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Rutland Boughton (1878–1960)
Born in Aylesbury on 23rd January 1878, Boughton attended the Royal College of Music where he was taught by Stanford and Walford Davies. Following a successful teaching post at the then Birmingham and Midland Institute of Music from 1905 to 1911, he moved to Glastonbury, where he founded his Festival School of Music Drama with the aim of producing a series of Arthurian operas on a scale comparable with Wagner’s Bayreuth Festivals. Boughton wrote widely in all forms of music but it was The Immortal Hour that attracted much fascination.
The opera was adapted from the libretto of a work by William Sharp (alias Fiona Macleod), whose poems and stories became an important aspect of the Celtic revival during the latter part of the 19th century. It was first produced in Glastonbury in August 1914, and in 1921 Sir Barry Jackson, director of the infamous Birmingham Repertory Theatre, persuaded a very reluctant composer to take the work to London. There it proceeded to run with enormous success and enjoyed one of the longest runs of any opera written by an English composer – over 216 consecutive performances, (It still holds the world record for the greatest number of consecutive performances of any serious piece written in England) with a further 160 the following year and revivals in 1926 and 1932. Its success was as much for the impression of its music (the Faery Song, for example, endured in many forms) as for the attraction toward the young Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, whose role as Etain launched her career as an actor.