Sir Granville Bantock: Inspired by a Fascination with the Exotic East

May 14, 2017

Elgar dedicated his second “Pomp and Circumstance” march to him. Sibelius honored him with a whole symphony. But the person who inspired these accolades is not all that well known.

WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston has more on Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946)—a British composer, with a slew of compositions, who had a fervent love for cultures not his own; his fascination with an exotic East found an outlet in his music.

In 2013, the London summertime concerts known as “The Proms” featured a number of Granville Bantock’s compositions. The headline for an article profiling the composer declared “Proms 2013: Just who is Granville Bantock?”

A natural exuberance and fullness of spirit pervades Sir Granville Bantock’s music. His Celtic Symphony featured not two, but six, harps! His massive Omar Khayyam for three soloists, chorus, and orchestra debuted over several years starting in 1907.

Bantock built his opus around what had become the wildly popular Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The Persian-to-English translation of the Khayyam's ancient poetry, set in a garden, was a sensation at the time. The composer was so enamored of the Middle East that he added Persian and Arabic to his knowledge of Latin and Greek.

There’s no clear reason why his music fell out of sight. It's a mystery. You decide whether Bantock deserves to be rediscovered.

Radio script:

[MUSIC: “Camel Caravan” from Omar Khayyam]

Along with Verdi, Debussy, Rimsky-Korsakov and others, Bantock shared a penchant for Eastern cultures and philosophies. What was sometimes then called “Orientalism” sparked the imaginations of western composers, artists, writers and architects. He indulged his obsession most notably with his nearly three-hour choral and orchestral epic, Omar Khayyam.

It’s set to the English translation of the poems found in the Rubaiyatt of the 11th-century Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet. Here’s Bantock’s caravan of camels, loping across the desert at sunrise.

[MUSIC: “Camel Caravan” from Omar Khayyam]

This Englishman’s decades-long wrestling with the East was mirrored in his affection for Celtic culture. It was closer to home, but just as mythical in its importance.

[MUSIC: V. Largamente Maestoso from A Celtic Symphony]

From the late 1800s until the 1930s, Bantock became one of the United Kingdom’s musical powerhouses. He, like his friend Elgar, was knighted. His some 800 works never kept step with the times, so Granville Bantock’s legacy, along with his worldview, have largely become an enormous caravan, mysteriously shimmering out of sight.

[MUSIC: “Camel Caravan” from Omar Khayyam]