Ask most moderately knowledgeable
classical music lovers to name some British composers who wrote
symphonies and you will encounter many blank stares. A few would
undoubtedly come up with Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton and
Britten as these are the British composers whose names they
have heard. Record collectors will probably be aware of some
further names unless they are strictly performer rather than
composer oriented. Even the most exploratory type of collector
would have trouble guessing that symphonies by more than 210
composers from the British Isles and the Commonwealth have been
represented on long-playing records and compact discs since
the middle of the twentieth century. It is the purpose of this
work to document this vast output of recordings and to serve
as a reference work for further study by others. Another tangential
purpose is to survey the production of symphonies in the stated
time frame and to show the continuity between the generations
of composers as a result of their education by their predecessors.
The composers included in this discography are those born in
or who came to live in the United Kingdom, The Republic of Ireland,
Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Geography is
the only determining factor for inclusion as there is no attempt
here to argue for the existence of any so-called "British"
symphonic style identity that would cover such a vast range
A chronological structure has been used in order to show the
progression of symphonic works from the early nineteenth century
up to our own time. This chronology is based on the birth year
of the composer rather than the year a symphony was written.
A composer index is placed first so the reader can immediately
go to any particular composer.
The entry for each composer consists of two sections. First
there is a compact biographical paragraph that notes some essential
information such as place of birth, higher musical education
(including schools and prominent teachers), subsequent musical
careers in addition to composing, details of other symphonies
that have not been recorded and selective lists of other works
for orchestra. If the composers’ teachers who are mentioned
were or are also British or Commonwealth symphonists and do
not have their own entry in this book their dates and number
of symphonies written will be noted in parentheses. Compositional
styles are not discussed in these paragraphs and readers are
referred to the bibliography where various reference books that
cover this subject are listed.
The second part of each composer entry consists of lists of
his or her symphonies that have been recorded and the various
recordings of each work. Symphony is defined here as any work
the composer has designated as such in its title including works
called "sinfonia" or "sinfonietta." The
works can be for full orchestra, chamber orchestra, strings,
winds, brass or chorus and orchestra. For every symphony that
has them, the opus number, key signature and title are noted
and the year of composition is stated for all. The entries of
the symphonies that have had multiple recordings are listed
alphabetically by the conductor’s name. Each listing of a recording
consists of the following components (if known): (1) Performers
(in this order if all are involved - conductor, soloists, choral
group, orchestra), (2) Other works on the recording. If one
of the couplings is a major concerto the soloist is listed,
(3) Label and catalogue number and year of issue and (4) If
the recording is a reissue, the original LP or CD release and
its year of issue.
The author has endeavored to list every recording of every symphony
written by a British or Commonwealth composer that has been
published since the advent of the long-playing record in 1948.
However, the following points should be kept in mind. The research
was limited to sources in the English-speaking world. There
has been no attempt to delve into the record catalogues of France,
Germany or any other country that may have possibly produced
an original recording of one of the covered symphonies that
did not appear in British or American catalogues. Also, there
has been no attempt to list every reissue of every recording.
Some recordings, especially those made by the so-called "major
labels," have been reissued so often, first on records
then on compact discs, that the author has tried to confine
the listings basically to only the most current and the original
releases of each recording. Likewise, there has been no attempt
to indicate whether recordings are mono or stereo (or any other
audio system) or to comment about availability. Furthermore,
as the focus of this book is British, the catalogue numbers
identify British releases in the vast majority of instances.
Finally, there is a strong certainty on the author’s part that
a number of recordings have been missed. With the multiple thousands
of recordings that have been issued over the past sixty years
and the evanescence of so many of them one cannot but help reaching
Nearly all of the recordings listed in this book are commercial
issues that anyone could purchase if they happened to be around at the right time. However, also included
here are a number of non-commercial or private LPs that were
issued by governmental broadcasting organizations or music publishers
that were not available to the general public. However, these
types of recordings can be found in libraries and do turn up
for sale at times so their existence ought to be documented.
In addition there are a number of unauthorized or "pirate"
LPs and CDs found in these pages. They were widely distributed
and found their way into many collections and were in many instances
the only available recording of a particular work. These recordings
were issued with either the actual or pseudonymous names of
performers. The symbol ▼ is used here to designate this
type of recording.
The Symphony arrived in the British
Isles in the eighteenth century. The immigrant German composers
Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787) and Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
were very crucial in its development as they not only wrote
symphonies themselves but also established in 1765 a series
of subscription concerts in London that brought the music of
the Continent’s leading composers to the ears of British audiences.
The native composers in this period had already begun writing
symphonies that were derived from the Italian-style overture-symphony
that was characterized by a short length, three movements and,
usually, material derived from other sources. The 4 Symphonies
of Thomas Arne (1710-1778) and the 8 of William Boyce (1711-1779)
are the most famous British examples of this type of composition
and they have been recorded several times. With the advent of
Haydn, Mozart and then Beethoven at the end of the century,
the symphony was changed into the grander conception that carried
it to its place at the pinnacle of orchestral music composition.
The composer listings in this book begin with the dawn of the
nineteenth century when the new type of symphony began to be
written by British composers. Samuel Wesley, the first composer
listed was still basically influenced by the earlier style as
exemplified by Abel and Bach but with Cipriani Potter the sound
of the new wave from Vienna is evident. For the remainder of
the nineteenth century British composers of symphonies would
continue to use their counterparts in Germany and Austria as
their models. Beethoven and his successors Schubert, Schumann,
Mendelssohn and Brahms are never far away from the musical language
of British symphonic scores. The twentieth century brought about
a plethora of new influences such as the folk song revival,
the influence of impressionism, Sibelius, the Second Viennese
School, neo-classicism and modernism in general and all of these
would be reflected in the symphonic output of the British Isles
and its overseas Dominions. As the last pages of the composer
listings should indicate, the symphonic form is alive and well
in our subject countries and, hopefully, will continue to be
so for the foreseeable future.
It should be very clear from the
pages that follow that the symphony as written by British and
Commonwealth composers has been well documented on recordings.
This is especially true for composers who lived or live in the
United Kingdom itself. Over the years and particularly since
the advent of the compact disc more and more previously unrecorded
symphonies have become available. Many composers whose names
and works used to exist only in reference books and footnotes
are now being heard after many years of dormancy. The British
record industry deserves special commendation for this situation
as it has continually kept the collector well supplied with
symphonic novelties to explore. These pioneering recording efforts
have been aided by subsidies from governmental agencies, regional
arts councils, composers’ trusts and societies and private companies.
In the early LP era the major labels EMI and Decca led the way
with their championship of Elgar and Vaughan Williams and some
forays into more unknown regions. Over the last three decades,
however, these types of projects have increasingly found their
homes on independent British labels such as Lyrita, Chandos,
Hyperion, NMC, Dutton Vocalion, Toccata Classics and ASV. Hong
Kong based Naxos, now the world’s biggest producer of classical
CDs, has also become a major source for original recordings
of unusual British repertoire on both its Marco Polo and bargain-priced
Of course collectors can never be totally satisfied and always
hope that further treasures will come their way. Anyone who
has followed this particular musical area has their own list
of symphonies that they would love to see recorded. From having
heard many unrecorded British symphonies from tapes of BBC broadcasts
and also from extensive reading, the author has the following
symphonists on his personal wish list: Arthur Somervell (1863-1937),
Ina Boyle (1889-1967), William Baines (1899-1922), John Veale
(1922-2006), Christopher Steel (1938-1991) and Derek Bourgeois
Let us now proceed away from the realm of wish fulfillment and
examine the vast riches that have over the years made the composers
of the British Isles and the Commonwealth among the best represented
symphonists on recordings (if not in the concert hall) in the
Michael Herman July 2007
***** n.b. Any recording that is not designated as an LP is
As this work will be updated from time to time, the author invites
anyone with corrections or information about other recordings
that may have been overlooked to contact him at:
I would like to thank the following people for their help in
the preparation of this book: Rob Barnett at MusicWeb International,
Linda Kirkpatrick at the Australian Music Centre, Martin Anderson,
Jürgen Schaarwächter, Matthew Taylor, John Metcalf,
Paul Snook and Mrs. Margaret Wilson.
(Entries are arranged by birth date)
SOURCES OF INFORMATION (1) BOOKS
Callaway, Frank and David Tunley (eds). Australian Composition
in the Twentieth Century. Melbourne: Oxford University Press,
Catalogue of Canadian Music
for Orchestra. Toronto: Canadian Music Centre, 1976.
Clough, Francis F. and C.J. Cuming. The World’s Encyclopedia
of Recorded Music (including Supplements) in 3 vols. London:
Sidgwick and Jackson, 1952-57.
The New Grove Dictionary of
Music and Musicians, 2d ed., in 29 vols., edited by Stanley
Sadie and John Tyrrell. New York: Grove, 2001.
Howes, Frank. The English Musical
Renaissance. New York: Stein and Day, 1966.
Hughes, Meiron and Robert Stradling. The English Musical Renaisance 1840-1940: Constructing a
National Music, 2nd edition. Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 2001.
Kallmann, Helmut, Gilles Potvin
and Kenneth Winters (eds). Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981.
Layton, Robert (ed.). A Guide
to the Symphony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Leach, Gerald. British Composer
Profiles: A biographical dictionary and chronology of past British
composers 1800-1989, 2nd edition. Gerrards Cross,
England: British Music Society, 1989.
Pirie, Peter J. The English
Musical Renaissance: Twentieth century English composers &
their works. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1978.
Poulton, Alan J. A Label Discography
of Long-Playing Records, 3 vols. Blandford, England: The
Oakwood Press, 1975.
Sadie, Julie Anne and Rhian Samuel
(eds). The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers. New
York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1995.
Simpson, Robert. The Symphony, 2 vols. New York: Drake Publishers, 1972.
Slonimsky, Nicolas. Baker’s
Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 8th edition.
New York: Schirmer Books, 1992.
Slonimsky, Nicolas. Baker’s
Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical
Musicians (edited by Laura Kuhn). New York: Schirmer Books,
Thompson, Oscar (ed). The International
Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, updated 11th edition. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1985.
(2) RECORD CATALOGS Gramophone Classical Record Catalogue (retitled: Gramophone
Classical Catalogue) (1953-1996) Gramophone Compact Disc Catalogue (1983-1990) Schwann Long Playing Record Catalog (retitled: Schwann
1 – Record and Tape Guide and Schwann Opus) (1949-2001)
Many contemporary composers have their own websites and others
can be found on the websites of their publishers. There are
also websites for earlier composers that are maintained by societies
that promote their music. These can be found by typing the composer’s
name into any search engine.