Learmont Drysdale

August 21, 2010

Learmont Drysdale

George John Learmont Drysdale was born October 3, 1866 in Edinburgh. Through his mother’s side he was descended from Sir Thomas Learmont (c. 1220 – 1297) better known as Thomas the Rhymer. Drysdale would later compose a ballad in his honour.

As a child he took piano lessons from his teacher Miss Turnbull who also taught Alexander Mackenzie. At school he was fond of designing theatricals and composing their music. The design influence was seen when he left school and studied architecture but the composition influence won out in him instead.

He applied to the Edinburgh Royal College of Music in 1883 but was turned down due to lack of orchestration skills. His rejoinder was if he knew orchestration he wouldn’t have needed college in the first place! Instead he studied music theory privately under a Dr. Grieve and concentrated on his piano and organ playing.

In 1887 Learmont got a job in the All Saints Church in Kensington, London where he was de facto organist, choir master and concert organiser due to the ill health of the principal organist. He enrolled in the Royal Academy of Music in 1888.

He returned to Scotland in 1904, teaching for a short time at the Glasgow Athenaneum, but spent the rest of his short life composing.

In 1909 Learmont returned home to Edinburgh and tried to set up a Society for Scottish music. (It came to fruition after his death as the Dunedin Association.) He never married and was devoted to his mother. She was to die suddenly in May 1909 of pneumonia. He was just finishing off his opera Fionn and Tera when he suddenly developed the same illness a month later. He died aged only 42 on the 18th June 1909.

Like other Scottish composers of the time, his works are steeped in Scottish themes.

Examples include the overture Tam O’ Shanter (1890), the cantata The Kelpie (1891), the opera The Red Spider (1898), the tone poem A Border Romance (1904), and the cantata Tamlane (1905). Other works include the operas Fionn and Tera (finished by a David Stephen), Flora MacDonald, The Oracle, The Vikings and numerous songs and ballads.

There are currently no CDs of Drysdale’s music available, but it seems Chandos are currently considering it.