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A Recollection of the 1st Performance of The Nottingham Symphony
by Nancy Bush
The Complete Organ Works of Alan Bush
by David Bednall
The Correspondence of Alan Bush and John Ireland, 1927 – 1961
by Rachel O'Higgins
Northumbrian Impressions
by Chris Calver
"Rhapsody in Red" – BBC Radio 4
by Rachel O'Higgins
Recording Alan Bush's Piano Music
by Peter Jacobs
The English Production Of Wat Tyler, June 1974
by Rachel O'Higgins
Alan Bush Remembered
by Roger Steptoe
The Alan Bush Centenary Concerts
by Simon Jenner
Alan Bush
by Martin Anderson
Alan Bush (1900-1995) - 'Time Remembered'
by Michael Jones
More Than a Pleasant Way to Pass the Time?
by Duncan Hall
Alan Bush - An Appreciation
by John Amis
Writing for Music
by Nancy Bush
Alan Bush as a Composition Teacher
by Timothy Bowers
Alan Bush and the English Tradition
by Professor Wilfred Mellers

This piece was first published in British Music, ed. Roger Carpenter, Volume 22, 2000 and was edited for the Alan Bush website by Rachel O'Higgins.

Alan Bush (1900-1995) - 'Time Remembered'
by Michael Jones

Alan Bush's 95 years almost fill the twentieth century, and his many activities - composer pianist, conductor, teacher, orator, writer, political thinker and activist - more than do so. As it is impossible to convey such a many-faceted life in one article this centenary tribute is a personal impression by one of the many musicians who have known him.

Alan Dudley Bush was born in Dulwich on December 22nd 1900, the youngest son of Alfred and Alice Bush. Alan's father was a director of W.J.Bush and Co, a successful company of industrial chemists specializing in oils and essences. His two older brothers, Alfred and Brinsley, were to join their father in the business.

Alan suffered from poor health as a child, as a result of which, he was initially tutored at home by various governesses, but was later able to attend Highgate School as a day boy. During World War I his two brothers saw active service as officers, but Alfred was killed in action on July 31st 1917. Alan himself missed call-up by a few months and so was able to begin his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in 1918.

During his second year at the RAM Alan became friendly with Michael Head, who was also studying composition, and in the spring of 1921 met Michael's sister, Nancy, during lunch at their family home. Nancy was then fourteen, and the meeting was to lead, ten years later, to marriage and a life-long artistic collaboration.

Also in 1921, Alan met John Ireland, with whom he studied composition privately from 1922 to 1927. His piano studies continued meanwhile with Mabel Lander, Benno Moiseiwitsch and Mabel Landor and Artur Schnabel.

During the 1920s Alan formed a violin/piano duo with Florence Lockwood, and we find them in Berlin's Bechstein Hall in 1926 playing his Fantasy for Violin and Piano, op.3 (1923) (the manuscript of which is now lost). In 1928, again at Bechstein Hall, his early String Quartet in A minor, op.4 (1923), for which in 1925 he received a Carnegie Award, and Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello, op.5 (1924) were performed by the Brosa Quartet with the composer. These German connections were part of a process leading to his studies in philosophy and musicology at Humboldt University from 1929 to 1931.

During this period the National Socialist (Nazi) Party under Adolf Hitler was gradually strengthening its influence over German society, gaining total power in 1933. Alan was greatly concerned at the rise of Fascism in Germany, and it was in response to this, as well as meeting like-minded musicians such as Hans Eisler and Ernst Hermann Meyer, that his political awareness and sense of conscience began to emerge, developing into a life-long commitment to Marxism and the Communist Party, the seeds of which were probably sown as far back as 1917, when he learned of the death of his brother Alfred on wartime service during the period leading up to the October Revolution in Russia. Alan was faced with a dilemma: how to reconcile the causes of a war brought about by a capitalist political system with a need to find the means to bring liberating change worthy of an evolving great century, as his Soviet biographer, Boris Kotlyarov, has written:

"Like many other intellectuals of the time Bush had to solve this dilemma in conditions of an acute polarization of public opinion that followed the October Revolution. It deepened the crisis of the capitalist system and at the same time pointed, by its revolutionary example, the existing way out of it. While some intellectuals, frightened by the upsurge of the proletarian struggle, stepped aside from the unpleasant realities taking refuge in an individualistic isolation, others felt it their moral duty to take an active party in forging a new life. In his examen de conscience Bush joined the later, following a radical line that led him eventually to Marxism." [1]

While Alan was studying in Germany, he did not lose contact with London. In 1929 he succeeded Rutland Boughton as musical advisor and conductor of the London Labour Choral Union. In 1935 he joined the Communist Party, and in 1936 he and several friends established the Workers' Music Association, eventually becoming its President in 1941. The WMA and LLCU sought a more public profile from 1934 onwards with a succession of major festivals. Events such as the 'Pageant of Labour' in 1934 and the 'International Co-operative Day' at Wembley Stadium in 1938 gave the public the opportunity to hear many rare works from abroad as well as to give rising British composers such as Britten and Tippett a hearing.

World War II only interrupted Alan's work. In 1940 he was an encouraging figure behind the setting up of the Birmingham Clarion Singers, still in existence today. To this end he was in correspondence with founder-member Katharine Thomson, who herself had been studying in Germany in 1933 and had experienced the rise of Hitler at first hand. This led to visits to Birmingham to direct choir rehearsals, as Elsie Marshall remembers:

"Our choir consisted of 90% working-class people, most of whom had never sung, except in their sing-songs around the piano, songs from 'The Left Song-Book' or escapist pop songs of the day. So you can imagine the impact the visit of Alan Bush made on us. His tall figure, his dark brown beard, which made his grey eyes look very piercing, his unbelievable energy had an electrifying effect on us. Alan was always very keen on impeccable diction, and he worked very hard to get it; we used muscles in our faces we never knew we had, practising b-b-b, k-k-k and rrrrrrrrrh, and every consonant with great gusto. This hard work stood Clarion in good stead, for we have always paid great attention to diction and have something of a reputation for it." [2]

By 1941 Alan was a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps but was able to get leave to conduct important concerts. Wartime was having a strange effect on BBC officialdom at this time, however, as signatories to the People's Convention, which included Alan, were to find out when their music was banned from the airwaves; in Alan's case the intervention of Vaughan Williams, amongst others, rescinded the ban.

After the war Alan's work with the Workers' Music Association continued with the establishment of their Summer Schools. The first had been in 1946 (run by Rutland Boughton), and thereafter Alan was in charge for 31 years. The musical education these courses gave to so many people from all walks of life deserves to be better recognized, and it was certainly the first school of this kind helping amateur musicians to develop under professional guidance of the highest order.

After Alan met Nancy Head in 1921, their friendship blossomed, and they were married at Paddington Registry Office on March 31st 1931. Three daughters were born to them: Rachel in 1932, and twins Catherine and Alice in 1936, although Alice died tragically in a traffic accident in 1944. Their relationship was also an artistic collaboration, which started with Nancy preparing translations of texts for vocal settings. Their first major collaboration was Toulon, for mezzo-soprano, mixed chorus and piano of 1942, but the environment was right for their first full-scale operatic collaboration: Wat Tyler, which received an Arts Council Prize in 1951. As no performances were to ensue, Alan used the prize money to mount a concert performance in London conducted by Bernard Stevens with the composer at the piano. The world premiere production took place at Leipzig Opera House on September 6th 1953 and ran for fourteen performances before another revival took place a year later. The first British production took place at Sadler's Wells in June 1974, but all Alan Bush's operas were destined to be premiered in East Germany.

After Wat Tyler came Men of Blackmoor (Weimar 1956), and The Sugar Reapers (Leipzig 1966), for which Alan and his daughter Rachel journeyed to British Guyana to research the background to the work. For Alan's final opera, Joe Hill (Berlin 1970), the American playwright Barrie Stavis was invited to provide the libretto, because of his stage play about Joe Hill in 1954. At their first meeting Stavis noticed Alan's "alert, interesting eyes - they also seemed to snap intelligence … spoke passionately about Joe Hill… He was frank; he spoke to the point of being importunate. My heart warmed to him. 'Here', I said to myself, 'is my man'". [3]

Alan had been a professor at the Royal Academy of Music since 1925 and a regular examiner for the Associated Board, fulfilling a great many years' service for both institutions. From his teaching experiences he was aware of the need for a modern textbook about Palestrina counterpoint. This was published by Joseph Williams in 1948 as Strict Counterpoint in the Palestrina Style, a Practical Textbook with a foreword by John Ireland. Of his teaching methods Aubrey Bowman has written:

"Stylistic consistency…was an integral part of Alan Bush's approach to the teaching of composition.. This attention to congruity in mode of expression, without loss of individuality, runs like a thread through all the work of the students of Alan's whom I have known." [4]

Derek Watson remembers him as follows:

"But a great teacher does have intangible gifts. If they can be defined, they include the generous quality of patience; the ability to encourage and evoke enthusiasm or (more important) to discourage without inducing disenchantment; the insight to draw forth the particular talents that can be put to best use; the wisdom that knows the value of disciplines, traditions, forms and techniques; and above all the love of sharing the joy of creation. Alan Bush has all these gifts."

Piano works form an important part of Alan's output, and there are a number of works which reflect different aspects of his creative character. Relinquishment in A Flat op.11 (1928) (OUP 1929) is a prime example of Ronald Stevenson's observations: its flowing sinewy, semiquaver figuration sets in motion a dialectical statement of A flat major, going to minor on the next note, the whole piece growing out of this semitonal tension. In 1930 Olivier Messiaen published his early Preludes, and I am struck by the similarity between the sonorities created by him in his block chords, in comparison with similar passages in Relinquishment, though it is unlikely the one composer knew of the other's work. In contrast to the non-programmatic nature of Relinquishment, Le Quartorze Juillet (or Esquisse) op.38 (1943) is more programmatic, containing references to the 'Carmagnole' tune of the French revolution, as is his Corentyne Kwe-Kwe - Toccata, op.76 of 1972, based on an African song commemorating the abolition of slavery in Guyana in 1842.

The piano also forms a large part of his chamber music output. Notable works are the Concert Piece op.17 (1936) for cello and piano, Three Concert Studies op.31 (1947) for piano trio (premiered in 1948) and the Lyric Interlude for Violin Solo with Piano Accompaniment, op.26 (1944), performed by its dedicatee, Max Rostal, friend and champion to Alan and so many British composers. Alan's relationship with the violin goes back a long way: his professional partnership with the violinist Florence Lockwood during the 1920s brought important but still neglected classics to the London concert scene, including sonatas by E.J. Moeran, Goossens, Bloch, Pizzetti and Ireland. There is, however, a very important work without piano, the string quartet Dialectic op.15 (1929), whose first European performance was by the Vegh Quartet at an ISCM Festival in Prague in 1935. This has become on of his most well known examples of his 'thematic method'. As well as conventional forces, Alan enjoyed the challenge of writing for unusual instruments, such as his Two Dances for Cimbalom op.64 (1965) or Compass Points op.83 (1976) for bamboo pipes, or responding to influences from other continents, as in the very fine Three African Sketches for Flute with Piano Accompaniment op.55 (1960).

Of Alan's large-scale works pride of place must go to the four symphonies, of which No. 1 in C op.21 (1940) was premiered at the 1942 Proms and No. 2, the 'Nottingham' op.33 (1949), written to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the city of Nottingham. Symphony No. 3, the 'Byron' op.53, (1960) was premiered in Leipzig in 1962, the year he was awarded the Handel Prize in Halle. Symphony No. 4, the 'Lascaux' op.98 (1983), opens with a beautifully atmospheric passage on strings, as heard in its premiere broadcast in 1986 played by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Edward Downes. Shorter works of importance include Time Remembered op.67 (1968) for chamber orchestra. There are two concertos: the Violin Concerto op.32 (1948) (Joseph Williams 1948) and the Piano Concerto op.18 (1937), which has a male voice choral finale inspired by the example of the Busoni Piano Concerto and setting a text by Randall Swingler. At its broadcast premiere in 1938 the political tone of the text caused the conductor Adrian Boult to cut short the applause by playing the National Anthem! There is also Africa - Symphonic Movement for Piano and Orchestra op.73 of 1972, but the Variations, Nocturne and Finale on an English Sea-Song op.60 (1962) is in effect his second piano concerto.

Alan's vocal works are extensive in number, ranging from seven song cycles (a very important part of his output) to miscellaneous songs and partsongs for the Workers' Music Association, London Labour Choral Union, etc. The song-cycle (or Cantata for Tenor and Piano) 'Voices of the Prophets', op. 41 (1953), first performed by Peter Pears and Noel Mewton-Wood in 1953, sets Isaiah, Milton, Blake and Peter Blackman. Other song-cycles set texts by Sylvia Townsend Warner, Pablo Neruda and Nancy Bush. A particularly interesting cycle is the collaboration with Alan Rawsthorne in what became known as "The Prison Cycle", or more correctly The Swallow Book op.19 (1939), settings of Ernst Toller, the German poet imprisoned in 1920.

Among the choral works special mention must be make of The Winter Journey op. 29 of 1946, for soprano, baritone, chorus, string quartet and harp, which sets a text by Randall Swingler about the Nativity. Bernard Stevens write of this work that "the poignancy of Mary's aria and the vision of the future expressed in the final chorale are of a very rare and special quality, and Swingler's poem is masterly in the manner in which it lifts the Nativity story out of its theological context and into the very heart of the twentieth century human experience". [5] This still very neglected work deserves better recognition than it has received for its directness of expression and beauty of atmosphere. Lidice (1947) for unaccompanied mixed chorus was written in response to the destruction of the Bohemian village of Lidice and murder of its male citizens by the Nazis. It was first performed on the site of the razed village by the WMA singers and the composer for Prague Radio in 1947.

Among the more extended choral works are those written for labour pageants, most notably the Pageant of Labour (Matthew Anderson), first performed at the Crystal Palace in 1934 and conducted jointly by the composer and Michael Tippett. Towards Tomorrow of 1938 set a scenario by Montagu Slater and Andre van Gyseghem, and Music for the People (Randall Swingler) was performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1939.

Alan Bush was elected a member of the East Germany Academy of Arts in 1965. He was awarded a Doctorate from the University of London in 1968, and an honorary doctorate followed from Durham University in 1971. Tributes for his eightieth birthday took the form of celebratory concerts in London and Birmingham; nevertheless he kept himself busy in all other capacities until well into old age, as his 'In my Eighth Decade and Other Essays' (1980) reveals. A great setback was the death of his wife, Nancy, on October 12th 1991, nearly seven months after their sixtieth wedding anniversary.

Alan Bush died in Watford General Hospital on 31st 1995, after a short illness. In 1997 the Alan Bush Music Trust was established by his family to further the cause of Alan's music.

[1] Ronald Stevenson (ed.), Alan Bush - An 80th Birthday Symposium, Bravura Publications, Kidderminster.
[2] Speech by Elsie Marshall, given at the Alan Bush Memorial Concert, Edgebaston, Birmingham, November 30th 1996.
[3] Ronald Stevenson (ed.), Time Remembered, Bravura Publications, Kidderminster.
[4] Ronald Stevenson (ed.), Time Remembered, Bravura Publications, Kidderminster.
[5] Ronald Stevenson (ed.), Time Remembered, Bravura Publications, Kidderminster.