English composer Cecil Armstrong Gibbs was born in Great Baddow near Chelmsford, Essex, on 10 August 1889, into a rich family - his grandfather founded the soap company D & W Gibbs. An aunt discovered his perfect pitch at the age of three, he improvised melodies at the piano before being able to speak fluently, and he was five when he wrote his first song. Although best known for his songs, due to his natural gift for setting text, he also devoted much time to the amateur choral and festival movements. At Cambridge (studying history) he also studied composition with Edward Dent and Charles Wood.
He worked initially as a school teacher, and obtained a commission to write a musical to mark the headmaster's retirement, which became instrumental in the beginning his career as a composer. Gibbs approached Walter de la Mare to write the text, the two became friends, and Gibbs' best compositions are settings of de la Mare. Adrian Boult conducted the production, and persuaded Gibbs to study at the Royal College of Music for a year, where his teachers were Boult, Charles Wood and Vaughan Williams. The director, Hugh Allen, helped Gibbs to get some of his songs published.
He was soon receiving significant commissions for stage music, won the Arthur Sullivan composition prize, was getting music published and performed, began to teach theory and composition at the Royal College of Music, and founded the Danbury Choral Society in Essex, an amateur choir which he continued to conduct until just before his death from pneumonia in Chelmsford on 12 May 1960, aged seventy.
Visit the Armstrong Gibbs Society website.
A selection of M&V articles about Armstrong Gibbs
Ensemble. Unjustly Neglected - In this specially extended feature, Armstrong Gibbs' re-discovered 'Passion according to St Luke' impresses Roderic Dunnett
Ensemble. Cogent Achievements - Peter Maxwell Davies' tenth symphony and other British music, heard by Roderic Dunnett
CD Spotlight. Elegant Precision - A recital by Charlotte de Rothschild, heard by Howard Smith. '... consistently reliable ...'
CD Spotlight. Meltingly Beautiful - Christmas music from the Vasari Singers, unstintingly recommended by Howard Smith. '... exemplary radiant style and élan ...'
CD Spotlight. Glorious Singing - A recital by Alice Coote and Graham Johnson, heard by Gerald Fenech. '... interpreted with great zest and passion ...'
CD Spotlight. Miniaturist Skills - Music by Carey Blyton, heard by Patric Standford. '... a delight for both performer and listener.'
Bizarre Perception - Alistair Hinton discusses a recent article on English music by David Hamilton