Geoffrey Bush

Geoffrey Bush


• 1920 1998

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Geoffrey Bush's agreeable personality was manifested in his music, which displayed serious craftsmanship but was often leavened with good humor and a gentle spirit. Bush preferred writing songs and operas, but he also produced a fair amount of chamber and orchestral music. The son of detective/fiction writer Christopher Bush (who used the pseudonym Michael Home), the younger Bush maintained a lifelong interest in crime fiction and even collaborated on a story with fellow composer Bruce Montgomery, who wrote fiction under the name Edmund Crispin. Bush began piano studies at age seven; the following year, he became a probationary chorister at Salisbury Cathedral. He began writing his own music at ten, and at Lancing College, he studied with a former student of Vaughan Williams and was introduced to composer John Ireland, who became a lifelong mentor and friend. Bush obtained a bachelor's degree in music from Balliol College, Oxford, in 1940; after wartime service caring for children evacuated from London, he re-emerged from Balliol in 1946 with a doctorate in classics and composition. Although he loved French and Russian music and American musicals, Bush emphasized the need for English composers to write in a specifically English voice, avoiding foreign trends and influences. This did not, however, prevent him from working a bluesy slow movement into his Symphony No. 1. Most of his music, though, came in smaller forms with a simple, direct manner of expression, particularly songs using texts by English writers ranging from Chaucer to Stevie Smith. Opera for Bush was essentially an expansion of song, written in a manner accessible to a wide audience. Indeed, his ballad opera The Blind Beggar's Daughter incorporates folk music, and Lord Arthur Savile's Crime employs many witty musical allusions. Bush championed English music as a scholar, as well as a composer; he edited several volumes of the Musica Britannica series, four of them devoted to nineteenth century song. He also helped bring out editions of works by Ireland, Parry, Stanford, and Elgar. For 30 years, he was staff tutor in music for the extramural department of London University and also lectured and taught at Oxford and King's College London. Among his honors and awards were being made an honorary fellow of the University College of Wales in 1986 and the Royal Philharmonic Society's prize for his overture Yorick, one of his most often-performed pieces.