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Frederic Austin

Frederic Austin was born on 30 March 1872 in London (England). At the age of 12 Frederic Austin was sent to his uncle in Birkenhead who taught him organ and music and where he received singing lessons by Charles Lunn. He later studied music at Durham University and then became organist at several churches in Birkenhead as well as a teacher for harmony and composition at the Liverpool College for Music. One of his notable students of this time was conductor Thomas Beecham.

In Liverpool Frederic Austin also met the fellow composer Cyril Scott and became part of an illustrious circle of composers with Balfour Gardiner, Roger Quilter, Percy Grainger, Eugene Goossens, Arnold Bax and Fredrick Delius. In 1900 he completed his first orchestral composition - the concert ouverture "Richard II" - which was premiered a year later. But Frederic Austin began more and more to focus on a singing career and in 1906 finally quit his teaching position. In the next 15 years Frederic Austin built an impressive singing career with the English premiere of Frederick Delius' "Sea Drift", the world premieres of Havergal Brian's "By the Waters of Babylon" and Granville Bantock's "Omar Khayyam Part III" or the premiere of the English version of "Elektra" by Richard Strauss. The composers Roger Quilter and Cyril Scott dedicated compositions to him, and he sang on several occasions under the baton of Edward Elgar as well as songs by Arnold Schoenberg in the presence of the composer.

Beside his singing Frederic Austin also composed music which was performed regularly. That included his Symphony in E minor, the orchestral rhapsody "Spring" or his "Three Songs of Unrest". But after his formal retirement from singing in 1920 Frederick Austin put all his energy into the field of composing. His most famous output is the restoration of "The Beggar's Opera", originally written by John Gay and set to music by Johann Christoph Pepusch in 1728. The production opened at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith in 1920 and ran for a record number of 1463 performances until 1923. Austin took part of the play and appeared as Peachum. The entire venture received universal acclaim and was performed world wide.
In 1922 Frederic Austin became Artistic Director of the British National Opera Company and in 1923 was elected a member of the Royal Philharmonic Society and appointed one of its Honorary Members in 1951. He continued to compose theatre incidental music, notably for "The Knight of the Burning Pestle" , "The Insect Play", John Drinkwater's "Robert Burns" or "Prudence".
Frederic Austin died on 10 April 1952 in London (England).


Among the compositions by Frederic Austin are the famous arrangement of "The Beggar's Opera" and its sequel "Polly", originally by John Gay and Johann Christoph Pepusch. But also the most popular version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" which he arranged in 1909. Also a symphony, several orchestral compositions, incidental music, a piano concertino, a cello sonata, piano pieces, choral works and many songs.

[Birth melody]


In my possession is the autograph manuscript of a tiny composition for violin and piano by Frederic Austin. The composition was composed on 26 July 1929, the day Daisy Drinkwater, wife of playwright John Drinkwater, gave birth to Penelope Ann Drinkwater. The composition bears no title, only the dedication: "Greeting for the new-born daughter of a poet and a musician".

John Drinkwater was a close friend of Frederic Austin and he composed for example the incidental music to Drinkwater's play "Robert Burns" and set the "Song for the City of Oxford School" to music. John Drinkwater was married to Daisy Kennedy, an Australian violinist and the ex-wife of pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch.

The manuscript was bound privately by John Drinkwater and shows his book plate. Frederic Austin gave no title to the composition, but to speak about a composition it is necessary to have a name for it. For that reason I decided to name the composition [birth melody] which I write in brackets to show that it is not original.

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