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The music of Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953), former ‘Master of the King’s (and Queen’s) Musick’, has been described as an acquired taste. I acquired it on 10 November 1956 upon listening to a BBC radio broadcast of his Third Symphony, which spoke to me immediately. My brother Graham (1946-2021) followed suit soon thereafter, which might suggest that the taste is not so much acquired as innate. His enthusiasm was such that, as a musician himself, he spent the rest of his life studying it, collecting Baxiana, and making contact with former friends and colleagues (and lovers). In the 1960s he started compiling as comprehensive a catalogue of Baxworks as could then be made. This would be no easy task, for the difficulties were many. Graham summed them up as follows in the first version of his catalogue, published by the Triad Press in 1972:

At Bax's piano
Graham at Bax's piano, Cork, 1981

First, Bax was a prolific composer. Musical composition was as essential a part of his life as breathing: he was deeply sensitive, intellectually energetic, and naturally creative. Add to this the fortunate circumstance that he was 'of independent means', and it is not hard to see that 'prolific' could well be an understatement. Thus he was more concerned with composing than with publishing, and far more than with collating or cataloguing the fruits of his labours. Barely half of his vast output actually reached publication, and it would be defensible to argue that a certain amount of his finished work rewards students of the man and his style rather than the catholic music lover. Some of his smaller works are virtually obiter dicta; others can be seen as explorations or re-workings of musical problems that reached fruition in a more manageable number of major works. It is on these latter the symphonies, the tone poems and a quantity of chamber music that his fairest reputation will ultimately depend. It may be that the neglect from which the composer is at present [1972] emerging can be imputed to the sheer physical problem of working through his output to sift the significant from the attractive, the attractive from the interesting, and the interesting from the frankly commonplace. Only recently, for example, has it been possible to reconstruct and assess the worth of the Symphonic Variations. Rediscovering works of this calibre gives notable impetus to the further exploration of Bax's musical landscape.

A second factor critical to the compilation of such a catalogue is represented by the pianist Harriet Cohen. We owe much to her: her intimate relationship with the composer inspired him to produce some of his best works, such as Winter Legends and the Symphonic Variations, and she probably did more to promote his music during his lifetime than any other executant. In his will, Bax bequeathed to her all his copyrights, both musical and literary, but then in a codicil added two years before he died he revoked the bequest. This may account for Cohen's subsequent reticence when it came to the question of encouraging performances and contributing information about Bax; and I believe it did much to delay the present revival of interest in his music. Further difficulties are due to doubts about the reliability of sources, doubts that are bound to arise as soon as the inevitable discrepancy or contradiction is lighted upon.

Over the course of years Graham added further to his catalogue, and in the 1980s he embarked on a PhD thesis on Bax's music at the University of London of which the catalogue formed part. He completed this in 1994 and was duly awarded his degree. In 1999 the catalogue alone was published in hardback by Oxford University Press (by a happy coincidence in the same month as my Oxford History of Board Games). In 2011 I edited and published on my website a shorter version of the catalogue, approved (with amendments) by Graham.

Since then Graham continued adding to and amending it further in the light of his ongoing further researches until his death in May 2021. As co-executor of his estate I have a copy of his hard drive, and will add to this site any further information it may yield.

See also:

An appraisal of Bax's oeuvre written for the Arnold Bax Society some time between 1988 and 1994. It appears to be a short 'dry run' for his PhD.

The Arnold Bax website, founded and maintained by Graham's friend Richard Adams.