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To music-lovers of a certain age, Hamilton Harty is a much-loved name. As a versatile conductor and pianist, he made scores of records before the war and was a BBC regular, doing much to popularise classical music for a mass audience. This landmark biography reveals that there was a great deal more to him, hence the subtitle. Jeremy Dibble convincingly presents Harty as a pivotal figure in British musical life in the first quarter of the 20th century, as well as revealing him as a much more significant composer than one realised. As an admirer of his Irish Symphony and his flamboyant piano concerto I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was prolific in so many other genres.

In an engaging and fluent style, Dibble brings the rich music scene of Edwardian London vividly to life, tracing Harty’s rapid rise to fame with a roll call of the great musicians of that era all making appearances. If occasionally the narrative descends into a list of concert appearances, the details are nevertheless always fascinating.

At the same time, Dibble casts a scholarly and perceptive eye over Harty’s compositions and describes them in such accessible terms that one longs to hear them, especially the chamber music, where Harty has written some significant works that are today almost completely forgotten. I hope this book will stimulate both performances and recordings. The biography is copiously annotated with footnotes (infinitely preferable to endnotes), has a valuable discography, comprehensive work list and an intriguing bibliography. I would have liked a list of modern recordings for those wishing to explore Harty’s music more fully, as well as reissues of his own recorded performances but this is easily researched online.

With much unpublished correspondence and other rare archival source material, Dibble provides an indispensable primer for all future research. Twenty-one musical examples reproduced in full score, many rare photographs (some appearing for the first time) and an excellent index round out this admirable book, making it an essential volume for anyone interested in the history of British music.

BRENDAN G CARROLL Read the full review on Agora Classica

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