The 10 best English composers
This week on 'Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Classical Music' (Sunday, 9pm), Catherine Bott showcases the greatest English composers - do you agree with our Top Ten? Tell us in the comments below.
"What is it that makes English music so English?" asks Classic FM presenter and singer Catherine Bott. "Is it its simplicity, its piety, its quiet courage and continuity of tradition, a little melancholy, grandeur where appropriate, continental influences, fondness for nature?"
Well, here are ten composers who we think have all those qualities – and may just rate as England's best.
Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)
Without doubt one of England's finest ever composers, Thomas Tallis is the tops when it comes to choral music. His tune 'Thou wast, O God' went on to inspire Vaughan Williams to create his Fantasia masterpiece. And Tallis's 40-part motet Spem in Alium is simply one of the greatest pieces of choral music ever written.
William Byrd (c.1539-1543-1623)
The Renaissance master composed in many of the forms current in the England of his time, including sacred and secular vocal works, keyboard and consort music. Byrd’s is among the music that defined the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Good Queen Bess loved his music and, luckily for him – and us – turned a blind eye to his devout Roman Catholicism.
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Although he was influenced by Italian and French styles, Purcell's legacy was a uniquely English version of Baroque. Without a doubt one of the greatest English composers, none other approached his fame or brilliance until Elgar came along two centuries later.
Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
As a composer, Parry is best known for the song Jerusalem, the coronation anthem I was glad, and the choral and orchestral ode Blest Pair of Sirens. Both during his lifetime and today, Parry's reputation and critical standing have varied but he currently has a huge champion in the Prince of Wales, who persuaded the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to walk down the aisle to I was glad at their wedding.
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Unusually for an English composer, many of Elgar's works have entered the international classical repertoire, including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, the Cello Concerto, and two symphonies. As was the case with Byrd, the Roman Catholic Elgar thought of himself as an outsider, and many of his works have a sort of restrained melancholy, the sense of feelings held in check - a particularly English characteristic.
Frederick Delius (1862-1934)
By no means quintessentially English in style, Delius was actually born in Bradford before departing to live in Florida, Germany, and France – all places that helped him create his unique musical language, which despite its cosmopolitan nature often evoked English scenes.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Some clever person once wrote sneeringly about the dreariness of the so-called “cowpat” school of English music, but Vaughan Williams always knew how to use folk music to make us smile as well as sigh. He was an avid collector of English folk music and song, which activity influenced both his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions.
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
Best known for his orchestral suite The Planets, Holst also composed a large number of other works across a range of genres. His distinctive style was the product of many influences, including Wagner and Richard Strauss, English folksong, Indian mysticism, and the orchestral colour of Maurice Ravel.
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
The central figure of 20th-century English music, with a wide range of works including operas, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces. Britten's best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes, the War Requiem and the orchestral showpiece, The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, which drew on a theme of Purcell's.
John Tavener (1944-2013)
Unusually for a 20th century composer, Tavener's music drew extensively on religious themes - and not of the Anglican sort. Tavener became one of the best known and popular composers of his generation, most particularly for the best-selling cello piece The Protecting Veil, and the moving Song for Athene which was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.