Alfred Cheesman, c. 1935.
Gerald Finzi, 1925
“F. W.” Harvey, c. 1922.
Herbert Howells, c. 1920.
Articles Coming Soon:
The Chapman family
Alfred Cheesman (1864-1941)
Howard Ferguson (1908-1999)
Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
John W. Haines (1876-1960)
Frederick William “Willy” “Will” “F. W.” Harvey (1888-1957)
Herbert “Howler” Howells (1892-1983)
Sir Charles Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
Sydney Shimmin (1891-1968)
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
By Pamela Blevins, © 2000
In 1934 while Ivor Gurney was languishing in the City of London Mental
Hospital, the music of his friend Arthur Benjamin was thrilling British
film audiences who flocked to see Alfred Hitchcock’s spy mystery The
Man Who Knew Too Much.(Footnote *1)
had composed a dramatic Storm Clouds Cantata for a
scene in the Royal Albert Hall during which the heroine of the film
stop an assassin from shooting a visiting foreign statesman. The
assassin has memorized the music by listening to a recording and waits
patiently for the thunderous climax of cymbals which will muffle the
of his gun. But the heroine, in desperation, screams just at the
moment when the cymbals crash. The prime minister is distracted
her scream and the assassin’s bullet only wounds him. For Gurney,
who enjoyed a good mystery, the film and the success of his friend’s
would have been events to celebrate had circumstances been different
Arthur Benjamin had once been one of Gurney’s closest friends, a man he trusted enough during his college years to call him his “confidant”. The two composers met in 1912 when Benjamin won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music along with Gurney’s good friend Herbert Howells. Benjamin was a sophisticated and attractive young man, an experienced traveler, adept at foreign languages, an engaging conversationalist, financially well-off, living comfortably in pleasant lodgings in Bayswater, and eager to become part London social scene. The three students became close friends often attending concerts together, discussing music and literature and socializing at cafés where artists and writers gathered.
Benjamin was born in Sydney, Australia on September 18, 1893, but spent his formative years in Brisbane, where he studied at the Brisbane Grammar School. He was hailed as a child prodigy and a brilliant pianist blessed with perfect pitch. His gifts had come to the attention of teacher and composer Thomas Dunhill who had met Benjamin during a visit to Australia and encouraged the boy to study in England.(*2) In 1911, he left Australia on the long journey to London to study composition with Charles Villiers Stanford, piano with Frederic Cliffe, whose wife was related to Benjamin’s father, and harmony and counterpoint with Dunhill. Benjamin pursued his studies with diligence and completed the prescribed five year course in two years. He was in demand as a chamber performer, and, in 1914, was the soloist in Herbert Howell’s Piano Concerto in C minor in the Queen’s Hall with Charles Stanford conducting. Thanks to Dunhill, several of Benjamin’s early compositions were published.
At the outbreak of World War I, Benjamin enlisted in the infantry but later transferred to the air corps, becoming a gunner with the Royal Flying Corps. In August 1918, he was shot down over Germany and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp writing music. After the war he returned to Australia as Professor of Pianoforte at New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, but remained there only two years. He missed the cosmopolitan atmosphere of London and returned in 1921 to concentrate on his performing career. He spent four years practicing and preparing and, in 1925, made his first post-war concert appearance with Sir Henry Wood. He toured extensively in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia.
In 1924, his Pastoral Fantasy for string quartet had won the Carnegie Award and in 1926, he became a teacher of piano at the RCM, where his students included Benjamin Britten, and fellow Australians Peggy Glanville-Hicks and Miriam Hyde. He came into prominence as a composer in 1932 with his concerto for violin and comic opera The Devil Take Her.(*3)
By 1930, talking films had created a new industry in England — film music — and Arthur Benjamin was among the pioneers in this fledgling art form. He had been approached by Muir Mathieson, who was music director of the London Films studio, to compose the score of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), a lavish production starring Leslie Howard. Mathieson had been a student of Benjamin’s at the RCM. The same year, Benjamin composed the score for The Man Who Knew Too Much. The London Symphony Orchestra with a chorus, conducted by H. Wynn Reeves performed the cantata before a live audience of extras gathered at the Albert Hall. The performance was recorded during the filming and so it could be played back for editors to match the scenes to the music. During the 1930s, Benjamin composed music for ten films.(*4)
In 1938, he resigned his position at the RCM and emigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, where he taught and gave radio talks for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which had become a forum for the composition and performance of music by Canadian composers. After war broke out in Europe, Benjamin, a non-practicing Jew, decided to remain in Canada and sent for his elderly mother to join him. In 1941, he was appointed conductor of the CBC Symphony Orchestra and promptly challenged conventional approaches to orchestral programming. He established the popular Vancouver Sun Promenade Symphony Concerts.
Benjamin was highly regarded as a teacher and was particularly influential in the work of Jean Coulthard, who, in 1998, still had vivid memories of her teacher. “From virtually the moment of his arrival, Arthur Benjamin began to perform new music — both international and home grown. He organized the now famous ‘Proms Concerts’ of Vancouver and did his utmost to stimulate young composers...” and she credited him with infusing her with the self-confidence she needed to tackle large scale works.
In 1944-45, Benjamin was a popular lecturer at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. “His vast array of knowledge on every conceivable subject, his scholarly yet every-day approach to pedagogy, his keyboard dexterity, his mature and warm interpretative ability — these are all molded into one whole, resulting in an instructor who is completely admired and who commands the utmost in respect,” wrote a reporter for the college newspaper in 1945.
Benjamin returned to England in the mid-1940s and resumed teaching at the RCM where he remained until 1953. He returned to composing film music and between 1947 and 1957 produced nine scores. In 1949, he composed his grand opera A Tale of Two Cities. Benjamin’s largest commercial success was his 1938 composition Jamaican Rumba, which enjoyed numerous recordings and is still available today.
Arthur Benjamin died in London on April 10, 1960. His music manuscripts are housed at the British Library.
1. The music appeared
in Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of the film starring Doris Day and James
In this version the music is listed variously as “Cantata Storm Clouds”
on a sign in front of the
Royal Albert Hall but appears in the credits as “Storm Cloud” cantata. In that later version, the American-born composer and conductor Bernard Herrmann conducts the performance on screen and the music is played through without interruption until it is almost completed. The Storm Clouds Cantata has been recorded and is available on CD (details to come). [Go back to text.]
2. Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946) was a close friend of Marion Scott and played a key role in securing the publication of Gurney’s first poetry collection Severn and Somme. [Go back to text.]
3. Benjamin’s 1935 Romantic Fantasy for Violin and Viola was recorded by Jascha Heifetz and William Primrose in 1945 but not issued until 1965 on the RCA label. [Go back to text.]
4. In the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, the cantata was conducted by Bernard Herrmann and Benjamin’s name appears briefly in the film on a poster outside the Albert Hall announcing the performance. [Go back to text.]
Annie Nelson Drummond McKay
By Pamela Blevins, © 2000
V.A.D. Nurse Annie Nelson Drummond (Footnote *1)
towards the end of September 1917 at the Edinburgh War Hospital
where he was sent after he was gassed at St. Julien. Gurney fell
in love with Nurse Drummond and they carried on a romance that ended
in March 1918. Gurney continued to try to maintain contact with
after the war and during the 1920s when he was a patient at the City of
London Mental Hospital. But she never responded. By then,
was living in Wellesley, Massachusetts, happily married and the mother
of a son.
Until recently, little was known about Annie Drummond, the woman Gurney dreamed of getting to settle down with and make “a solid rock foundation for me to build on — a home and a tower of light” and whose “beautiful simplicity” reminded him of “the kind of fundamental sweet first thing one gets in Bach, not to be described, only treasured”.
Drummond was born on November 9, 1887 (*2) in the
of Armadale, West Lothian, Scotland. She was the eldest of five
of Margaret Boyd Drummond, a successful milliner, and Robert Drummond a
coal miner who worked the pits north of Armadale. With her
away from the home for long periods of time, the care of her four
brothers became her responsibility. Although she had little time
for herself, she took piano lessons and, living in a small village
in a barren, wind-swept landscape, she became sensitive to beauty and
great comfort in her love of flowers and birds. When her brothers
were old enough to look after themselves and each other, Annie began to
studying nursing but she interrupted her studies when war broke out and
instead joined the Scottish Red Cross Territorial Brigade. She
studies offered by the Red Cross in advanced nursing and eventually
to serve at the Edinburgh War Hospital, some nine miles from her home.
After her relationship with Gurney ended, he sent her a copy of the book Poems of To-Day inscribed “To Nurse Drummond, With thanks for joy and best wishes for all things to come, September 1918, From Ivor Gurney, S. Albans”.
V.A.D. Annie Nelson Drummond,
c. 1916. [Blevins]
1. V.A.D. means
Aid Detachment which was a service organization of nurses aides founded
in Britain 1909 to augment the work of the Red Cross and the St. John’s
Ambulance Association. By the
summer of 1914, there 74,000 V.A.D.s in 2,500 units across the UK. At the time, two-thirds were women. They worked both at home and at the Front with the first V.A.D. unit arriving at Boulogne, France on October 28, 1914. In addition to their nursing duties, V.A.D.s could be called into service to cook, clean, do secretarial work and even arrange transportation. They were governed by very strict rules that forbade them to appear in public with a man in uniform. Despite the rules, relationships between soldiers and V.A.D.s flourished anyway. [Go back to text.]
Pamela Blevins: Update on Annie Drummond McKay’s Age: When I
doing my research on Annie Nelson Drummond, I was told by a family
that Annie was born in 1886 and that she was one month older than her
At times I have questioned the accuracy of this date because
available in various official documents seemed to indicate that she was
born in 1887.
However, even official documents, like memory, can sometimes be faulty. For example, on their September 1922 marriage certificate, both Annie and her husband James are listed as being 35 years. I knew that she was born in November and James was born in December so I assumed that at the time of their marriage each was indeed 35 years old and would celebrate their 36th birthdays later in the year. Why would they say they were 35 if they weren’t 35?
But Annie’s age on her death certificate issued in May 1959 is 71, which means that she would have celebrated her 72nd birthday in November 1959, which means she was born in 1887. I also have a copy of a census record that indicates she might have been born in 1887. And then there is Ivor Gurney’s letter written around January 1918 in which he says Annie is 30, which would have put her 30th birthday in November 1917.
Until I see a copy of Annie’s birth certificate, I am inclined to accept 9 November 1887, not 1886, as her birthdate and 19 December 1886 as James McKay’s birthdate. It was not uncommon for women of Annie’s generation to trim a year or two off their age, but I do not think that is the case here. [Go back to text.]
(Joyce Amy Black Finzi, 1907-1991)
By Pamela Blevins, © 2000
Joy Finzi was a 20th century
woman who possessed extraordinary vision and a remarkable gift for
new trends before they began. She was an artist, sculptor, poet,
musician, and organizer who, as we say today, “made things
And she was to be one of the most important people in Ivor Gurney’s
even though they never met.
For more than 30 years, Joy worked tirelessly, first with her husband Gerald Finzi and later alone in trying circumstances, to ensure that Ivor Gurney’s work, correspondence, and the story of his life be preserved for future generations. Starting in the 1930s, Joy, Gerald and their friend Howard Ferguson undertook the massive task of sorting and cataloging Gurney’s poetry and music which was in the possession of his friend and guardian Marion Scott.
Later, after Gerald’s death, it was Joy Finzi who had to deal with the difficulties imposed by Gurney’s brother Ronald, who, at times, threatened to destroy all of Ivor’s papers and refused to allow publication of his work. At other times, Ronald threatened to take legal action against Joy, warning her that “as my brother’s administrator, I don’t intend to let anyone usurp my position”. Joy Finzi refused to let Ronald Gurney intimidate her. Eventually he relented and placed Ivor’s papers in the Gloucester Library where they remain today on permanent loan.
Joy Finzi was born Joyce Black in Hampstead on March 3, 1907 to Ernest Black, a prosperous businessman, who was an ‘East India Merchant’, and to Amy Whitehorn. Little is known of her father’s family background, but her mother was of Scottish descent. The Blacks’ eldest son, Harold, was born in India in 1890 but died when he was 18 months old. A second son Geoffrey was born in 1892 in England and died from blood poisoning at the age of 21. Joy’s younger sister Margaret or ‘Mags’ was born in 1909.
Joy was educated at Moira House in Eastbourne, where the family had settled after her father’s retirement. Tall, fair, graceful and radiant, the young Joyce Black possessed the kind of beauty admired by the Pre-Rhaphaelite painters and abilities that ranged from music to tennis. She seemed to excel at whatever she attempted. Early on, Joy’s contemporaries recognized her extraordinary abilities and one friend later described how she stood in awe of Joy and “looked up to her as one with brilliant gifts in everything”. She studied violin and, after her marriage, sculpture and pottery at the Central School of Art and Design.
Gerald Finzi met Joyce Black when he rented a cottage from her in the early 1930s and had to call on her for help because a problem with the flue caused the cottage to fill with smoke. Joy found the young composer “singularly inarticulate...plain to the point of ugliness. Inhibited and aware of it...I had never met anyone so sensitive and capable of hurt but with such boundless vitality”. But Finzi, “like all who have known the shadows...had an immense capacity for enjoyment. A great appreciation of many things — and infinite delight & humour,” Joy was to recall many years later. (Footnote *1)
Gerald and Joy were married on September 16, 1933 at the Dorking Registry Office with Ralph and Adeline Vaughan Williams and Mags Black as the only witnesses. They lived in London but soon moved to Aldbourne, an attractive village in Wiltshire, where they bought Beech Knoll, a substantial early 19th century house with large grounds. Their first son, Christopher, was born in 1934; their second son, Nigel, in 1936. In 1939, the Finzis moved to Ashmansworth and their new home, Church Farm, designed by architect Peter Harland, who had also created a house for composer Arthur Bliss. Their view looked out across rolling fields and hills, the Hampshire Downs and, on a clear day, the Isle of Wight, shimmering in the distance.
Joy’s first pencil portrait was of the six-year old Christopher asleep. Gerald immediately recognized an unusually strong gift and encouraged her to draw more. She spent time drawing friends and country people in conversation with Gerald, an exercise which led her to discover the “fascination of trying to catch a fleeting aspect and learning that everything is laid down in the face and often hidden in mobility”. Her pencil portraits, which express force, character and craftsmanship like those of Da Vinci and other Renaissance artists, captured what was indeed hidden in the faces of a wide range of subjects including composers Gerald Finzi, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Howard Ferguson, writers Ursula Le Guin, Sylvia Townsend Warner, war poets Edmund Blunden and David Jones, conductor Sir Adrian Boult, and people who led quiet, ordinary lives like “Smithy — Mrs. Smith — Country child — London char” and “Pu”, Howard Ferguson’s Irish Nanny from County Monaghan. In 1987, the Libanus Press published a collection of Joy Finzi’s portraits in a book entitled In That Place. Her portrait of Vaughan Williams is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London.
During World War II, the Finzis opened their home to German and Czech refugees and anyone who needed shelter. Gisa Cartright recalled that “Mrs. Finzi rescued me from London where I was very unhappy in my job as a domestic, and gave me work as a cook. I had come from Germany straight after leaving school before the war in 1938 and was a refugee. I had nobody to turn to. There suddenly was dear Mrs. Finzi to help me. Coming to Church Farm and working for her was like stepping from hell into paradise.”
Joy also became the administrative force behind the organization of the Newbury String Players, which had been founded by Gerald in 1940. Joy’s job was to find the players. She also served as one of the second violinists. Later both Christopher and Nigel joined their father’s amateur orchestra. Together Gerald and Joy encouraged young musicians like Julian Bream and composers like Kenneth Leighton by providing them with engagements and performances of their compositions.
In addition to preserving Gurney’s work, the Finzis also played important roles in the preservation and cataloguing of the music of Sir Hubert Parry.
After Finzi’s death in 1956, Joy along with her sons and Howard Ferguson founded the Finzi Trust and under its auspices most of Gerald’s music was recorded, first with Lyrita and later by Hyperion, Chandos and EMI. The work of the Finzi Trust has never been limited to Finzi’s music alone and has supported recordings and performances of music by other composers, including Gurney. Joy also encouraged artists in all fields and took a particular interest in the paintings of Benedict Rubbra, the son of composer Edmund Rubbra.
Joy eventually moved to her cottage Bushy Lease in Leckhampstead, where she built a studio that looked out over a view that had not changed in centuries — fields, an ancient cottage, the distant hills, nothing that marked the landscape as being of the 20th century. Her home was surrounded by gardens and attracted a variety of wildlife, particularly birds that Joy fed every morning. Her home was always open to friends and became a sanctuary for those who needed a break from the pressures of work or neighbors who dropped by for a visit.
“One almost felt that she had some intuitive rapport with natural life, some atavistic resonance with the past which were embodied in the character of cottage and garden...Frequently she reminded me of the timeless, eponymous sage of Edward Thomas’s poem ‘Lob’,’ recalled Andrew Burn, a founder of the Finzi Trust Friends.
In addition to her drawing, Joy wrote poetry and published two collections: A Point of Departure (1967), with engravings by Richard Shirley Smith, Twelve Months of the Year (1981) with engravings by Simon Brett.
In March 1991, Joy suffered a broken hip in a fall at her home and endured two operations since the first one to fix her hip was done incorrectly. She did not want her life prolonged unnaturally and returned to the home she had shared with Gerald to be cared for by her son, Christopher and his family. She was ready to die and refused all food and medication.
“It was a great relief for all of us for her to return to Ashmansworth, and get out of a hospital dedicated to making you live,” recalled her son Nigel. When Nigel returned to England from abroad, he found his mother “still just able to talk, as she lay in peace looking out over the green hills, with the spring flowers and blossoms in full array. This green world, or light, was a wonderful delight to her, and all she wanted to do between sleeping was see it and sense it,” said Nigel.
“The everyday world, as we see it, was not with her, and her daily observations of her magical view from her bed were whispered, ‘how beautiful’, ‘that green’, or ‘how lucky I am’. She was untroubled and waiting to leave,” Nigel continued in a tribute to his mother. “Joy seemed to defy the normal patterns of departing from this world as she slowly and peacefully ebbed away from it.”
Joy Finzi died on June 14, 1991 at the age of 84.
By Pamela Blevins, © 2000
1. Other people found Gerald “strikingly handsome” with his black hair and steel-blue eyes. [Go back to text.]
By Pamela Blevins, © 2000
Gerald Finzi did no favours for
when he called Marion Scott a “possessive, incompetent, mulish old
and a “fragile fool” and referred to her unflatteringly as “Maid
Sadly, these words, written by an exasperated Finzi, have stuck,
a shadow across the luminous personality and accomplishments of Marion
It is easy enough to understand Finzi’s frustration with Scott who seemed, from his perspective, always to be placing obstacles in his way as he and his wife Joy and their friend Howard Ferguson tried throughout three decades to wrest Gurney’s manuscripts — and cooperation — from her. What is not easy to understand is why contemporary writers cling to Finzi’s short-sighted, demeaning view of Marion Scott when it reflects his personal experience only and hardly presents a true picture of the remarkable woman she really was, what she did to help others, and what she accomplished often in the face of personal hardship.
Ivor Gurney certainly saw her differently.
At the time Gurney met her in 1911, Scott was 34 years old, a petite but assertive woman who possessed a limpid beauty that would have appealed to the Pre-Raphaelite painters. She was a natural leader, still young enough to be idealistic but mature enough to know how to channel her idealism into practical schemes that benefitted many people. She also preferred the company of younger men and was known to have love affairs, one likely object of her affection being Ernest Farrar (1885-1918), who later became Finzi’s teacher. Another was a well-known music critic.
Scott was half-American and possessed the adventurous, aggressive and visionary traits of her enterprising Prince family of Salem, Massachusetts. Her great-great grandfather Henry Prince I (1764-1846) went from being a distillery worker to cooper’s apprentice to sea captain and ship owner in less than ten years. He was an explorer and entrepreneur, who opened trade routes to the Pacific and Africa, helped advance the science of celestial navigation, bought and sold slaves, and made and lost fortunes. His son, Henry II (1787-1837), was a lieutenant in the U.S. Revenue Service (now U.S.Coast Guard), and his grandson, Marion’s grandfather, George Prince (1821-1900), ran a family merchantile business in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was sent at the age of 16 after the death of his mother.
During one of George Prince’s visits to Massachusetts in 1850, he married and began his family. Two daughters, including Marion Scott’s mother Annie (1853-1942), were born in Salem but in 1854, the Prince family returned to St. Petersburg, where four of their seven children were born. One child was born in England. Annie Prince grew up in St. Petersburg but left when she married Sydney Scott (1850-1936), a young English solicitor in St. Petersburg in 1876.(Footnote *1) The couple returned to England and settled in Sydenham, where their first child, Marion Margaret, was born on 16 July 1877.
The Scotts were cultured, liberal and unconventional. They encouraged their children to be free spirits and believed that they would best be educated by tutors and European travel and by having abundant free time to explore the worlds of their own imaginations. Marion enjoyed great freedom, wrote poetry, read detective stories, rode in locomotives, played chamber music with her father and his friends and began performing in public at an early age. Her first instrument was the piano but she later switched to the violin, a “true friend who knows my thoughts and gives them speech”. She was fluent in German and French.
her studies at the Royal College of Music in 1904, Marion Scott
her first, and only volume of poetry, Violin Verses in
and embarked on a career as a violinist, eventually forming the Marion
Scott String Quartet and playing in various orchestras.(*2)
She was also a gifted organizer who knew how to use the power of social
interaction as a means to bring about positive change and unite
In 1906, she co-founded the RCM Union to enable students to keep in
with the college and with one another. Guided by Scott’s zeal and
remarkable energy, the Union flourished, offering a variety of programs
from teas to concerts that became an essential part of student
In 1911, with Gertrude Eaton, Scott founded the Society of Women
Musicians to further women’s musical work and to ensure
of their compositions. It was the first organized effort to break
down the barriers against women in music in England.(*3)
Although Scott’s “slightly apologetic voice” and fragile appearance gave the impression of helplessness, she was, in fact, a tough, pragmatic and strong-willed woman who possessed “steel-like courage”.
Marion M. Scott, c. 1911. [Blevins]
Scott, c. 1922.
| Throughout her life,
battled ill health courageously, yet she managed to accomplish a great
deal in spite of it. She suffered from chronic intestinal trouble
and anemia, had undergone at least one major operation in her 30s, and
a 1916 illness nearly killed her. She was particularly prone to
and influenza and had suffered injuries in accidents. Her worries
over Ivor Gurney, first when he was at the Front during the Great War,
and later when he was in the asylum, added anxiety to her life and she
suffered periodic bouts of depression as a result. This constant
anxiety most certainly aggravated her intestinal disorder.
In addition to her concerns for Gurney, Marion Scott shouldered the care of other family members and friends, including pianist Fannie Davies, in her own household from 1908 to 1949. She and her parents also had the responsibility of raising a child from infancy — her niece Audrey whose mother, Marion’s youngest sister, had died shortly after Audrey’s birth.
Although she had money, Marion Scott was not a dilettante. She chose to live a full and active life that included working different jobs, each very demanding and time consuming. In addition, she also played active roles in various organizations, including the Royal Music Association, the Royal Philharmonic Association, the Musicians Benevolent Fund, the Critics’ Circle, the London Society Music Centre and the Haydn Society.
1. The Prince family in America thought so highly of Sydney Scott that several generations have named their sons after him. [Go back to text.]
2. Violin Verses received positive reviews in newspapers in England, Scotland and Ireland. [Go back to text.]
3. In 1930, discouraged that
seats in the new BBC orchestra were going to men, Marion Scott led a
contingent from the Society of Women Musicians to BBC headquarters and
won agreement from the BBC to audition all instrumentalists behind a
to give women an equal chance to compete on their own merits. [Go
back to text.]
Alfred Cheesman, c. 1935.
Gerald Finzi, photographed by his mother on a hill outside Winchester England, in 1925.
Frederick William “Willy” “Will” “F. W.” Harvey, c. 1922 (1888-1957).
Anthony Boden: F.W. Harvey: Soldier, Poet
Herbert “Howler” Howells, c. 1920 (1892-1983).