Researching Granville Bantock

John Dressler is the author of Granville Bantock (1868 – 1946). The book is the first reference guide to musical, manuscript, and print sources for study of Bantock’s life and music. In this blog post, Dressler considers the lengthy research process behind his new book.

Granville Bantock is not a name one quickly identifies with British music of the first half of the twentieth century. Indeed names such as Vaughan Williams, Holst, Parry, and even Dyson would enter such a conversation ahead of that of Bantock. However, Bantock produced over 600 compositions in nearly every genre we consider in classical music between 1890 and 1940–orchestral, choral, chamber, solo piano, opera and oratorio. Perhaps this omission might be due to his taking on educational instructor and administrator roles, beginning in 1900 through to his retirement days; perhaps it is because during his students days at the Royal Academy of Music he became a Wagnerite much like his primary teacher there, Frederick Corder, rather than the more typical Brahmsian predilection; perhaps it was because he turned down a professorship at the RAM to move to Liverpool and then Birmingham to, as he paraphrased Milton, “…reign in Hell rather than serve in Heaven.…” For whatever reason, in 2009 when I began this bio-bibliographic project on advice from Dr. Stewart Craggs, a research colleague and mentor, I knew none of Bantock’s output.

It has proven to be quite an enlightening adventure. I began at the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Special Collections Library, where nearly all of Bantock’s manuscripts are tended to with great care. He was the first Chair of the Department of Music when it was the Birmingham and Midland Institute of Music, and then became part of the University. Prior to that he had taken the small band at the New Brighton Tower, Merseyside, Liverpool and transformed it into a full orchestra playing concerts of music of his contemporaries such as Elgar, Corder, Wallace, and Mackenzie, as well as the European Romantics. Bantock was instrumental in getting Jean Sibelius to England in the first two decades of the twentieth centuryhe also worked closely with Elgar and Delius to help raise support for contemporary composers. And he nearly single-handedly created and promoted the phenomenon of the community chorus, women’s choirs, and men’s choruses competitions; many of his choral works were composed for these festivals and Eisteddfods.

My task was to investigate all these angles, if you will, wrapped into one person. Doing so took me across the body of the Midlands as I examined and annotated each of the manuscripts over 3 summers, viewed scrapbooks, letters, ephemera now housed at Worcester’s archive, The Hive, and viewed letters between Bantock and Elgar at the Elgar Museum. I annotated reviews of Bantock’s music and performances from the British Library’s now-digitized newspapers from across the UK, annotated archival recordings of his works held at the Sound Archive at the British Library, viewed documents at the BBC’s Written Archives pertaining to radio and television performances, and constructed a discography from commercially-available recordings past and present.

Bantock was also active as an adjudicator for Trinity College of Music, circling the globe twice, and in Australia he met with an eager and appreciative group of people. This led me to contact the Sydney Conservatoire and agencies in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide for information about concerts Bantock conducted there of his own music and of others, and for reviews in Australian newspapers to include in the Bibliography section of the book. He made stops in the States as wellseveral American premieres of his orchestral and choral works were done in Boston, so I needed to track details there, too.

Bantock was tireless. He composed, he often accompanied solo singers on the piano in his own song output, he conducted several regional orchestras in the West Midlands early in his career, he overhauled the curriculum at the Midland Institute, he founded the Music League to organize singing festivals throughout England, he was awarded the M. Arts degree and an honorary Doctor of Music degree, through the efforts of Elgar he was knighted in 1930 for his service to English music, and did I mention he also had a wife, four children and some animals?

As a part-time project my own adventure took several years, mostly summers, outside my own university teaching and orchestral performing duties during the academic year. At the conclusion of my sleuthing I have brought together in one spot a good deal of information to promote performances and study of Bantock’s oeuvre. I hope it encourages more scholarship and publication of works still in manuscript by new Bantock enthusiasts.

For more information on Granville Bantock (1868–1946) visit our website.