Harry Farjeon

1878-1948


Harry Farjeon was born in Hohokus, New Jersey on 6 May 1878, the eldest son of the writer B.L. Farjeon and his wife, Margaret, daughter of the American actor Joseph Jefferson. His parents returned to England with him a few months later. He grew up in Hampstead, where he lived for the rest of his life. His sister, Eleanor Farjeon, with whom he shared a rich imaginary life, wrote children's books and poetry, including the well-loved hymn "Morning has Broken". His brothers were J. Jefferson Farjeon, novelist, and Herbert Farjeon, writer of theatrical revues.

He studied music privately with Landon Ronald and John Storer, then in 1895 he entered the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studied composition with Battison Haynes and Frederick Corder, and piano with Septimus Webbe. There he was a contemporary of Arnold Bax, York Bowen, Adam Carse, Eric Coates, Paul Corder, Benjamin Dale and Montague Phillips, among others.
He won the Charles Lucas Medal, the RAM Blue Ribbon, and the Goring Thomas scholarship for Operatic Composition two years running.
An opera, Floretta, to a libretto by his sister, Eleanor, was produced at the Academy in 1899, and two operettas were performed at St George's Hall in 1901 and 1902. He won the Worshipful Company of Musicians' Medal in July 1899.
He left the RAM in 1900, but returned to teach composition in 1901. On the death of his father in 1903, he became the youngest ever professor at the RAM at 25 years of age. He also taught at the Blackheath Conservatoire.

In 1903 his Piano Concerto in D minor was performed at a Promenade Concert. His Hans Andersen suite for small orchestra was played with great success at a Patron's Fund concert of the RCM in 1905, and also played at Bournemouth and elsewhere. In 1942 his symphonic poem Pannychis, with words by his sister Eleanor, was played at a Promenade Concert, conducted by Basil Cameron.

Harry Farjeon composed music throughout most of his life. His compositions are mostly for piano, but he also wrote songs, sonatas, concertos and a mass setting. He also wrote about music, for the Musical Times, the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere. Among his pupils were George Lloyd, Christian Darnton, Phyllis Tate and Steve Race.

His eyesight had been bad since childhood, when his mother had been warned not to let him or his sister Nellie read too much. It worsened as he became older, and his students wrote their compositions on specially printed brown paper. Steve Race has said that writing on this paper cured him of writing long rambling compositions. In later life Farjeon developed Parkinson's disease. A new pupil meeting the musician for the first time said her immediate thought had been, "Oh you poor little man!" But after the first lesson she never thought it again.

Yet even though his hands had to be lifted for him and placed on the piano by pupils, he still taught at the Academy. He had worked there for forty-seven years, when at the end of the July 1948 term of the RAM, where he was still teaching thirty students every week, he fell and broke his hip. His sister was told that he would not live three days, but he in fact survived for five months, cared for by his sister and brother. Harry Farjeon died on 29 December 1948, and his ashes were scattered in the New Year.

Eleanor Farjeon wrote to her brother Joe: " The greatness of Harry's living, locked into me since childhood,is locked in me till I die."

One obituary commented: "In many ways he seemed to attain that rare selflessness which transcends personality altogether."


Bibliography
  • Eleanor Farjeon: A Nursery in the Nineties (Gollancz, 1935)
  • Annabel Farjeon: Morning has broken: a biography of Eleanor Farjeon (Julia MacRae, 1986)
  • Lewis Foreman: Bax (Scolar Press, 1987)
  • Eric Blom, ed: Grove's Dictionary of Music & Musicians, 5th ed, 1954
  • Musical Times

    The photograph above is from "Morning has broken".


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