Harty, Sir (Herbert) Hamilton

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Harty, Sir (Herbert) Hamilton

Harty, Sir (Herbert) Hamilton, eminent Irish conductor, pianist, and composer; b. Hillsborough, County Down, Dec. 4, 1879; d. Brighton, Feb. 19, 1941. He received most of his musical training from his father, William Harty, the parish organist and a music teacher.He learned to play the piano, organ, and viola, and began composing while still a youth. In 1894 he was made organist at Magheragall Church in County Antrim, and then was a church organist in Belfast (1895–96) and Bray in County Wicklow (1896–1901). During the latter period, he profited from the guidance of Michele Esposito and established himself as a piano accompanist in Dublin. In 1901 he went to London. For the Feis Ceoil, Dublin’s competitive music festival, he composed An Irish Symphony and won a special prize. On May 18, 1904, he made his conducting debut in Dublin leading its first performance. From 1904 he also appeared as a conductor in London, the year he married Agnes Nicholls. He composed several works for his wife and appeared as her accompanist. In 1913 he made his debut at London’s Covent Garden, and subsequently devoted most of his time to conducting. From 1920 to 1933 he was conductor of the Halle Orch. in Manchester, which he brought to a high level of performance. In 1931 he made his first conducting tour of the U.S. From 1932 to 1934 he was artistic adviser and conductor-in-chief of the London Sym. Orch. Although stricken with a brain tumor in 1936 which cost him his right eye, he continued to make occasional appearances as a conductor until Dec. 1940. In 1925 he was knighted and in 1934 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Phil. Soc. of London. Harty’s well-crafted compositions follow along traditional lines with an infusion of Irish inflections. While none of his compositions entered the standard repertoire, his effective suites for large orch. arranged from Handel’s Water Music (1920) and Music for the Royal Fireworks (1923) were popular concert staples for many years. As a conductor, he was highly esteemed as a consummate podium figure.


ORCH.: The Exile, overture (c. 1900); An Irish Symphony (Dublin, May 18, 1904; rev. 1915 and 1924); A Comedy Overture (1906; rev. 1908); Violin Concerto (1908); With the Wild Geese, poem (1910); Variations on a Dublin Air or Irish Variations for Violin and Orch. (1912); Fantasy Scenes (1919); Piano Concerto (1922); À la campagne for Oboe and Orch. (c. 1931; also for Oboe and Piano, 1911); Orientale for Oboe and Orch. (c. 1931; also for Oboe and Piano, 1911); In Ireland, fantasy for Flute, Harp, and Orch. (1935; also for Flute and Piano, 1915); The Children of Lir, poem (1938; London, March 1, 1939). chamber: 3 string quartets (1898, c. 1900, c. 1902); 2 Fantasiestücke for Piano, Violin, and Cello (c. 1901); Romance and Scherzo for Cello and Piano (1903); Quintet for Piano, 2 Violins, Viola, and Cello (c. 1904); 2 Pieces for Cello and Piano; Waldesstille and Der Schmetterling (1907); Chansonette for Oboe and Piano (1911); Irish Fantasy for Violin and Piano (1912); Spring Fancies, 2 preludes for Harp (1915); Fanfare for 4 Trumpets and Side Drum (1921); Suite for Cello and Piano (1928); A Little Fantasy and Fugue for Carillon (1934); piano pieces. vocal:Ode to a Nightingale for Soprano or Tenor and Orch. (1907); The Mystic Trumpeter for Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1913); choruses; many songs.


D. Greer, ed., H. H.: His Life and Music (Belfast, 1978).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire