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Sir Eugene Goossens was one of the most prominent of the younger British composers who emerged in the years following World War I. At first regarded as part of modern music, his works are now firmly set in the romantic tradition which audiences today find attractive and which accounts for the increasing number of recordings.
Like Mahler, Bernstein and Boulez, Goossens was known throughout his life as both conductor and composer. He was a member of a distinguished musical dynasty and his siblings included his brother Leon, the oboist, and Marie and Sidonie, both harpists. Both his father and grandfather, Eugene I and Eugene II, were conductors, principally with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. Eugene III was born on 26 May 1893 in London. However, the family soon moved to Liverpool and it was from there that the six-year-old Eugene was sent to school in Bruges, the city of the family’s origin.
In 1906 Goossens returned to England, attending the Liverpool College of Music where he gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, studying violin, piano, theory and composition – the latter with Sir Charles Stanford. Goossens began his career as a violinist in Sir Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra. In 1916 he became associated with Sir Thomas Beecham and the opera seasons he promoted and Goossens quickly gained the reputation of being able to master difficult scores with remarkable rapidity.
Goossens conducted for Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes and for Covent Garden and in 1921 presented a landmark series of concerts of new music with his own orchestra, including the first London concert performance of Stravinsky’s
The Rite of Spring.
In 1923 Goossens was invited to America to become conductor of the newly formed Rochester Symphony Orchestra and in 1931 he became Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. From 1947 to 1956 he worked in Australia as Resident Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Director of the New South Wales Conservatorium. In 1951 he published his autobiography,
Overtures and Beginners
and in 1993 Carol Rosen’s study,
The Goossens: a Musical Century
, deals substantially with him and his work. Goossens was knighted in 1955 and his last years were spent in London.
Following the composer’s death, the Eugene Goossens Archive was administered by Pamela Main and in 2009 she generously donated much of it to the British Library. A forthcoming biography by Donald Westlake will provide new information about Goossens’ years in Australia.