Arthur Bliss

Arthur Bliss in 1922 Credit - Herbert Lambert

Arthur Bliss in 1922
Credit – Herbert Lambert

To download the resource pack about Arthur Bliss, click below:

Resource pack

Arthur Bliss was educated at Rugby School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied composition, and then briefly at the Royal College of Music before the First World War broke out. He was 23 at the outbreak of hostilities and enlisted immediately in August 1914, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 13th Battalion Royal Fusiliers with whom he served until 1917.

He fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and was wounded on 7 July while leading his battalion. He transferred to the Grenadier Guards in 1917 where he was commissioned as a Captain to the 1st Battalion. While fighting at Cambrai in 1918 he inhaled poisonous gas. Bliss served with distinction, was noted for his bravery, and was mentioned in dispatches in 1916.

Despite his heroism, the war and his extensive exposure to brutal armed combat was to have a deep psychological and long lasting effect on him. His younger brother, Francis Kennard, also fought on the Somme, and was killed in action in September 1916 at the age of 24.

Bliss knew he was fortunate to survive and his response was to live life to its fullest. Being so close to death and seeing so much loss of life led to a vivid awareness of life and of being alive. Artistically, he threw himself into music immediately after the war, experimenting with different styles, and he was described as bursting with energy and purpose. He was part of the young generation who wanted to look forward and leave the memories of the war behind, but eventually his war experiences caught up with him.

It wasn’t until 1930 that he was fully able to find public expression through his music to the traumas he had experienced and the pain of his brother’s death. It was in the profound Morning Heroes – A Symphony for Orator, Chorus and Orchestra where he achieved this. The work bears the dedication ‘To the memory of my brother Francis Kennard Bliss and all other comrades killed in battle’, and is an anthology of poems and prose from The Iliad, Walt Whitman, Li Tai Po, Wilfred Owen and Robert Nichols. Bliss had been experiencing recurring nightmares in the years following the war but he believed that the composition of this work provided a catharsis for him as the dreams faded around that time.

Information from the above summary can be found in the following books and online resources

Arthur Bliss: As I remember

Grove Music Online (free access for members of Westminster Libraries)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (free access for members of Westminster Libraries)

To find out more, click on the links

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