Thomas Dunhill
Dunhill c. 1920
Born(1877-02-01)1 February 1877
Hampstead, London, England
Died13 March 1946(1946-03-13) (aged 69)
Scunthorpe, England
EducationEton College
AwardsWalter Willson Cobbett Medal (1924)

Thomas Frederick Dunhill (1 February 1877 – 13 March 1946) was a prolific English composer in many genres, though he is best known today for his light music and educational piano works. His compositions include much chamber music, a song cycle, The Wind Among the Reeds, and an operetta, Tantivy Towers, that had a successful London run in 1931. He was also a teacher, examiner and writer on musical subjects.

Life and career

Early years

Dunhill was born in Hampstead, London, the fourth of five children of Henry Dunhill (1842–1901) and his wife Jane, née Styles (1843–1922).[1] Henry Dunhill was a manufacturer of sacks, tarpaulin and ropes; Jane Dunhill ran a small music shop. Their eldest son, Alfred later founded a tobacco company that bears his name. Thomas was educated at the North London High School for Boys, and when the family moved to Kent, at Kent College, Canterbury.[1]

In 1893 Dunhill entered the Royal College of Music studying the piano with Franklin Taylor, counterpoint with James Higgs and W. S. Rockstro, and harmony with Walter Parratt.[1] In 1894 he began studying composition under Charles Villiers Stanford, whose pupil he remained after leaving the college, studying with him until 1901.[1] In 1899 Dunhill was the first winner of the Tagore Gold Medal, awarded to the college's outstanding students.[2]

From 1899 to 1908 Dunhill was assistant music master at Eton. From 1905 he was also on the staff of the Royal College of Music as professor of harmony and counterpoint.[2] He began a career as an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, working in Britain and throughout much of the British Empire.[1]

From 1907 to 1919 Dunhill presented concerts of chamber music in London, featuring the works of British composers.[2] After the first, in June 1907, The Times observed:

A scheme of chamber music concerts, the object of which is to give a second hearing to modern works which are too apt to get laid on the shelf after what is pathetically spoken of as a "successful production," certainly deserves high praise, and, still more, practical support from musical people.[3]

Among the composers featured in the first concerts were James Friskin, Joseph Holbrooke, Cecil Forsyth and William Hurlstone. Later, Dunhill presented works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Charles Wood, Eugene Goossens, Rutland Boughton, J. B. McEwen, Richard Walthew and Nicholas Gatty.

Songs and chamber music

During this period Dunhill was composing orchestral and chamber works, songs and song cycles. His setting of 'Half Close Your Eyelids', first published in The Dome in 1902, is the earliest known song setting of poetry by W. B. Yeats.[4] It was used as the first song in the 1904 Yeats cycle The Wind Among the Reeds, which also includes Dunhill's best known song, 'The Cloths of Heaven'. The cycle was first performed in 1912 (in the orchestral version) by Gervase Elwes at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert conducted by Sir Frederic Cowen.[5] The Times said, "Mr. Dunhill has caught the spirit of Yeats's poems very skilfully, and his music well conveys their quiet, unforced mysticism, their quick turns of humour and the easy flow of the lines. … Mr. Dunhill's setting never seems to miss a point, and never labours one."[5]

Early chamber works include the F minor Quintet for horn and strings, op 6 (1900), the Piano Quartet in B minor (1903) and the Piano Quintet in C minor (1904). After that came several one-movement fantasy pieces (under the influence of W.W. Cobbett), such as the ‘Phantasie’ String Quartet (1906), and a Phantasy Trio for piano, viola and cello (1911).[6] The Trio was performed at the Steinway Hall in 1912 by Margery Hall (violin), Lionel Tertis (viola) and York Bowen (piano).[7] There were also two violin sonatas - the second (of 1917) in F major perhaps his finest work, according to Jeremy Dibble.[1] However its fame was short-lived, quickly overshadowed by his friend and contemporary John Ireland's more spectacular violin sonata, which "caused a sensation" in the same year.[8]

Wartime and after

In the London musical world Dunhill was a figure of increasing prominence in the years before the First World War. He was invited to address the Musical Association in 1908 on the topic "The evolution of melody"; his remarks were widely reported in the general press.[9][10]

In 1914, Dunhill married Mary Penrose Arnold, the great-niece of Matthew Arnold, and the great-granddaughter of Thomas Arnold. The marriage took place at St Luke's Church in Chelsea, where John Ireland was the resident organist and chorus master.

At the outbreak of the war he joined the Artists Rifles and later became a bandsman with the Irish Guards.[1] In 1918 he was appointed a director of the Royal Philharmonic Society; he chaired the board meeting that reformed the constitution of the society after its wartime expedient of effective control by Sir Thomas Beecham.[11] As well as the F major violin sonata, wartime works include the Four Original Pieces for organ, Op. 101 (1916), the Symphony in A minor (1916), his most substantial orchestral work, first performed in Belgrade on 28 December 1922,[1] and the Elegiac Variations on an Original Theme (1919–20), dedicated to the memory of Hubert Parry and first performed at the Gloucester Festival in 1922.[12]

Light opera

One of the composers whom Dunhill greatly admired was Arthur Sullivan. He generally avoided Sullivan's influence in his own music,[13] but his 1928 study of Sullivan's music broke new ground: there had been many biographies and memoirs, but Dunhill's was the first book by a practising musician to analyse the music.[14] In addition to the 1928 book, Dunhill arranged 15 piano albums of music from all 14 Gilbert and Sullivan operas.[15]

His one-act light opera The Enchanted Garden gained some attention when it was published as part of the Carnegie Collection of British Music[16] series in 1925. But in 1931 Dunhill's music came to a much wider public with the comic opera Tantivy Towers to a libretto by A. P. Herbert.[17] It ran at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith and then at the New Theatre, London for more than 180 performances.[18] It was revived in 1935 with Maggie Teyte and Steuart Wilson in the leading roles.[18] The opera humorously contrasted modern Chelsea artistic types with the traditional philistine county set. Dunhill was widely thought to have succeeded more with the music for the latter than for the former, and was criticised for avoiding any hint of jazz in his Chelsea music.[13]

Later years

Dunhill was a stalwart of organisations dedicated to the welfare of his fellow musicians: these included the Performing Right Society and the Musicians' Benevolent Fund.[2] He was a director of the Royal Philharmonic Society and Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of London. He was in steady demand as musical examiner, lecturer, and adjudicator, and returned to teaching, first at the Royal College, taking the chamber music class, and later at Eton, where he returned during the Second World War.[1]

As a composer, Dunhill's later works include the nostalgic suite for strings In Rural England (1929);[19] the ballet Gallimaufry, premiered in Hamburg in 1937;[20] Triptych for viola and orchestra (1942, dedicated to Lionel Tertis);[21] and the overture May Time (1945) premiered at the Proms, where it was conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.[22] The Times called the last "a popular and unpretentious overture which makes its way cheerfully enough and cleverly draws on the true vitality of a Morris and one of Morley's best tunes.[23]

At a time when Elgar's music was out of fashion, Dunhill was a strong advocate for it. His 1938 book about the composer combined biography and musical analysis. The Times Literary Supplement praised Dunhill for his accessible analysis and for "a portrait drawn by one who knew and loved him well."[24]

Among the honours given to Dunhill were the Cobbett Chamber Music Medal (1924), of which he was the first recipient,[2] an honorary doctorate from Durham University (1940) and honorary fellowships of the Royal Academy of Music (1938) and the Royal College of Music (1942).[1]

Personal life

Thomas Dunhill lived with his wife Mary at 74, Lansdowne Road in Notting Hill Gate until 1924, when they moved to Guildford. There were two sons and a daughter of the marriage. Mary Dunhill died in October 1929, after which Dunhill returned to London, living at 27, Platts Lane in Hampstead for the last years of his life.[25] In 1942 Dunhill married Isabella Simpson Featonby. He died at his mother-in-law's house in Scunthorpe, aged 69.[1] His son David Dunhill (1917-2005) became a well-known BBC radio announcer[26] who wrote a memoir of his father in 1997.[27]



Chamber and Instrumental

Songs and vocal

Opera and theatre


Selected recordings


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Dibble, Jeremy, "Dunhill, Thomas Frederick (1877–1946)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 13 October 2011 (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e Kington. Beryl "Dunhill, Thomas" Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, accessed 13 October 2011(subscription required)
  3. ^ "Concerts", The Times, 10 June 1907, p. 4
  4. ^ Banfield, Stephen (27 January 1989). Sensibility and English Song: Critical Studies of the Early Twentieth Century. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521379441. Retrieved 26 July 2020 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ a b "Music – Philharmonic Society", The Times, 22 November 1912, p. 9
  6. ^ Foreman, Lewis. Biography for Hyperion Records
  7. ^ Humphries, John. Notes to Dutton Epoch CDLX 7152 (2005)
  8. ^ Burn, Andrew. Notes to Hyperion CD A66853 (1996)
  9. ^ "Our London Correspondence", The Manchester Guardian, 22 April 1908, p. 4; and "The Musical Association", The Times, 23 April 1908, p. 13
  10. ^ "Our composers, he thinks, are reverting to the earliest forms of musical expression, the vague utterances of primitive man, while at the same time employing all the vast resources of modern orchestration to provide atmosphere and background."
  11. ^ "Thomas Frederick Dunhill",, accessed 7 May 2013
  12. ^ Brook, Donald. Composers' Portraits (1946)
  13. ^ a b "The Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith – 'Tantivy Towers'", The Times, 17 January 1931, p. 8
  14. ^ "Sullivan's Operas", The Times Literary Supplement, 12 April 1928, p. 269
  15. ^ They were published by Chappell and Co: Trial by Jury (1925 – OCLC 498795573 ); The Sorcerer (1924 – OCLC 42298598); H.M.S. Pinafore (1924 – OCLC ); The Pirates of Penzance (including "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain" originally from Thespis (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ); Patience (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ); Iolanthe (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ); Princess Ida (1925 – OCLC 498795573 ); The Mikado' (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ); Ruddigore (1925 – OCLC 498795573 ); The Yeomen of the Guard (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ); The Gondoliers (1924 – OCLC 498795573 ); Utopia, Limited (1925 – OCLC 498795573 ); and The Grand Duke (1925 – OCLC 498795573 ). Also two collections: "The Sullivan piano solo album: twenty one charming melodies from the famous Gilbert & Sullivan operas" (1924 – OCLC 221506885); and "An album of marches from the Gilbert & Sullivan operas" (1934 – OCLC 22996982).
  16. ^ "Carnegie Collection of British Music : 2019 English Music Festival from 24 to 27 May". 8 September 2015. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  17. ^ "Tantivy Towers - The Guide to Musical Theatre". Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  18. ^ a b "The Theatres – Revival of "Tantivy Towers," The Times, 27 May 1935, p. 12
  19. ^ Recorded on Palace Premieres by The Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra, MPR CWSO01
  20. ^ "British Ballet in Hamburg", The Times, 18 December 1937, p. 10
  21. ^ "Triptych, Op.99 (Dunhill, Thomas) - IMSLP: Free Sheet Music PDF Download". Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  22. ^ "Prom 44". BBC Music Events. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  23. ^ "Promenade Concert – Thomas F. Dunhill's New Overture", The Times, 11 September 1945, p. 6
  24. ^ "Music and Literature", The Times Literary Supplement, 5 November 1938, p. 704
  25. ^ Foreman, Lewis and Foreman, Susan. London, A Musical Gazetteer, 2005
  26. ^ "David Dunhill". 26 April 2005. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  27. ^ Dunhill, David. Thomas Dunhill: Maker of Music (London, 1997)
  28. ^ P L Scowcroft, MusicWeb International
  29. ^ "Tobias Broeker is looking for missing scores!". 30 September 2015. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  30. ^ "The English Symphony 1880–1920". 25 March 2007. Archived from the original on 28 June 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  31. ^ "Thomas F Dunhill". Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  32. ^ Undertones of War: British Organ and Vocal Music after 1918, Ars Organi AOR004 (2022)
  33. ^ "Chandos Records Classical Music CDs and MP3 Downloads OnLine". Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  34. ^ "Hurlstone, Quilter, Dunhill, Bax piano quartets CDE84519[RB]: Classical CD Reviews- June 2005 MusicWeb-International". Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  35. ^ "Review". Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  36. ^ "Palace Premieres MPR CWSO01 [JW] Classical Music Reviews: October 2019 - MusicWeb-International". Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  37. ^ "Dunhill, Arnell CDLX7195 [MH]: Classical CD Reviews - December 2007 MusicWeb-International". Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  38. ^ MusicWeb International review, 2002
  39. ^ "DUNHILL Violin Sonata Stanzeleit REGIS RRC1376 [RB]: Classical Music Reviews - November 2011 MusicWeb-International". Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  40. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 26 July 2020.