Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Notable Musicians: Montague Phillips: Part I

Montague Phillips manages just one paragraph in the current edition of Grove. There is no bibliography or list of works. I found the present pen-portrait of the composer in Part 21 of Music of All Nations: A collection of the World’s Best Music. This included music and essays. This series, which was edited by ‘Sir Henry Wood’ [3] was published during the nineteen twenties however, my copy is not dated.  I located an advert in the Yorkshire Evening Post (3 November 1927) for ‘Part One’ of this fortnightly publication. So the present part is likely to have been issued in August 1928.
I understand that there were 30 parts issued. It is highly likely that Wood’s name was simply an advertising ploy and that the considerable amount of work the publication entailed was done by a team of editors. 
I give no commentary on the text below, which is largely self-explanatory. The contemporary reader is reminded that this was written some 88 years ago and must allow for some views which may seem a little patronising in 2016.

After being at a Promenade Concert several years ago, the late Edouard Colonne, the famous French conductor, wrote: ‘I heard a song with orchestra entitled 'Fidelity.' It is one of the most remarkable and exquisite pages of music I have heard in recent years. I looked at my programme for the name of the author; it was Mr. Montague Phillips. If England has many composers like him, she may well be proud: there is a great musical future in store for her.’
This is a tribute of appreciation addressed by a veteran to a colleague who was then a very young man, and its justification may be found in Mr. Phillips' career. He has written well over a hundred songs which have won great popularity—by reason of their genuine melodiousness and artistic treatment, a popularity which is not confined to the musical amateur (who, perhaps, is not always the best judge of musical worth), but has been confirmed by those who choose them as test pieces for various diplomas and certificates. Mr. Phillips has, moreover, essayed with great success many larger forms of composition, including two pianoforte concertos, a symphonic poem ‘Boadicea,’ a symphony in C minor, an ‘Heroic’ overture, and ‘The Rebel Maid,’ a light opera produced at the Empire Theatre in 1921. He has lately completed another opera, which awaits production.
One so often hears sneers at the ‘organ loft,’ that it may surprise some people to learn that Mr. Phillips was born and bred in that particular ‘ briar patch,’ as Brer Rabbit used to say. In other words, he began as a choir boy, he was trained as a church organist, and he holds the diploma of Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists. This goes to show that what is in a man counts, rather than environment. There is no trace of ecclesiastical bondage in all Mr. Phillips' output.
‘I was born at Tottenham,’ he said to me, ‘and was quite young when I began to show a liking for music. I was first attracted by the piano, and was sent to the late Dr. William Lemare for lessons, but it was soon discovered that I possessed a good treble voice. Solo boys are always in request, and besides holding a permanent appointment as such at St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate, E.C., I was engaged to sing at the London Church Choir Association Festivals, as well as at many concerts, for oratorios, etc. It is rather curious that my very first engagement should have been at Esher, which was in after years to be my home. In the year 1900 I carried off the prize for boys' solo singing at the Stratford Musical Festival, and two years later repeated my success, not as a singer this time, but as an organist.’
As Mr. Phillips, though ready to express opinions about musical matters, displays reluctance to talk about his own doings, let the chronicler continue the story of his early career. At the age of seventeen he won the Henry Smart Scholarship for organ playing and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He was also appointed as organist and choirmaster at Theydon Bois, Essex. This post he held for a couple of years, when he accepted a similar position at Christ Church, Wanstead.
Working hard at the Academy, Montague Phillips had his reward in several notable successes, winning the Battison Haynes Prize for the composition of a Prelude and Fugue for organ, and gaining the Macfarren Scholarship in composition. Acting on the advice of Dr. McEwen, he was transferred to the class of Mr. Frederick Corder, who has trained so many of the British composers of to-day. He also won the R.A.M. Club Prize for organ playing and improvisation. In 1905 he composed by request a setting of the Evening Canticles for the Festival of the London Church Choir Association. The following year his first pianoforte concerto, commissioned by the late Mrs. Lewis-Hill, was written, and was produced in 1908 at one of the R.C.M. Patron's Fund Concerts in Queen's Hall, with Miss Irene Scharrer as the pianist.
After four years at Christ Church, Wanstead, I resigned,’ he says, ‘ in order to take a post at Esher Parish Church, where I played until a comparatively short time ago, when I gave up Sunday duties, though I still play occasionally when my successor is away. Esher also became my permanent home. The late Duchess of Albany was a near neighbour of ours and often honoured us by an invitation to Claremont. She was extremely keen on music, and was often kind enough to assist my wife with the German of her songs. In the early part of 1914 she busied herself arranging a tour for my wife and myself to visit the principal courts in Germany, but unfortunately this project was rendered abortive by the outbreak of war. That was not all. In anticipation of the tour, I had previously sent over to Germany the full score of my symphony in C minor. My score was lost in the general turmoil, and I have never set eyes upon it since. Possibly it may turn up some day, though I have little hope of its doing so. Fortunately, I have the orchestra parts, and so could reconstruct the score from them. I may perhaps do so one of these days, but it is a fearful labour!’ 
To be continued…

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