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date: 17 August 2019

Swain, Freda (Mary)locked

  • Eric Blom
  • , revised by Lewis Foreman

Extract

(Mary)

(b Portsmouth, Oct 31, 1902; d Chinnor, Jan 29, 1985). English composer and pianist. One of the last composition pupils of Stanford at the RCM, she also studied the piano with Dora Matthay (1913–17) and with Arthur Alexander, whom she married in 1921. She was appointed professor at the RCM in 1924, the year from which her first mature compositions may be said to date. She first came to prominence with The Harp of Aengus for violin and orchestra (based on a poem by W.B. Yeats), played by Achille Rivarde at Queen’s Hall in January 1925. In 1936 she founded the British Music Movement for the promotion of new music and after World War II she set up the NEMO Concerts, which again promoted her contemporaries’ music as well as her own.

On the outbreak of war, Arthur Alexander was marooned in South Africa. Swain wrote a piano concerto for him; scored on very thin paper it was sent by airmail in a number of instalments. Alexander performed it in Cape Town and elsewhere and it became known as the ‘Airmail’ Concerto. Despite its success, however, and protests by the composer and her supporters, the concerto was never accepted for broadcast by the BBC. In ...

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