CecilArmstrong Gibbs (1889-1960)
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs was born in 1889 at Great Baddow in Essex. He was educated at Winchester College and then moved on to Trinity College, Cambridge with a HistoryExhibition. He studied music there under E.J. Dent and Charles Wood. CliveCarey, Cyril Rootham, Arthur Bliss, Steuart Wilson and W. Denis Browne wereamong his friends in the Cambridge University Musical Society.
Havingturned away from the family soap business of D. & W. Gibbs and beingneither a first class organist or pianist he believed that a career in musicwas unrealistic, though composition was his first love. He therefore opted forteaching at his old preparatory school, The Wick at Brighton. There he traineda boys' choir and wrote several settings of Walter de la Mare's poems including'Five Eyes' and 'Song of Shadows'. They became life-long friends; de la Marewrote 'Crossings', a fairy play for the school to perform. Gibbs wrote theincidental music, Dent produced the play and the young Adrian Boult conducted.
The play had two West End performances with the composer at the piano.
Boultpersuaded Gibbs to give up teaching and to spend a year at the Royal College ofMusic, generously offering to pay the fees. Here he studied under Vaughan Williamsfor composition and Boult for conducting.
Hejoined the staff of the Royal College of Music in 1921 and served there until1939 as teacher of harmony and composition.
Besideswriting a large number of songs in this early period he also composed severalstring quartets and music for plays by Maeterlinck, Clifford Bax and A.P.
Herbert which were staged in London theatres.
In1923 he began a long career in adjudicating at competitive festivals, becomingVice-Chairman of the movement in 1937. This work was a great joy to him untilhe was forced to give it up in 1952 due to ill-health.
Hemoved to Westmorland in 1939 and played a big part in keeping music alive thereduring the war. He continued to write many cantatas, choral ballads, part-songsand orchestral works including the 'Westmorland' symphony and a cantata 'Beforedaybreak', words by Gordon Bottomley. His major choral symphony 'Odysseus' hadmissed a performance at the Albert Hall with the Royal Choral Society in 1939because of the war. After the war he moved back to Essex and continued tocompose songs for choirs and soloists besides writing orchestral andinstrumental music.
In1951 he was Chairman of the Selection Committee in the National Music Festivalat the Festival Hall. His song 'The Listeners' was commissioned for Male VoiceChoirs.
Fromthe 1930s he had collaborated closely with the poet Mordaunt Currie who wrotethe words for 'Odysseus' and the cantata 'Deborah and Barak' besides the lyricsfor many songs. In the 1950s he worked with the writer Benedict Ellis inseveral choral works including 'Behold The Man' and 'The Turning Year'.
Hedied on May 12, 1960 leaving over 100 solo songs, about 150 part-songs, over 40sacred works, 80 orchestral and instrumental works and music for about 20plays, cantatas and other main choral works.
Ifthe name of Armstrong Gibbs is remembered at all in the last decade of thetwentieth century, it is because of the lasting appeal of two of his solo songs- Five Eyes and Silver which are occasionally used as test-pieces forexaminations or music festivals. The remainder of his output of at least 164solo songs (not to mention his part-songs, string quartets, symphonies andworks for stage) has unaccountably fallen into obscurity.
Noneof the songs on this compact disc have been commercially recorded before, andthe listener will be surprised by the quality and variety of the music. Gibbsenjoyed a very fruitful collaboration with the poet Walter de la Mare, andeleven of the tracks on this disc have been devoted to de la Mare settings.
Gibbsbelieved that the words were paramount and he always allowed the poem todictate the musical shape of the song. His word-setting is mainly syllabic forreasons of clarity. The piano accompaniments are largely based on a widevariety of ostinati which are highly descriptive and provide a constantbackground for the melodies which are often angular and meandering; voice andaccompaniment are interdependent and the songs, though never difficult, require'team-work' and are very satisfying to perform.
There are echoes of Gibbs' teacher Vaughan Williams, ofDebussy, of Irish airs and show songs, of popular waltzes and folk melodies,but the style and harmonic language is always recognisably Gibbs. His stylechanged little over the 40 years in which he was composing, although his worksounds freshest during the period 1919-1933.
Veryfew of Gibbs' songs are currently in print and the aim of this recording is toshow how much lovely music is remaining unsung and unplayed, in the hope thatperformers and audiences will seek to know more about Gibbs and his work.
NikHancock-Child was born in 1960. He studied piano from an early age, and readMusic and Classics at Keele University. It was only after leaving universitythat he began to take an interest in singing and took private lessons withPatrick Mcguigan of the Royal Northern College of Music and, for a short time,with the baritone Brian Rayner Cook. Nik Hancock-Child specialises in Englishand Scandinavian music and has recorded songs by Roger Quilter on compact disc.
RosemaryHancock-Child read Music at Oxford University. She sees herself primarily as anaccompanist, a rôle which she feels is considerably more challenging than thatof soloist. She is currently preparing a biography of Cecil Armstrong Gibbs anda comprehensive survey of his musical output.