York Bowen, described by Saint-Saëns as "the most remarkable of the young British composers," was generally recognized as a pianist and poet, his fame achieving its pinnacle in the years preceding the First World War. He was the youngest of three sons and was born in Crouch Hill, London, on 22 February 1884. His mother, an experienced singer, taught him piano and harmony, and he enrolled at the Blackheath Conservatoire at the age of eight. He was given a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in 1898 and studied piano with Tobias Matthay and writing with Frederick Corder until 1905. A gifted pupil, he received several piano and composition awards, including the Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. In 1909, Bowen was elected Professor at the RAM, a position he kept for the next fifty years. His piano playing won critical praise for its technological and creative quality by frequent appearances at the Queen's Hall and later at the Royal Albert Hall. He founded celebrated duos with the brilliant viola player Lionel Tertis and the pianist Harry Isaacs and his active career as a solo (virtuoso) pianist. Involved as an artist, at last, Bowen died unexpectedly on 23 November 1961 at his home in Hampstead at 77.
Bowen was a successful composer in a profession that spanned about sixty years, composing over 160 works with opus numbers and many others that he left uncatalogued. Four symphonies and four piano concertos are among his large-scale works, the first of which he was asked to perform at the Proms under Henry Wood. Other orchestral compositions involve violin, viola, and horn concertos (because of their premieres by Marjorie Hayward, Lionel Tertis, and Dennis Brain, respectively) and tone-poems as The Lament of Tasso, first performed in August 1903 by Sir Henry Wood. His orchestral writing experience of several orchestral instruments, especially horn and viola, served him well. There are string quartets and piano trios within his chamber music corpus and a horn quintet and a bass clarinet quintet. Along with sonatas for clarinet, flute, oboe, recorder, trumpet, violin, viola, and cello, he composed six piano sonatas from 1900 to 1961. Bowen did much to broaden the viola's range, inspired by the mastery of Tertis' playing. However, for a British composer of the twentieth century, the piano controlled his output to an extraordinary degree, and his distinctly idiomatic composition for the instrument won him the sobriquet of 'the English Rachmaninov.'
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