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Arthur Somervell

Arthur Somervell was born on 5 June 1863 in Windermere (England) and was the son of a wealthy shoe manufacturer. He first studied music at the King's College in Cambridge under Charles Villiers Stanford. Then he continued his studies for two years at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin under Friedrich Kiel and Woldemar Bargiel and finally completed them at the Royal College of Music under Hubert Parry.

After his studies Arthur Somervell earned his living as lecturer at the Royal College of Music, but mainly worked as a composer. In the decade of the 1890s Somervell composed highly acclaimed works like his "Mass in C minor", the "Songs of the Four Nations", the song cycle "Maud", the cantata "Power of Sound" or the orchestral work "Helen of Kirkconnell".


In 1901 Somervell became inspector of music for the Board of Education. This new position - which he fulfilled until his retirement in 1928 - required most of Somervell's time and energy and so the number of compositions decreased considerably. But the work for the Board of Education was important and successful and in 1929 Arthur Somervell was knighted for his merits.

But without the ongoing promotion of his own works and new compositions for concert the compositions by Arthur Somervell fell more and more into oblivion already during his lifetime. After his retirement Somervell focussed on composing again - creating a large Violin concerto for example - but could never reestablish the success of his early years.
Arthur Somervell died on 2 May 1937 in London (England).


Today Arthur Somervell is best known for his song cycles and he is considered the most influential English art song composer of the turn of the century together with Hubert Parry. Important song cycles include "Maud", "Shropshire Lad", "Love in Springtime" or "A Broken Arc". But he also composed some operettas, the "Thalassa symphony", a Violin concerto, "Normandy" for piano and orchestra, a quintet for clarinet and strings, piano music, songs and choral music like "The passion of Christ", 2 masses, "Power of Sound", "To the Vanguard" or "Song of Praise".

In addition he wrote several educational books, among them a large output on sight-reading.


In my possession is the autograph manuscript of the first of the "Two conversations about Bach, for 2 violins and piano". The work was composed in 1915 and is dedicated to the two violinists Adela Fachiri and Jelly d'Aranyi. The work was published in 1924 by Joseph Williams and my manuscript has a dedication on the title page referring to this event: "To my dear fried A. M. Henderson, whose persistance contributed largely to the dissipation of the publishers' samples. / A.S. / Oct 1924". So it was given to Archibald Martin Henderson (1879-1957), a pianist and organist, student of Scharwenka and Cortot and best rememberred for his publications of little known English piano music.

I compared my manuscript with the publication by Joseph Williams in 1924 and - curiously - they both differ in quite a lot of details! For that reason I decided to typeset the manuscript in its exact writing and present it here for research purposes:

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