Largely forgotten nowadays, Christian Victor Hely-Hutchinson's life was cut sadly short at the age of 45. He is another example, among many during hislifetime, who made a musical career in the BBC during its first quarter-century.He was however born in Cape Town, where his father was Governor and Commanderin Chief of Cape Colony, on 26 December 1901, during the Boer War. Educatedat Eton, Balliol and the RCM, he made his mark as a pianist at the formerestablishment and studied conducting with Adrian Boult at the latter. Hewas to take a D Mus at Oxford much later (1941) but in 1922 he returned toCape Town as Lecturer in Music at the South African College of Music, laterCape Town University. Back in England he went to the BBC in 1926 where hehad experience as pianist, accompanist and a conductor who secured sound,acceptable performances rather than virtuoso ones; in 1933 he moved to Birminghamas Midland Regional Director of Music. The following year he left the BBCon succeeding Granville Bantock as Professor of Music at Birmingham University.In 1944 he returned to the Corporation as Director of Music in successionto Arthur Bliss, a position in which his grasp of detail and flair foradministration served him well at a critical period in the BBC's history.During his last months before his death on 11 March 1947, he was responsiblefor terminating Constant Lambert's connection with the Proms, which stillleaves an unpleasant taste, though it was clear that it was Sir Malcolm Sargentwho put down the poison about a conductor who probably had more talent thanhimself.
Hely-Hutchinson's compositions were varied though apart from one Sonata,a Suite of six easy pieces entitled A Field Day and, for Boosey, somearrangements of Old English Melodies, I have discovered nothing forpiano solo. Chamber works included a Piano Quintet, String Quartet and aSonata for viola and piano. Many of his songs were light-hearted: ThreeNonsense Songs, to words by Edward Lear, Five Folly Songs,Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes (Belloc), The Rolling EnglishRoad (G K Chesterton), settings from Lewis Carroll's two Alice classicsand, best remembered now perhaps, the Handelian parody of Old MotherHubbard. A number of his other song titles - Silver, Adam Layy Bounden and Trees - are lyrics better known in settings by others.Other solo titles included Song of Soldiers, The Jolly Beggar,Who Goes Home?, Cuckoo Song, Twa Corbies and CastlePatrick. Choral works include a setting of I Vow to Thee My Country,also better known to music by another, and two cycles for female voices,Five Songs of Innocence and The Echoing Green and (five) OtherSongs. Two stage works, an operetta, Hearts are Trumps and theNativity Play, The Unveiling, both date from 1932.
By and large it was his work for orchestra which was most popular in itsday. This included an Overture to a Pantomime, a Solemn Preludein G, Three Fugal Fancies for strings, a South African Suitebased on traditional material remembered from his sojourn in his native country,a medley of Edward German songs, fanfares (for Empire Day 1946, and in OCanada and Advance Australia) for brass choir and quantities ofincidental music for film, radio and the theatre. More substantial were the18 minute long Variations, Intermezzo and Finale, given its Britishpremiere at the 1927 Proms, and the symphony for small orchestra which wasawaiting performance at the time of his death (it was hear in the 1947 Proms).Best remembered and it is heard even now. is the Carol Symphony, infour movements: not, properly speaking, a symphony but a suite of four 'choralpreludes', each based on a well-loved Christmas carol, most delightfullyharmonised and scored. I have affectionate memories of a performance at SheffieldCity Hall in December 1948, early in my concert-going career - part of itwas revived successfully by a youth orchestra here in Doncaster in 1985.First heard in 1929, it should keep his memory alive.
© Philip L Scowcroft