[This is part of series dealing with great innovators in music who have received less than their fair share of recognition.]
Once widely credited as the composer who brought British music into the 20th century, Cyril Scott is still worthy of this distinction; however, the long neglect to which his music was subjected has placed the value of his contribution beyond reach for most. With the dawn of the 21st century, it appears that Scott is finally getting his just due. His work is beginning to emerge from the shadows of obscurity through different, enterprising series of recordings devoted to it. Chandos' cycle of Scott's orchestral music, and the piano solo works -- which dominate his catalogue -- as played by pianist Leslie De'Ath for Dutton.
Born the son of a Greek scholar in 1879, Cyril Scott was sent to Frankfurt to study music with Engelbert Humperdinck at age 12. Although Scott was a fine pianist, early on he decided that musical composition was his true calling. Cyril Scott's professional career began in 1901 when his Symphony No. 1 in G major was premiered in Darmstadt, to acclaim, though Scott later withdrew this work. Henry Wood gave the premiere of Scott’s Symphony No. 2 in 1903, and its positive reception earned Scott a publishing contract with Schott. However, in 1904 he also struck a deal for lesser works with the publisher Elkin. At this time, Scott also made contact with the second great, all-consuming passion of his life, the study of theosophy and occult sciences, a conceit he shared with his contemporary Alexander Scriabin, though the two likely never met.
In 1905, Scott composed Lotus Land, a mystically atmospheric parlor piece for Elkin that became an enormous commercial success. For the remainder of his contract with Elkin, Scott felt obliged to follow it up with something similarly lucrative, a goal that he never managed to attain, though several of his songs and other short piano pieces did win popularity in England. The 1914 premiere of Scott's Piano Concerto No. 1 was very well received, and the piece itself proved influential among young composers in England, but little did the 35-year-old composer realize that he’d just reached the peak of his career in "serious" music. Starting in the 1920s, British music moved away from the highly atmospheric, impressionistic, and harmonically voluptuous idiom in which Cyril Scott specialized towards a tart, taut, tonally centered language akin to neo-classicism. His books on mysticism and a trilogy of novels entitled The Initiate proved popular and helped keep Scott afloat during these years. Although he mainly played concerts of his own works, Scott began to perform the music of other composers at about this time, and in 1934, gave the British premiere of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3. The reception to his new works, however, went from bad to worse, with his tone poem Disaster at Sea (1933) proving a disaster in every other way as well, and his Symphony No. 3, "The Muses" (1939), remaining unperformed until 2003.
During World War II Scott suffered a health crisis that evolved into a creative one. For several years he was unable to compose. Old friend and fellow student Percy Grainger offered him a house to move into, as Scott was practically destitute. His fortunes improved after the war, and Scott began to compose anew. In 1963, a group of friends founded a "Cyril Scott Society" to help him recover some part of his reputation as musician. Not long after Scott died, the society ceased to operate, but it did gain Scott a performance of his Piano Concerto No. 1 by Moura Lympany in 1969 in honor of his 90th birthday. Cyril Scott's life covered an enormous span of developments in the world. In adulthood he could recall a day when his teachers in Frankfurt took time off to attend the funeral of Johannes Brahms, and, near the end of his life, he watched the first moon landing on television. When Cyril Scott died at age 91 on the last day of 1970, he had just put the final touches on his last composition, Dance Song, that morning. Cyril Scott's music is well worth revisiting as it is a touchstone for exoticism and -- more than any other English musician save Frederick Delius -- Scott fully absorbed the language of impressionism and forged it into his own unique and pictorial style.
Jenny Lin, piano - Lotus Land (1905)
Howard Shelley, piano; Martin Brabbins, BBC Philharmonic - Piano Concerto No. 1 (1914)
Leslie De'Ath, piano - Rainbow Trout (1916)
Leslie De'Ath, piano - Impressions from The Jungle Book: Dance of the Elephants (1926)
Martin Denny Group - Lotus Land (arranged by Martin Denny)