Ernest Farrar

Ernest Farrar (1885–1918)

Ernest Farrar was born in Lewisham in London in 1885 but brought up in Yorkshire which was where he was to spend most of his life as a composer and organist. He was educated at Leeds Grammar School, and in 1905, was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he studied composition with Stanford and organ with Parratt. It was here that he also met and became friendly with Frank Bridge. In 1906, he was awarded the Arthur Sullivan Prize and in 1907 the Grove Scholarship.

In 1909, Farrar spent six months in Dresden as organist at the English church. On returning to England, he took up a position as organist and choirmaster at St Hilda’s in South Shields before moving to Christ Church in Harrogate in 1912. During this period he continued to make connections with local orchestras; he was conductor of the South Shields Orchestral Union and later the Harrogate Orchestral Society. In 1913 he married his fiancée Olive Mason.

Gerald Finzi went to Ernest Farrar for lessons which continued throughout the war. Initially Farrar did not sign up. It was only in December 1915 that he volunteered for the Grenadier Guards, and he only joined his regiment in August 1916. For the rest of this year and 1917, he was based in London and then Cambridge. In February 1918, he accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion Devonshire Regiment, and after conducting his last completed orchestral piece Heroic Elegy (For Soldiers) at Harrogate in July, he set off for France on 6 September.

During his brief time in France, be befriended J. B. Priestley, and on 18 September, after only two days at the front, and only a matter of weeks before the armistice, Ernest Farrar was killed by machine gun fire, leading his men in the Battle of Epéhy. He was 33 and is buried in a Ronssoy Communal Cemetery.

Priestley wrote to Olive ‘your husband was a representative of one of the finest types of humanity, a creative artist freed from all little meanness’s and jealousies. It was a privilege to know him.’ Frank Bridge and Gerald Finzi were both deeply affected by his death; Bridge’s Piano Sonata and Finzi’s Requiem da camera are both dedicated to his memory.

Ernest Farrar’s music has been neglected since his death. It might be that he came to be seen as representing the pre-War era which had now passed. His orchestral works include the Rhapsody No. 1 ‘The Open Road’, The Blessed Damozel, English Pastoral Impressions and the Heroic Elegy (For Soldiers) mentioned above. He also wrote a significant amount of music for organ, sacred and secular choral music such Margaritae sorori and Out of Doors (poems by Whitman), and songs which include the cycle The Vagabond Songs.


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

A. Officer: ‘Who was Ernest Farrar?’ British Music Society Journal, Vol. 7 (1985)

Stephen Banfield: Sensibility and English Song

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

To find out more, click on the links

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