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Thomas Dunhill

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Thomas Frederick Dunhill (1 February 1877 – 13 March 1946) was a prolific English composer in many genres, though he is best known today for his light music and educational piano works. His compositions include much chamber music, a song cycle, The Wind Among the Reeds, and an operetta Tantivy Towers that had a successful London run in 1931. He was also a teacher, examiner and writer on musical subjects.
Dunhill was born in Hampstead, London, the fourth of five children of Henry Dunhill (1842–1901) and his wife Jane, née Styles (1843–1922). Henry Dunhill was a manufacturer of sacks, tarpaulin and ropes; Jane Dunhill ran a small music shop. Their eldest son, Alfred later founded a tobacco company that bears his name. Thomas was educated at the North London High School for Boys, and when the family moved to Kent, at Kent College, Canterbury.
In 1893 Dunhill entered the Royal College of Music studying the piano with Franklin Taylor, counterpoint with James Higgs and W. S. Rockstro, and harmony with Walter Parratt. In 1894 he began studying composition under Charles Villiers Stanford, whose pupil he remained after leaving the college, studying with him until 1901. In 1899 Dunhill was the first winner of the Tagore Gold Medal, awarded to the College's outstanding students.
From 1899 to 1908 Dunhill was assistant music master at Eton. From 1905 he was also on the staff of the Royal College of Music as professor of harmony and counterpoint. He began a career as an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, working in Britain and throughout much of the British Empire.
From 1907 to 1919 Dunhill presented concerts of chamber music in London, featuring the works of British composers. After the first, in June 1907, The Times observed:
A scheme of chamber music concerts, the object of which is to give a second hearing to modern works which are too apt to get laid on the shelf after what is pathetically spoken of as a "successful production," certainly deserves high praise, and, still more, practical support from musical people.
Among the composers featured in the first concerts were James Friskin, Joseph Holbrooke, Cecil Forsyth and William Hurlstone. Later, Dunhill presented works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Charles Wood, Eugene Goossens, Rutland Boughton, J. B. McEwen, Richard Walthew and Nicholas Gatty.
During this period Dunhill was composing orchestral and chamber works, songs and song cycles. His setting of 'Half Close Your Eyelids', first published in The Dome in 1902, is the earliest known song setting of poetry by W. B. Yeats. It was used as the first song in the 1904 Yeats cycle The Wind Among the Reeds, which also includes Dunhill's best known song, 'The Cloths of Heaven'. The cycle was first performed in 1912 (in the orchestral version) by Gervase Elwes at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert conducted by Sir Frederic Cowen. The Times said, "Mr. Dunhill has caught the spirit of Yeats's poems very skilfully, and his music well conveys their quiet, unforced mysticism, their quick turns of humour and the easy flow of the lines. … Mr. Dunhill's setting never seems to miss a point, and never labours one." This period was particularly notable for his chamber music, such as the F minor Quintet for horn and strings, op 6 and the two violin sonatas - the second (of 1916) perhaps his finest work, according to Jeremy Dibble.
In the London musical world Dunhill was a figure of increasing prominence in the years before the First World War. He was invited to address the Musical Association in 1908 on the topic "The evolution of melody"; his remarks were widely reported in the general press. At the outbreak of the war he joined the Artists Rifles and later became a bandsman with the Irish Guards. In 1918 he was appointed a director of the Royal Philharmonic Society; he chaired the board meeting that reformed the constitution of the society after its wartime expedient of effective control by Sir Thomas Beecham.
One of the composers whom Dunhill greatly admired was Arthur Sullivan. He generally avoided Sullivan's influence in his own music, but his 1928 study of Sullivan's music broke new ground: there had been many biographies and memoirs, but Dunhill's was the first book by a practising musician to analyse the music. In addition to the 1928 book, Dunhill arranged 15 piano albums of music from all 14 Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
In 1931 Dunhill's music came to a wider public with the comic opera Tantivy Towers to a libretto by A. P. Herbert. It ran at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith and then at the New Theatre, London for more than 180 performances. It was revived in 1935 with Maggie Teyte and Steuart Wilson in the leading roles. The opera humorously contrasted modern Chelsea artistic types with the traditional philistine county set. Dunhill was widely thought to have succeeded more with the music for the latter than for the former, and was criticised for avoiding any hint of jazz in his Chelsea music.
Dunhill was a stalwart of organisations dedicated to the welfare of his fellow musicians: these included the Performing Right Society and the Musicians' Benevolent Fund. He was a director of the Royal Philharmonic Society and Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of London. He was in steady demand as musical examiner, lecturer, and adjudicator, and returned to teaching, first at the Royal College, taking the chamber music class, and later at Eton, where he returned during the Second World War.
As a composer, Dunhill's later works included: Four Original Pieces for organ, Op. 101 (1916); Elegiac Variations on an Original Theme (1919–20) written in memory of Hubert Parry and first performed at the Gloucester Festival in 1922; the suite for strings In Rural England (1929); the ballet Gallimaufry, premiered in Hamburg in 1937; Triptych for viola and orchestra (1942); and the overture May Time (1945) premiered at the Proms conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. The Times called the last "a popular and unpretentious overture which makes its way cheerfully enough and cleverly draws on the true vitality of a Morris and one of Morley's best tunes. His most substantial orchestral piece was the Symphony in A minor, composed several years earlier, but first performed in Belgrade on 28 December 1922. His one-act opera The Enchanted Garden, Op. 65 was published as part of the Carnegie Collection of British Music series in 1925.
At a time when Elgar's music was out of fashion, Dunhill was a strong advocate for it. His 1938 book about the composer combined biography and musical analysis. The Times Literary Supplement praised Dunhill for his accessible analysis and for "a portrait drawn by one who knew and loved him well."
Among the honours given to Dunhill were the Cobbett Chamber Music Medal (1924), of which he was the first recipient, an honorary doctorate from Durham University (1940) and honorary fellowships of the Royal Academy of Music (1938) and the Royal College of Music (1942).
In 1914, Dunhill married Mary Penrose Arnold, the great-niece of Matthew Arnold, and the great-granddaughter of Thomas Arnold. The marriage took place at St Luke's Church in Chelsea, where John Ireland was the resident organist and chorus master. There were two sons and a daughter of the marriage. The couple lived at 74, Lansdowne Road in Notting Hill Gate until 1924, when they moved to Guildford. Mary Dunhill died in October 1929, after which Dunhill returned to London, living at 27, Platts Lane in Hampstead for the last years of his life. In 1942 Dunhill married Isabella Simpson Featonby. He died at his mother-in-law's house in Scunthorpe, aged 69. His son David Dunhill (1917-2005) became a well-known BBC radio announcer who wrote a memoir of his father in 1997.
Chamber and Instrumental
Songs and vocal
Opera and theatre