Arnold Bax and Tintagel

Arnold Bax in 1922(Photo: Wikipedia)
Arnold Bax in 1922(Photo: Wikipedia)

English composer Arnold Bax was born on this date in 1883 and lived until 1953.  Although he composed seven symphonies, several concertos and ballet scores, he’s probably best remembered for the 1919 tone poem, Tintagel.

With its unique blend of English romanticism and impressionism, this 16 minute orchestral work powerfully evokes the medieval Celtic castle by the sea and the legendary worlds of King Arthur and Tristan and Isolde. According to the 12th Century mythical account of British history by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Tintagel was where King Arthur was conceived.

Bax was born in London, but he became enamored with Ireland and the works of Irish poet W. B. Yeats which provided a lifetime of inspiration. He also loved Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde, and the tale of the doomed lovers resonated strongly with him. The passion and yearning for fulfillment expressed in the opera and his love of Celtic legend and lore all found their way into his symphonic poem.

Although Bax married a childhood friend in 1911, and settled for a time in Dublin, after the start of the World War I, he returned to England.  He also became dismayed by the troubles in Ireland and the Easter Rebellion of 1916. During this time of anxiety and disillusionment, it is believed he had a passionate affair with a younger pianist, Harriet Cohen, who championed his works. 

She accompanied him to Cornwall for their visit to the ruins of Tintagel where he was inspired to write what became his best-known composition.  Legend, fantasy and all-too-human feelings combine in this fine early 20th Century work from Sir Arnold Bax.

It’s not too long. If you have the time, here it is: