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Edgar Bainton

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Edgar Leslie Bainton (14 February 1880 – 8 December 1956) was a British-born, latterly Australian-resident composer. He is remembered today mainly for his liturgical anthem And I saw a new heaven, a popular work in the repertoire of Anglican church music, but during recent years Bainton's other musical works, neglected for decades, have been increasingly often heard on CD.
Bainton was born in Hackney, London, the son of George Bainton, a Congregational minister, and his wife, Mary, née Cave. Bainton later moved with his family to Coventry and he showed early signs of musical ability playing the piano; he was nine years old when he made his first public appearance as solo pianist. He was awarded a music scholarship to King Henry VIII Grammar School in Coventry in 1891, and in 1896 he won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music to study theory with Walford Davies. In 1899 he received a scholarship to study composition with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. At college he became friends with George Dyson, William Harris and especially Rutland Boughton, whose friendship and support continued throughout Bainton's career. Bainton kept a notebook listing nearly all his compositions, the first entry being his first known surviving work, Prelude and Fugue in B minor for piano, written in 1898.
In 1901 Bainton became piano professor at the Newcastle upon Tyne Conservatory of Music. He became involved in the local musical scene, composing, playing and conducting and in 1905, he married a former student, Ethel Eales, with whom he had two daughters. He became the Principal of the Conservatory in 1912, and acquired property for its expansion. The family lived at Stocksfield, near Hexham. Bainton would take long country walks, frequently accompanied by Wilfred Gibson, who introduced Bainton into the literary circle surrounding Gordon Bottomley. Bainton set many of Bottomley's poems and wrote an opera to one of his lyric dramas. He introduced his local area to previously unknown works by Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Arnold Bax, among others. He developed friendships with poet Elliott Dodds and cathedral organist William Ellis.
In the summer of 1914 Bainton visited Germany to attend the Bayreuth Festival, but was arrested after war broke out. As a male enemy alien of military age he was sent to the civilian detention camp at Ruhleben, near Berlin, where he remained for the next four years. Bainton was put in charge of all the music at the camp and became acquainted with Ernest MacMillan, Edward Clark and Arthur Benjamin, among other later successful musicians. He maintained many of these friendships throughout his career. In March 1918 his health deteriorated and he was sent to The Hague to recuperate. Following the Armistice, he became the first Englishman to conduct the Concertgebouw Orchestra, in two concerts of British music before returning to England.
Bainton's life returned to normal and he resumed work at the Conservatory. His choral works became features of the Three Choirs Festivals. Touring Australia and Canada from April 1930 to January 1931, he took a break from composing, and from August to December 1932 he visited India, giving a piano recital for the Indian Broadcasting Company. The poet and musician Rabindranath Tagore made him a guest in Calcutta and introduced him to Indian music. In 1933, Sir Edward Bairstow awarded him an honorary Doctor of Music at Durham University.
The New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music was impressed by his display of skills in 1930, and offered him the directorship in the summer of 1933. Accordingly, in 1934 Bainton and his family started a new life in Australia.
Bainton conducted the choral and orchestral classes at the Conservatorium, and founded the Opera School. At the Conservatorium he taught Australian composers including Miriam Hyde. Expatriate Australian composer Vincent Plush (b. 1950) writes that when Arnold Schoenberg applied for the position of teacher of harmony and theory at the Sydney Conservatorium in 1934, Bainton turned down the application on the grounds of "modernist ideas and dangerous tendencies." An anonymous colleague of Bainton's allegedly remarked that Schoenberg was Jewish.
Coinciding with Bainton's arrival in Sydney were moves to form a permanent professional orchestra for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which occasionally went under the name of the New South Wales Symphony Orchestra. It was later renamed the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Bainton conducted that ensemble's inaugural concert in 1934.
He introduced music previously unheard in Australia, such as Elgar's Symphony No. 2 in 1934; Bax's Third Symphony; and works by Debussy, Sibelius, Delius, and Walton, among others. In 1944, the premiere production by the Conservatorium Opera School of Bainton's opera The Pearl Tree received acclaim from the press and public alike. An additional night's performance was given due to demand, and on this latter occasion a bust of Bainton was unveiled in the foyer.
Australia then had a mandatory retirement age of 65, but Bainton continued to conduct (temporarily with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra), and gave lecture tours in Canada. In 1956, a heart attack severely affected his health, and on 8 December he died at Point Piper in Sydney. His wife had predeceased him by only a few months.
Some of Bainton's music, both chamber and orchestral, has been recorded in recent years on the Chandos record label and on Dutton Epoch. Previously his work was almost completely neglected in the record or broadcast medium.