F. S. Kelly

F. S. Kelly (1881–1916)

Frederick Septimus Kelly was born in Sydney in 1881 and educated at Sydney Grammar School before coming to England to study at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford. From 1912 to 1914, he studied at the Hochschule Konservatorium in Frankfurt. He was noted for his vitality but was also blunt and irritable. As well as his life in music, he was a successful sportsman, most notably as an oarsman. He rowed at Eton, Oxford and at Henley, and was one of the winning crew in the Olympic Games in 1908.

Kelly memorised Mozart piano sonatas at the age of five and published improvisations aged eleven. He was ambitious, and as a promising concert pianist, made several appearances around Britain before gaining fame in Australia in 1911, where he gave the first Australian performances of works by Debussy and Skryabin. In his debut London season in 1913, Kelly programmed some of his own early pieces such as the Waltz-Pageant and the Allegro de concert. He chaired the Classical Concerts Society from 1912 to 1914, during which his compositions were of largely chamber music, such as Theme, Variations and Fugue for two pianos, some sets of songs and a Violin Sonata.

Kelly joined the Royal Naval division in September 1914 and, as a Captain in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, sailed to the Dardenelles in February 1915, along with Rupert Brooke and William Denis Browne. Brooke appears to have had a positive effect on Kelly, enabling him to mature personally and musically. Kelly was present on the hospital ship when Brooke died of blood poisoning on 23 April 1915, and along with Denis Browne, was at Brooke’s subsequent burial on the Greek island of Skyros.

Kelly’s tone poem Elegy for Strings and Harp ‘In Memoriam Rupert Brooke’ was written in response to this experience and is dated 27 June 1915, when Kelly was himself in hospital in Alexandria. Brooke was buried in a grove on the island late in the evening under moonlight. The burial service was read, and then his closest friends and pallbearers, including Kelly and Denis Browne, stayed behind and covered the grave with stones and pieces of marble. It has been suggested that the music evokes the rustling of the single olive tree which provides shade for Brooke’s grave. The harp part was added a month before Kelly’s own death, and the work was performed at Eton College in 1916, at the Wigmore Hall and at a memorial concert to the composer.

Kelly was mentioned twice in dispatches, and gained a Distinguished Service Cross during the evacuation from Gallipoli in January 1916. He was then posted to the Somme, having been promoted to lieutenant-commander. He was noted for leading morale boosting community singing among the troops, and directed the Hood Battalion band in Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812’ during a bombardment of enemy lines in Noulette Wood.

On 13 November 1916, in the closing stages of the Battle of the Somme, Frederick Kelly was shot in the head while leading an advance on an enemy position at Beaucourt-sur-Ancre. He was 35 and is buried at Martinsart British cemetery.

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

Stephen Banfield: Sensibility and English Song

Trevor Hold: Parry to Finzi: twenty English song-composers

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

  1. Brian Mason says:

    just been to visit F S KELLY,S grave at MARTINSART CEMETERY on the Somme after reading about him

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