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The National Trust at 125 – Honouring British Composers

The National Trust was founded on the 12th January 1895 by Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley. As the Trust reaches its 125th birthday, we share its celebration of famous British composers and the work it does to inspire a new generation.

Octavia Hill

Leith Hill Place – Ralph Vaughan Williams

Leith Hill Place in Surrey was the home of Ralph Vaughan Williams from the age of two until he was 20, when he went to study at Cambridge. He arrived at Leith Hill Place with his mother after the death of his father, when they moved to live with his mother’s parents. His early music education came from his aunt Sophy who taught him piano. He also learnt violin, viola and organ. After schooling at Charterhouse, he went to the Royal College of Music and then to the University of Cambridge.

Ralph had a passion for bringing music into people’s lives. In 1905 he helped his sister, Margaret Vaughan Williams and Lady Evangeline Farrer to start the Leith Hill Music Festival, an annual competition for amateur choirs. He remained as Festival Conductor for nearly fifty years and the Festival continues to thrive.

Leith Hill Place has been in the hands of the National Trust since 1945. Set in beautiful countryside, the house celebrates the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams with a timeline of his life. At the house you can also see Ralph’s piano on which he composed works such as Lark Ascending and his Symphonies 1-9. The piano, which remained in the family, has now been restrung and fitted with a new tuning plank so it can be played. On the second floor of the house is an audio guided tour of Ralph’s life and music.

Leith Hill Place is also notable for it’s links to other members of Ralph’s family. His grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood III (of the ceramics company) and his grandmother was Caroline Darwin, sister of Charles Darwin. Charles Darwin conducted experiments in the grounds of the house.

The Firs – Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar was born on 2nd June 1857 in The Firs in Broadheath, an early 19th Century Worcestershire cottage. At the time, his father, a musician, was a piano tuner, church organist and amateur violinist, his mother was a farmer’s daughter who wanted her children to grow up in the country.

Although Elgar was only two years’ old when the family left The Firs, his mother often sent him and his siblings back to Broadheath for summer holidays, when they would stay on a farm. This developed Elgar’s lifelong love of the area which led to his request on receiving his Baronetcy for the title ‘Baron Elgar of Broadheath’.

In 1934, before his death, Elgar confided to his daughter Carice that he wanted to be remembered in Broadheath, and so in 1935, Carice with the help of Alderman Hubert Leicester, persuaded the corporation of Worcester to purchase the cottage. She also requested that all memorabilia relating to Elgar be returned to the cottage.

The Firs continues to celebrate the life and work of Elgar through maintaining artefacts, talks and concerts. A key part of the National Trust’s work is to help visitors to appreciate the area that so influenced Elgar with a series of walks around the Worcestershire countryside.

575 Wandsworth Road – Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian

In 2015, the National Trust and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) developed a composer in residence project. Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, an LSO Soundhub associate, created works inspired by 575 Wandsworth Road, London. The house was owned by late Kenyan-born poet, novelist, philosopher of mathematics and British civil servant, Khadambi Asalache, and was acquired by the National Trust in 2010.

Asalache bought the house in 1981 and turned it into a work of art. The project started when he fixed pine floorboards to a damp wall and he went on embellish walls, ceilings and doors with handcarved fretwork patterns and motifs .

Horrocks-Hopayian took part in a two year residency, working with LSO musicians to interpret the history of the house and the work of Asalche. Her first composition from the projects combined a recording of Khadambi Asalache’s thumb piano with extracts from his poems.

Alongside her composition work, Horrocks-Hopayian work with the local community such as the Festival Chorus Wandsworth, work which further inspired her compositions.

Michael Price – Tender Symmetry

In 2018, Michael Price released his work Tender Symmetry, in answer to National Trust locations across England. The works were both informed by and recorded in spaces such as of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire to the Fan Bay World War II shelter, in the chalk cliffs of Dover.

Michael Price explains: “For Tender Symmetry, I stopped admiring and started participating in these buildings. This began as an exploration of writing and recording out in the world beyond the studio. I am interested in where we build our homes in an increasingly virtual world and the spirit of place we feel as we walk our local streets, our schools, temples and public spaces…Taking inspiration from a place, and the stories it told, then going back to that place to record, sometimes in less than ideal conditions, made the two-year adventure much more like shooting a film than making a record.”

Fountains Abbey

The locations for Tender Symmetry are:

  • Speke Hall, Liverpool, Merseyside – a Tudor manor house on the banks of the Mersey, restored in the 19th century, so combining both Tudor and Arts and Crafts features
  • Quarry Bank, Cheshire – a great industrial heritage site, containing an 18th century working mill and the homes of a complete working community
  • Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire – the largest monastic ruins in the country, founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York
  • 2 Willow Road, London – an innovative and influential Modernist home, designed in 1939 by architect Ernö Goldfinger for himself and his family
  • Sandham Memorial Chapel, Hampshire – a world famous chapel which houses an epic series of large-scale paintings, by acclaimed war artist Sir Stanley Spencer
  • Fan Bay Deep Shelter, Kent – a tunnel complex constructed inside the White Cliffs of Dover in  1940/41 as accommodation for the gun battery above
  • All Hallows, Gospel Oak – the only location not owned by the National Trust, where Shade Of Dreams was recorded.
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