|Country Of origin:||Great Britain|
The name of English composer Frederic Austin is almost forgotten today. Even as a baritone, the role in which he was best known during his own lifetime, his legacy is obscure; he recorded little. Yet Austin was responsible for one quite common item in England's shared musical legacy, and for one absurdly common one: he restored the score to John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, and he arranged the folk melody of The Twelve Days of Christmas into the form in which it is known today.
Austin was born March 30, 1872, in Poplar, now in East London. His father was a tailor. He showed musical talent and was sent away for singing and organ lessons. After earning a music degree from Durham University in 1896, he landed a job teaching at the Liverpool College of Music. During this period he met composer Cyril Scott, and, through him, a large group of other young British composers who included Roger Quilter, H. Balfour Gardiner, Percy Grainger, and Arnold Bax. At first Austin gained recognition as a composer and teacher, giving composition lessons to future star conductor Thomas Beecham, but his singing career soon eclipsed his compositions. Between 1905 and 1920 he was a fixture in performances of major British vocal works, appearing twice under the baton of composer Edward Elgar himself in The Dream of Gerontius and The Apostles, and often in oratorios both classic and contemporary. In 1909 he appeared as Gunther in an English-language version of Wagner's Götterdämmerung, and he went on to perform heavier Wagner roles in the latter part of his career.
In 1909, Austin's arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas was published by the Novello firm and prominently reviewed and promoted. Although folk texts had included the line "five golden rings" (of uncertain meaning), the setting-off of those three words into a two-measure section of their own was Austin's invention. His piano accompaniment to the song is still frequently played. Austin appeared in (and recorded) his own revival of The Beggar's Opera in 1920, a major success that ran for nearly 1,500 performances.
After his retirement from singing, Austin began to compose more frequently, although he maintained major involvement with the world of singing as director of the British National Opera. He wrote two operas himself, one based on the life of Robert Burns. Austin composed incidental music for plays, and later soundtracks for films from London's Ealing Studios. Several of his works have been revived, including the orchestral Rhapsody Spring (1907) and a Symphony in E minor (1913). Neither work was published during his lifetime. Austin and his wife, Amy, had a son and a daughter; his son, Richard, became director of what is now the Bournemouth Symphony. Austin died in London on April 10, 1952. ~ James Manheim~ Rovi