984 BBC children's television adaptation of John Masefield's The Box of Delights, in particular the variation on the theme of The First Nowell.


With texts by William Blake[4][edit]

With texts by Edward Lear[edit]

With texts by Harry Graham[edit]

  • Twenty-one songs from "Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes"[6]
  • More Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes

With texts by Walter de la Mare[4][edit]

  • Three Songs from "Peacock Pie"
    • The cupboard
    • The window
    • The little old Cupid

He is also well known for his settings of various nursery rhymes and children's poems. His setting of "Old Mother Hubbard" is famous for being composed in the manner of Handel. His song setting of Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat" was notably recorded by Elton Hayes and featured on the BBC's Children's Favourites radio show. He wrote The song of a soldier with lyrics of Walter de la Mare.[7]

Other compositions[edit]

  • Carol Symphony (1927)
  • Overture to a Pantomime (1947)
  • Solemn Prelude, in G
  • Three Fugal Fancies, for strings (1932)
  • South African Suite
  • Hearts are Trumps (Operetta)
  • Variations, Intermezzo and Finale (1927)
  • Symphony for Small Orchestra (1942)


  • Jürgen Schaarwächter, Two Centuries of British Symphonism: From the beginnings to 1945. A preliminary survey, Vol. I, pp. 564–565, Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim-Zurich-New York, 2015.
  • Artist Biography by Bruce Eder,,
  • Mark Connelly, Christmas: A History, I. B. Tauris, London New York, 2012.
  • Benjamin Britten, Letters from a Life Vol 1: 1923-39, Edited by Donald Mitchell.


  1. ^ David Mason Greene (1985). Greene's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers. Reproducing Piano Roll Fnd. p. 1318. ISBN 978-0-385-14278-6.
  2. ^ Jürgen Schaarwächter, Two Centuries of British Symphonism: From the beginnings to 1945. A preliminary survey, Vol. I, p.564, Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim-Zurich-New York, 2015.
  3. ^ Mark Connelly, Christmas: A History, p. 231, I. B. Tauris, London New York, 2012.
  4. ^ a b The LiederNet Archive - Christian Victor Hely-Hutchinson
  5. ^ Paterson's Publications Ltd. (1927)
  6. ^ Edward Arnold & Co. (1945)
  7. ^ Helen Woo, New Music in China and the C.C. Liu Collection at the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press, HKU

External links[edit]