Sir Granville Bantock was born in London on the 7th August 1868. His father was the prominent Scottish surgeon and gynaecologist Dr George Granville Bantock. George’s father worked for the 2nd Duke of Sutherland, as gamekeeper and then laird, a few years after the Highland Clearances attributed to the 1st Duke of Sutherland. It is noted that the gamekeeper once offered 10 shillings each for White-tailed Eagle eggs in 1849. The Granville name was taken from the Sutherland Duke in tribute.
George Bantock tried to guide Granville into respectable professions. Granville was first enrolled into the Indian Civil Service; and then chemical engineering, but before long his father was to enrol Granville into the Royal Academy of Music.
On leaving the RAM he got a job as the editor of the New Quarterly Musical Review in 1893. In 1894 he became a conductor of light opera initially for the George Edwardes’ Gaiety Company and in 1897 he became a Musical Director of New Brighton Tower Pleasure Gardens. Then in 1900 he moved to the Birmingham and Midland Institute as Principal and in 1908 became Peyton Professor of Music at the University of Birmingham.
He became a great champion of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Sibelius’s 3rd Symphony is dedicated to him.
Bantock spoke several languages and studied Latin, Greek, Persian and Arabic. Some of his work is inspired by the Orient or Classical Antiquity but he is more known for the works inspired by his Scottish and Celtic roots.
His Eastern-inspired work includes the choral epic Omar Khayyám (1906–09) based on Edward Fitzgerald’s translations. The Orchestral tone poem Thalaba the Destroyer was based on the Lake Poet Robert Southey’s Arabian epic poem of the same name. Bantock was also to write Songs of Egypt, Songs of Arabia, Songs of the East, Songs of Persia, Songs of India, Songs of China and Sons of Japan based on his wife Helena Von Schweizer’s lyrics.
His Classical Antiquity-inspired work includes The Pagan Symphony (1928); his Third Symphony, The Cyprian Goddess (1938/39); The Sappho Songs and various incidental music for Greek plays including Electra (1909), Oedipus Coloneus (1911), The Birds (1946), and The Frogs (1935).
A key influence in his Scottish works is the folk song collector Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser. Her collections of the Songs of the Hebrides (1907, 1917, 1921) provided the composer with a rich vein of material which he continually used.
Before writing the Hebridean Symphony Bantock toured the Highlands and Islands. He composed the symphony in 1915 and conducted it first in Glasgow on Valentine’s Day 1916.
The opening of the Hebridean Symphony is based on the lament Ho Roinn Eile which was given to Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser by Frances Tolmie, a renowned Gaelic song collector. Altered in the symphony and renamed The Seagull of the Land-under-Waves it remains a haunting melody. The Symphony makes its way through other songs like Kishmul’s Gallery, The Pibroch of Donnail Dhu, Harris Love Lament and finally into a Song of Victory. Sections of the symphony are based on songs collected by Kennedy-Fraser: Ailein Duinn, 0-hi, Shiubhlainn Leat [Brown-haired Alan, with Thee I Would Go]; An Seachran-Gaoil [The Love Wandering]; Heman Dubh [Hebrid Seas]; and An Sgeir-Mhara [The Sea Tangle].
The Sea Reivers (1917) was first performed in 1920. It is based on Kennedy-Fraser’s arrangements of the song Na Reubairean, which was collected from Penny Macdonald of Eriskay.
The Seal-Woman (1924) is a two act opera. Kennedy-Fraser produced the libretto for this and even sang the role of ‘Old Crone’ in its first perfomance.
The Celtic Symphony (1940) makes use of another Hebridean folksong An Ionndrainn-Mhara [The Sea Longing]. It is scored for a full string orchestra including 6 harps!
These are just a selection of the composer’s Scottish-themed works. In fact Bantock became so obsessed with his Scottishness that his son Angus learned the bagpipes and another son Hamilton danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance.
Bantock became President of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir under Sir Hugh Robertson. Robertson called him “the Laird” and wrote “the blood of Scotland flowed in his veins … a rich racial tradition, which, in his heart, he cherished”.
Bantock was given an honorary Doctorate of Music by Edinburgh University. He was knighted in 1930. He was to die on 16th October 1946. The Bantock Society was established after this to promote his work. The composer Jean Sibelius became it’s first president.