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Boult, Sir Adrian (Cedric)

Boult, Sir Adrian (Cedric)

Boult, Sir Adrian (Cedric), eminent English conductor; b. Chester, April 8, 1889; d. London, Feb. 22, 1983. His mother, a professional writer on music, gave him piano lessons; at age 12 he received some instruction in music from a science teacher, H.E. Piggott, at the Westminster School in London. At 19 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, and sang in the Oxford Bach Choir; then he studied with Hans Sitt at the Leipzig Cons. (1912–13), and also attended rehearsals and concerts of that city’s Gewandhaus Orch. under Nikisch and sang in the Gewandhaus Choir. Upon his return to England, he took his D.Mus. at Oxford and joined the staff of London’s Covent Garden in 1914. In 1916 he appeared as guest conductor with the Liverpool Phil, and in 1918 with the London Sym. Orch. During the autumn season of 1919, he was principal conductor of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in London, and from 1919 to 1924 he was conductor of the British Sym. Orch., an ensemble made up of former soldiers in the British army. In 1919 he also became a teacher of conducting at the Royal Coll. of Music in London, a post he retained until 1930. From 1924 to 1930 he was music director of the City of Birmingham Orch.; he also was music director of the Bach Choir from 1928 to 1931.

In 1930 he was appointed director of music for the BBC in London, and retained that important position until 1942. He was also charged with organizing the BBC Sym. Orch., which he conducted in its first concert on Oct. 22, 1930. He subsequently served as its chief conductor until 1950. Under his discerning guidance, it became one of the principal radio orchs. in the world. He led it on several tours abroad, including a notably successful one to Paris, Vienna, Zurich, and Budapest in 1936. During these years, he also appeared as guest conductor with the Vienna Phil. (1933), the Boston Sym. Orch. (1935), the NBC Sym. Orch. in N.Y. (1938), the N.Y. Phil, (leading it in the premieres of Bax’s Seventh Sym. and Bliss’s Piano Concerto at the 1939 World’s Fair, June 9 and 10, respectively), the Chicago Sym. Orch. (1939), and the Concertgebouw Orch. of Amsterdam (1945). From 1942 to 1950 he was assoc. conductor of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in London. He was music director of the London Phil, from 1950 to 1957 and led it on a major tour of the Soviet Union in 1956. In 1959–60 he was again music director of the City of Birmingham Sym. Orch., and from 1962 to 1966 he once more taught conducting at the Royal Coll. of Music. In 1937 he was knighted, and in 1969 was made a Companion of Honour. In 1944 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Phil. Soc. He was conductor at the coronations of King George VI in 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Boult’s style of conducting was devoid of glamorous self-assertion; his ideal was, rather, to serve music with a minimum of display, and for this he was greatly respected by the musicians he led. Throughout his long and distinguished career he championed the cause of British music. He was particularly esteemed for his performances of the works of Vaughan Williams, whose Pastoral Symphony (Jan. 26, 1922), Fourth Sym. (April 10, 1935), and Sixth Sym. (April 21, 1948) received their premiere performances under his direction in London.


The Point of the Stick: A Handbook on the Technique of Conducting (Oxford, 1920); Thoughts on Conducting (London, 1963); My Own Trumpet, an autobiography (London, 1973).


J. Moore, ed., Music and Friends: Letters to A. B. (London, 1979); H. Simeone and S. Mundy, eds., Sir A. B., Companion of Honour: A Tribute (Tunbridge Wells, 1980); M. Kennedy, A. B.(London, 1987).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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