Eleanor Oldroyd

Music Festival 

ISBN 978-1-3999-7858-3

Having spent many hours waiting at the bus stop outside Holst’s house, and having often spotted Stephen Dodgson at the Music Festival, I long knew of both composers’ links with leafy Barnes. Now, thanks to Eleanor Oldroyd (sports commentator and passionate music lover) I find that this London village is a positive nest of singing birds.

Admittedly the grand house at Barnes Elms where Handel may have written Rinaldo is no more, but the months Handel spent as there may have consolidated his decision to remain permanently in England, while who knows – did ‘Barney’, now the oldest plane tree in London, inspire Ombra Mai Fu ?

The author has drawn freely on Imogen Holst’s well-loved biography of her father, exploring his years teaching at St Paul’s, and the composition of The Planets in his top-storey studio, before the damp from the river finally drove the family away. (Who knew that he even wrote the music for a Panto? ‘Oh yes he did!’)

At a time when the Arts Council still supported contemporary classical music, Stephen Dodgson was kept busy with numerous commissions. (What became of an early prize-winning symphony?). In 2013 I saw the then 89-year-old take his final bow after a performance of his 4th String Quartet: since then, recordings and performances are finally beginning to do justice to his prolific output.

For over fifty years in Barnes Herbert Howells thrived as a teacher and composer, endured the great tragedy of the death of his son, and wrote the blazing Hymnus Paradisi. Photographs of the diminutive composer do little to explain his irresistible sex appeal (‘the girls fainted in the corridors’) – but suggests there is hope for us all.

Just round the corner, Jim Parker (Captain Beaky’/’Betjeman’s Banana Blush’) has written hundreds of TV and film scores. Local boy Howard Goodall is also famed for TV themes alongside his concert and sacred pieces. It was here that Carl Davis worked on Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio, alongside his own numerous scores. Roxanna Panufnik became the first female composer to write for a Coronation, a public acknowledgement of her growing achievement. Today film composer Tom Howe divides his time between Barnes and Los Angeles, while those with a more fleeting association include Arthur Bliss, William Blezard, Adrian Cruft and Derek Wordsworth. 

Is there something in the waters of Barnes that explains its musical appeal? Or is it just a very desirable spot with handy links to central London? Either way I shall now walk the streets and green spaces of the area with a deepened awareness of a strong – possibly unique – musical heritage.

Review by Kevin Mandry