Alan Bush. A life

DirectorAnna Ambrose
One line synopsisBritish composer, Alan Bush (1900-1995), talks about his music and his attempts to combine it with the struggle for social change.

Photographs of Alan Bush as a baby and grown up, intercut with those of Queen Victoria and Lenin. Alan Bush speaking: born 1900, two older brothers. The fashion for middle-class people to have children taught the piano. He had lessons and began to compose. His teacher showed these early works to a friend, Sir Edward Elgar. Played for Elgar who didn’t discourage him. He became a student at the Royal Academy of Music in 1918, studying piano, organ, and composition. Bush playing Relinquishment, Op:11, 1928. Bush speaks being taught piano by Lily West who arranged for him to play some of John Ireland’s compositions for the composer. Went to study with Ireland. Ensemble plays excerpt from Bush’s Five Pieces for Violin, Viola, Cello, Clarinet and Horn, Op.6 (1925), which was dedicated to John Ireland. Bush talks about political views, discovering composer, Rutland Boughton, a member of the English Communist Party, far more famous in the teens and twenties than any English composer except Elgar. Posters for Boughton’s The Immortal Hour, the "Celtic Twilight" "par excellence", says Bush. Bush talks more about Boughton’s operas. Photographs of of Boughton and Herbert Morrison, Bush VO. Bush talks about foundation of London Labour Choral Union by Boughton and Morrison. Texts sung "were concerned with the fight for Socialism". Photograph of buildingSir Michael Tippett talking about choir entering festival at Strasbourg, and the exuberance of returning home by train after winning. Poster for Pageant of Labour, Crystal Palace, October 15-20 (1934), organised by Bush. Interviewer VO asks Tippett about it. Tippett says it was extremely cold during both rehearsals and performances, and about "chaos" of rehearsals. Archive footage of performance with musical excerpt over. Poster with photographs of Bush and Tippett, composer and conductor. Archive footage. Newspaper article, photo of Bush. Bush talks about the Pageant. Archive film of Crystal Palace. Bush talks about Workers’ Music Association, set up in 1936. The London Labour Choral Union concentrated on choral music, with classes in conducting but little connection with other musical disciplines. The brass band movement demonstrated to Bush a much wider interest in music among working people. House and grounds of Wortley Hall where most Workers’ Music Association summer schools were held. Joan Horrocks, Honorary Organiser, WMA Summer School. Bush was Director of Studies until 1975. Musical groups and individuals in classes and other activities. Bush explains that WMA was not just to help bring music of all kinds to working people, but to encourage them to engage with music relating to social problems of all kinds, and to teach them how music related to circumstances – how it developed in different times and in different countries, how musical movements differ nationally and because of local social structures, etc. Tippett talks of the WMA committee and how it guided the movement.Joan Horrocks making meal-time announcement about Summer School’s closing concert that evening, the main work being composed by Alan Bush, with words by his wife, Nancy. Particularly apt for Anti-Apartheid year. Alan and Nancy take a bow to much applause. Appluse for Bush at concert as he explains that in 1956 10,000 South African women marched on Government House in Pretoria. When asked who had sent them, every woman answered "Africa is My Name", the title of Bush’s work Op.85, 1976. Performance of Africa is My Name. Photo of WMA singers and banner in 1942. Joan Horrocks talking about wartime activities – very active with unique repertoire, fro example of resistance songs from a range of countries, which, in some cases, were broadcast to those countries. Photo of WMA singers on stage with trophy. Joan Horrocks talks about wartime rehearsals in WMA premises in Leicester Square, where most people stayed on even during air raids. Bush talks of his service in Royal Army Medical Corps as Chief Clerk in Millbank Military Hospital, and about how the BBC tried to ban him and others from broadcasts because he was a signatory to ‘The People’s Convention for a People’s Government’, issued January 12th, 1941. Bush’s composition Truth on the March on the soundtrack over the ‘Six Points of the People’s Convention’, and lists of signatories from Music, Theatre, Films, Authors & Playwrights. Bush explains that Churchill lifted the ban as the movement wasn’t against the war.Photos of Lidice, film of Heydrich taking the salute, photos of him, newspaper articles about the obliteration of Lidice in revenge for his assassination, film of houses being blown up, military men (apparently including Hitler) looking on. Bush conducting; recent performance of Lidice (text by Nancy Bush), 1947. Multi-lingual memorial sign for Lidice, film of the site, Bush conducting choir performing on the spot, presumably around 1947. Archived footage (probably from a Czech film?) of people walking through open country to a mass commemorative meeting (music continues over).Roger Steptoe, Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music, saying that people’s opinions of Bush’s music are coloured by their knowing that he is a Communist, and that hinders their appreciation of his work. Joan Horrocks talks about the choir going to the BerlinYouth Festival in 1951. Half went on the Bathory and arrived without incident; the rest. Photos of American troops. Bush’s voice takes up the story: at the American Zone he and others were turned off the train and spent the night on the railway line. Bush explains how people around Europe raised money for tickets for the choir to reach Berlin. Newspaper article condemning American "brutality". Bush talks about his piano concerto, his "first overtly political work". Tippett describes how Adrian Boult cut short applause for the first performance of the concerto by starting the orchestra playing the National Anthem. Newspaper article – part of it read over. Tippett describes how Bush wanted to write the piano concerto, which ended with a choral section, and perform it himself. It was done with Bush, the BBC orchestra, with Boult conducting. Excerpt from Five pieces for Violin, Viola, Cello, Clarinet and Horn, Op.6 (1925).Bush talks about writing very little orchestral music before World War II as he preferred to concentrate on work which he thought had a better chance of being performed. Roger Steptoe on musicians being reliant on commissions from a performing body which then guarantees a performance of the work which may be followed by further performances and/or broadcasts; composers may form their own ensembles. Poster for the debut performance of the London String Orchestra (January 30, 1939); Bush talks about its formation, and its re-formation after the war; it was not economically viable and disbanded around 1952. Ian Carson, BBC Producer, talks about the six programmes he did around Alan Bush’s music as a result of meeting him when working on programmes on Michael Head and John Ireland. Radio Times entry for broadcast to mark Bush’s 80th birthday. Carson on the thematic nature of Bush’s compositions. Bush talking about the notes of some modern music being organised harmonically, rhythmically, and thematically, and goes on to describe his work, Dialectic. Dialectic, Op:15 (1929). Tippett’s view is that some music is deeper than the social system, rather than being there "to serve the revolution". Bush hopes that some of his music can stir people to take part in revolution. He believes his four operas present the struggle as something "fine; good rather than bad". They all have tragic endings, but three of the four end with choruses inspired to act by heroes who have met their death. Audiences will identify with the causes for which the heroes died. Music will not bring about revolution, but it will help people to take part in it. Programme (?) for Radlett Co…… (obscured by timecode) with picture of Alan and Nancy Bush. Nancy Bush talks about her first libretto, for Wat Tyler, which was one of only four to be commissioned for the Festival of Britain. Alan and Nancy Bush discuss their collaborations and working together. She says that the libretto takes second place to the music, something that many playwrights don’t take kindly to. News articles about the premiere of Wat Tyler, broadcast from East Berlin, and its first stage production, in Leipzig. Photos of Bush and Helmut Seidelmann, the Leipzig conductor, and of the production. Bush on the lack of state support for opera in Britain, and the fact that, prior to the Second World War, there was no state support for any kind of music. This only came after the founding of the Arts Council. Tippett suggests that Bush is more nearly within an ‘establishment’ than he could ever be himself. Bush describes how organisations tend to decline to perform his work. Bush playing number 20 of his 24 Preludes Op.86 (1977). Bush considers himself a professional musician, a professional teacher, but has always tried to unite his music, "at least in part", with "real happenings". Bush playing Air from Suite for Harpsichord or Piano Op:54 (1960). Music continues over credits.

Production companyBlack Sun Films
Running time64 minutes
Full credits

Vesuvius Ensemble:
1st Violin John Tunnell; 2nd Violin James McLeod;
Viola Brian Hawkins;
Cello Charles Tunnell;
Clarinet Thea King;
Horn Anthony Halstead.
Camera Roger Deakins, Dick Pope;
Camera Assistants Andrew Speller,
Richard Brancik,
David Scott;
Sound Jon Sanders,
Edward Tise,
John Lundsten,
Robert Alcock;
Electrician Bill Foreman;
Production Supervisor Ann Wingate;
Editor George Akers;
Assistant Editor Li Guy;
Dubbing Mixer Colin Martin.
Special Thanks to Stanley Foreman ETV,
Workers’ Music Association,
Royal Academy of Music,
Mander and Mitchenson Theatre Collection,
End Title Music,
Air from Suite for Harpsichord or Piano Op:54, 1960.
Written and Directed by Anna Ambrose.
A Black Sun Films Production.
Arts Council of Great Britain © 1983.

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