Sleevenotes from PFCD218: The Frederick Septimus Kelly Project
- ‘…to the unobservant, all babies seem alike…’
- Study no 1
- ‘…the touch of a vanish’d hand…’
- Study no 8
- ‘…an absurd little wooden boat…’
- Monograph no 19
- ‘Winning Gold’
- Monograph no 18
- ‘…Beethoven worshippers gasped…’
- Study no 12
- ‘…in the light of a clouded half-moon…’
- Monograph no 9
- Monograph no 22
- ‘One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so!’
- Study no 9
- ‘To dear Cleg’
- ‘…a sea of lacerated earth…’
- Monograph no 15
- Monograph no 24
- ‘…a rare and beloved creature…’
Compositions in bold by Sadie Harrison.
Other pieces composed by F.S. Kelly.
The Frederick Septimus Kelly Project
Frederick Septimus Kelly (nicknamed Cleg) has been described as ‘Australia’s greatest cultural loss of the First World War…the greatest amateur rower of his day, a brilliant pianist and a composer of genius’ (Christopher Latham). He was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, aged 35, leaving behind a collection of works that are reminiscent of music by Scriabin, Chopin, Rachmaninov and Vaughan Williams. He was perhaps Australia’s first great Romantic composer.
I unexpectedly became a champion for Kelly’s piano music following a five year solo piano concert tour that commemorated composers whose lives were lost or altered as a result of their involvement in World War One. Unlike many of his more song-focussed contemporaries Kelly’s musical output spanned the full vocal and instrumental range, with a piano back catalogue of surprising depth and invention. I became an instant fan, and I released a CD of first recordings of his solo piano music on the Toccata Classics label in June 2020.
I felt that Kelly’s fascinating story could be brought to life in an engaging way by creating a concert that featured Kelly’s own piano music alongside new music, diary quotes and biographical information. I premiered this new programme at Southwark Cathedral, London on October 30th 2021, taking the listener on a journey from Kelly’s birth in Australia to his untimely death at The Somme, featuring lighter anecdotal diary entries alongside the more profound moments in his life. Kelly’s music featured heavily of course, with the ‘new music’ provided by Sadie Harrison – 10 pieces commissioned specially for the concert that reflect and celebrate significant moments in Kelly’s life. This recording features the musical journey taken at Southwark Cathedral in its entirety.
I was delighted when Sadie Harrison emailed to suggest that she would like to write some companion pieces to Kelly’s piano music. I have admired her music for so long, it has been a joy to finally collaborate on a project together. ‘To dear Cleg’ brilliantly captures the events of Kelly’s life, telling his story much better than words ever could – moving effortlessly from the profound to the light-hearted, and from the romantic to the dramatic. Kelly’s musical style, yet to find a truly coherent voice as a result of his untimely death, switches between quasi romanticism and Twentieth Century mysticism, also moving from the drama of Brahms to the pastoral qualities of his British contemporaries. Harrison’s miniatures perfectly compliment Kelly’s shifting musical personality, resulting in a musical journey that touches upon the whole emotional spectrum.
Kelly’s story really seems to resonate with music, wartime history and historical sporting enthusiasts alike, and I am delighted to have initiated a project that links the work of a neglected historical figure, who deserves greater limelight, with one of our leading contemporary composers.
© Alex Wilson 2023
F.S.Kelly – Monographs op. 11 and 12 Studies op. 9: a selection of references to these works in Kelly’s diaries and in the press:
‘…in lyric form I feel I have every now and then said something good and original, for example my monographs in E Flat Major (Monograph no 19), B Minor (Monograph no 22), C Minor (Monograph no 24) and my studies in F Major (Study no 1) and D Minor (Study no 12)’. (F.S.Kelly diaries, 31st December 1915 – written on the outskirts of Gallipoli just before evacuation from the peninsula)
Considered by Leonard Borwick to be ‘too overtly reminiscent of Chopin’, Study no 8 was written very early in the cycle of 12 Studies, with a manuscript copy dated 12 December 1909.
On 27th September 1911, whilst on an expedition in Indonesia, Kelly was up at 4am to travel to the Papandayan volcano crater: ‘on the way up to Papandayan I also composed a complete Impromptu in E flat min’ (Monograph no. 18).
On 16 June 1915 Kelly was recuperating in Alexandria, Egypt, from a wound to his foot. Whilst there he played Study no 12 in D minor in the Hugo Hack music shop on a Bechstein grand piano… ‘I had never played it before and was pleased with it’.
Monograph no 9 is an example of Kelly emulating the pastoral music so popular in early twentieth century England – full of simple charm and elegance.
Monograph no 22, reminiscent of Scriabin, is Kelly’s most substantial and was well-liked by his peers. On 18 April 1915, Kelly refers to performing this monograph whilst alone one evening on board ship off the island of Skyros during the Gallipoli campaign.
The Daily Telegraph noted of Study no 9 (following a concert on 6 May 1913 in the Aeolean Hall, London) that it ‘proved to be a brilliant but not over-elaborated composition chiefly composed of arpeggios that wander from one key to another. The piece was encored’.
The 24 Monographs were premiered in their entirety at a concert in the Aeolean Hall on 19 March 1914. Leonard Borwick was in attendance and gave Kelly his criticisms in person over supper after the concert. Borwick particularly liked them and put a gold star against Monograph no 15 and 22.
Kelly’s life and legacy – a mystery?
There’s a mystery about Kelly’s archive that I’ve been trying to solve ever since I published ‘Race Against Time’ (NLA 2004) on commission. This is my edited version of his diaries. How did they wind up for sale by a Dorset book dealer in 1979? Who broke up the collection and why? The National Library bought the eight volumes on offer but the context suggests there were more, at least one from his days as a music student in Frankfurt, possibly several from his time at Oxford and maybe even something from his Eton schooldays. Without them we have only part of the story of his development as a musician, let alone as a man. Letters are few and reserved. The original of the final diary is missing, too, but a transcript with editorial markings survives. After his death his sister Maisie gave the ninth volume to his friend Arthur Asquith in an unsuccessful attempt to have it published as a memorial of his war service. Gallipoli and the Somme feature. It wound up in the Asquith archives until Christopher Page, Asquith’s biographer, discovered it. In 2015 it appeared as ‘Kelly’s War: The Great War Diary of Frederick Kelly, 1914-16’ and later as ‘The Lost Olympian’, edited by Jon Cooksey, Graham McKechnie and Steve Williams.
By some strange quirk of fate a sketch book, one of probably ten or so, turned up in 2013 through the broker Larry Hutchinson of Dunfermline. It had taken 98 years for it to surface. The Library bought it. I was contacted by a highly excited librarian to ask if I thought it was genuine. It’s in Kelly’s unmistakable hand and covers three months on the western front. A sketch book? Yes, the kind an artist takes into the field and which was just right for the trenches and an officer’s jacket pocket.
The scores, too, seem incomplete. Kelly’s generous niece, Beatrice McPhillamy, gave them to the library in 1974. What’s missing are a symphony and an opera. The opera was probably embryonic, but the symphony was thought through and sketched. Kelly says so.
Since ‘Race Against Time’ (you can read my 60 or so pages of preface on Google books) I have written a biography of F.S.Kelly which is currently seeking a publisher. There’s a puzzle here, too. His diarised life and the reality don’t quite match. There’s not a trace of a romantic attachment for one thing. A great deal about his compositions, other composers and the world of music in London and beyond, his travels in Egypt and Asia, his Sydney and London seasons and every detail of Henley’s regatta year after year, including his part on the 1908 summer Olympics when he won gold, but nothing of his private life. Was he gay? The attachment to Donald Tovey and to Leonard Borwick suggest it. But then there’s his infatuation with the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell and his obligingness to Viola Tree, then on her way to a career in opera? And what is to be made of violinist Jelly D’Aranyi? Her declared love went unrequited, yet Kelly wrote the impassioned Gallipoli Sonata for her. But there it ends.
That inner life is in the music he left. The fierce brio of the fugue for two pianos, the intricate interplay of the monographs, the elegant acrobatics of the studies, the verve of the Gallipoli Sonata, the deeply felt grief that lies beyond the elegance of ‘In Memoriam’ for his friend, the poet Rupert Brooke. His sudden death in the blood bath of the Somme left this music without a champion once his friends had aired what they could in tribute. A new era of a quite different music began to be felt. His music was quietly put away, brought out on rare occasions and then allowed to gather dust. But now there’s a rediscovery going on and a new generation of enthusiasts are finding themselves in tune with this Edwardian figure, all polish and full pockets, the life and soul of any party, endlessly and earnestly engaged in arguing the point about everything, meticulously groomed and musically equally as disciplined and with a drive that can only be admired by the rest of us. All of that and not once does he tell us whether he thought of himself as an Australian. The English claimed him as one of theirs, though with the reservation that he was an athlete and how dare this colonial even think of bringing muscle to the keyboard? In spite of this I recognise him for what he really was – one of us.
Thérèse Radic. Kelly’s biographer. Hon. Principal Fellow, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music
To dear Cleg
The movements of ‘To dear Cleg’ (10 Portraits of Frederick Septimus Kelly) are presented chronologically, each illuminating one of Kelly’s diary entries or letters from friends and fellow soldiers. The music contains many references to his music, sometimes reworking themes or chord progressions, and interweaves music by classical and romantic composers from his performing repertoire alongside traditional tunes associated with Kelly’s life. As an Australian composer now resident in the UK, the music of Frederick Septimus Kelly is particularly resonant for me and researching the context of its composition has brought me closer to the country in which I was born and left over 50 years ago. The work is dedicated to Alex Wilson whose wonderful recording of Kelly’s piano music was the initial inspiration for ‘To dear Cleg’. The commission and first performance in Southwark Cathedral on October 30th 2021 were generously supported by the RVW Trust and the Ambache Charitable Foundation.
I ‘..to the unobservant, all babies seem alike..’
The longest of the movements, ‘..to the unobservant..’ acts as a summary of Kelly’s ife with interwoven references to the folk tune The Bridge of Athlone (Athlone being the birthplace of his father), Australia’s unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda (Kelly was born on 29 May 1881 at 47 Phillip Street, Sydney) and The Battle of the Somme written by Pipe Major William Lawrie who also died from injuries sustained during the First World War. The piece is by turns fragmented and lyrical with washes of pedal creating an impression of otherworldliness. The movement begins and ends with a low, tolling F (Frederick) – a prescient sign of things to come. The title comes from Bertie Kelly’s description of his brother’s life ‘To the unobservant, all babies seem alike, but nothing is more remarkable than the very definite way an individual asserts its true nature from birth. My brother Sep was an excellent example.’
II ‘..the touch of a vanish’d hand..’
This movement is prefaced by a quotation from Break, Break, Break by Alfred Lord Tennyson ’But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand, and the sound of a voice that is still!’ Kelly’s beautiful setting of this poem was completed on 25 August 1899 whilst he was on P&O S.S.Rome. On August 20, 1899, Kelly’s beloved eldest brother Carleton died aged 27 at the family house Glenyarrah in Sydney after a long battle with tuberculosis and Kelly’s setting is undoubtedly a response to his brother’s death. Carleton was the third child in the family to die prematurely. Kelly’s father would die two years later in 1901, his mother Mary in 1902. ‘..the touch..’ begins and ends once again with the intoning F, and is marked ‘with waves of grief’, calm is felt only momentarily, swept aside by overwhelming sadness.
III ‘..an absurd little wooden boat..’
On March 3 1908 whilst in Frankfurt, Kelly wrote in his diary ‘Lulu Engesser brought in an absurd little wooden boat with a wooden figure in it which rowed when wound up by clockwork and which was placed in front of me in full rowing action. The effect was instantaneous and we all laughed ourselves silly. On the boat was inscribed in pencil: “To Mr Kelly – in eternal memory – whoever can command soundwaves, he is certainly a great man”.’ My music is reminiscent of Eric Satie’s Le Yachting from Sports et Divertissements (1914) and also quotes two chords from Kelly’s Theme, Variations and Fugue, op.5 for two pianos 1907-1911. I describe the movement as ‘a quirky and joyful barcarolle’ which depicts the boat’s coming to a halt, being wound up, setting off again and then finally, falling off a table!
IV ‘Winning gold!’
A few weeks after the clockwork boat party, Kelly’s diary entry on Friday 31 July 1908 (Henley, London) reads ‘I hardly slept a wink the whole night in anticipation of having to race the Belgians in the Olympic finals of the 8s..Wanting to win by a comfortable margin, we had decided before the race to go as hard as we could the whole way…We ended up equalling the 1897 record and winning gold.’ The most programmatic of the movements, annotations through the score read: ‘oars in water..finding the stroke..picking up speed..‘long, beautiful strokes’ (FSK)..digging deep..a deep breath and gradually pulling away..jubilant!’
V ‘..Beethoven worshippers gasped!..’
In The Bulletin (June 1911) a review of Kelly’s performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at Sydney Town Hall on 16 June 1911 read ‘The orchestra had the help of F.S.Kelly, a returned Australian…his brilliant performance justified a remarkable burst of enthusiasm, though Beethoven worshippers gasped at the introduction of cadenzas in a composition of the master!’ The positivity of the previous two movements continues in this playful interpretation of the opening bars of Beethoven’s Sonata in C major, op.2, No.3, the first Beethoven Sonata I learnt as a child. It is marked ‘quasi una cadenza à la F.S.K!’
VI ‘..in the light of a clouded half-moon..’
The death of poet Rupert Brooke, friend and member of Hood Battalion, affected Kelly deeply and inspired his most famous work Elegy in memorium Rupert Brooke for string orchestra (1915). The opening chords of this work are heard towards the end of this movement, a blaze of light in an otherwise solemn and ritualistic piece. It bears a resemblance to the comparably elegiac ‘..the touch of a vanish’d hand..’, the score being prefaced with similar words ‘through hazy moonlight, deep waters and the pain of grief, the Elegy emerges’. Kelly’s diary entry about Brooke’s burial on the island of Skyros (written on 23 April 1915 aboard S.S. Grantully Castle) reads ‘We reached the grove at 10.45pm where in the light of a clouded half-moon the burial service was read…It was a most moving experience. The olive trees in the narrow valley and the scent of the wild sage gave a strong classical tone, almost pagan…As we slowly made our way behind the coffin to the olive grove the opening phrase [the Elegy] constantly recurred in my mind.’
VII ‘One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so!’
Some 10 months after Brooke’s death Kelly was stationed together with Hood Battalion at Paraskevi Camp in Tenedos, a Turkish island in the Aegean Sea. On 19 February 1916 he wrote in his diary ‘I found my first opportunity for using the booklets of folk songs which I had printed a year ago. Heald and I collected 15 men from B company at 3.15pm and we sang though Green Grow the Rushes, Oh! three times.’ In the sleeve notes for ABC Classics’ ‘A Race Against Time’ CD release, Christopher Latham writes: ‘Hood Battalion adopted Green Grow the Rushes, O! as their anthem, which they sang with great gusto. It is a Christmas Carol full of veiled references to God and angels. It is a telling choice by soldiers, who knew what was coming, and the odds of their survival.’ My ‘One is one’ depicts Hood Battalion’s performance, rather jolly to start with and becoming increasingly rumbustious by the end, the men perhaps a little worse for wear in the mess! Kelly made an arrangement of the traditional folk song for voices, violin and piano in 1914.
VIII ‘To dear Cleg’
Although this movement comes towards the end of the cycle it is the emotional heart of the work, a rhapsody that perhaps captures best the romance of Kelly’s music. Latham writes: ‘…If not Jelly [Jelly d’Arányi, violinist], then it remains a mystery who, if anyone, lived in his heart…It could have been the great English pianist Leonard Borwick, who lived with him in London, sharing an apartment during the week, which contained two pianos so they could play duets together. When he returned to London from Gallipoli, he found in their flat a bunch of myrtle, the symbolic flower of love, with a note containing the inscription, ‘To dear Cleg with a deep joy and thankfulness from Len’ (March 1916, London). This movement is a lovesong, prefaced with the words ‘ecstatic, rapturous joy – the flight of two summer swallows’. At the time I was writing this piece I was playing Richard Schumann’s Romanze in F# major, no.2 from Three Romanzes op.28, given to his fiancé Clara Wieck in 1839. It is said that no.2 was the last music she heard before she died in 1896, twenty years before Borwick’s note to Kelly. Clara described this Romanze as ‘a beautiful love duet’ and I have echoed its opening at the most tender, still moment before the rapture sweeps the music heavenward again as the swallows disappear into the clouds…
IX ‘..a sea of lacerated earth..’
‘…we walked over the shell holes till we got into the front line. The land up there is an indescribable scene of desolation… a sea of lacerated earth, with here and there the traces of a former trench system. The presence of these former communication trenches was confirmed by the corpses – some of them horribly mangled and with glazed eyes, others trodden almost out of sight into the mud.’ Kelly wrote these words in his diary on 26 October 1916 while he was fighting in Mesnil in the Somme region. A composer to the very end, on 28 October in the trenches, he finished an arrangement of The Somme Lament for violin and piano. Kelly would die days later at Beaucourt-sur-l’Ancre, France when rushing a German machine gun post in November 1916. ‘..a sea..’ is the most aggressive and desolate of the movements. Marked ‘the machines of war’, it is brutal and unrelenting, closing with a heroic, but ultimately desperate cry – The Battle of the Somme melody cut short by the sounds of gunfire and grenades.
X ‘..a rare and beloved creature..’
Bernard Freyberg who served alongside Kelly in Hood Battalion described Kelly’s death in a letter written between 13 November 1916 – January 1917, ‘Our task in the battle was to capture the front line system, and as we advanced we passed the burning entrances of dugouts…A few men reached the position, but Kelly, with most of them, was killed at the moment of victory. God how we miss Kelly – I remember him more vividly each day… he was a rare and beloved creature – I hope he misses us a little.’ This final piece brings us back to the beginning of the cycle with its chords now gentle and luminous, accompanying a distant, peaceful echo of the Lament. In 1915, Kelly wrote much of his Gallipoli Violin Sonata for Jelly d’Arányi in the trenches at Cape Helles. In a letter he wrote to Jelly, ‘You must not expect shell and rifle fire in it! It is rather a contrast to all that, being somewhat idyllic’. ‘..a rare and beloved creature..’ weaves the theme from the opening Allegro non troppo into the fabric of the music, beauty created in the darkest of times. The prescient low F natural that intoned at the beginning of ‘..to the unobservant..’ has now been transfigured into a high, bright F sharp – a symbol of Kelly’s brilliant, passionate and extraordinary life.
© Sadie Harrison 2023
Frederick Septimus Kelly
Frederick Septimus Kelly was born in Sydney on 29 May 1881, the seventh child of Irish-born woolbroker Thomas Hussey Kelly and his wife Mary Anne. From a very early age he had shown an extraordinary talent as a pianist. Like many sons of wealthy Australians in this period, the young Kelly was sent from Sydney to Eton (in 1893) and later to Oxford where he was Lewis Nettleship Musical Scholar at Balliol College in 1900. Although as an undergraduate he studied History (music not meeting with parental approval), he became a friend of the eminent music scholar Sir Donald Tovey. He was elected President of the Oxford Music Club and frequently performed at his college Sunday concerts. At the same time, he developed the skill and enthusiasm for rowing he had shown at Eton. After many successes at university and at Henley, in 1908 he was a member of the gold medallist English Eight at the Olympic Games. But his greatest sporting renown was as a champion sculler. After leaving Oxford (with only a fourth class degree in History) he was free to develop fully his musical talent and his passionate interest in composition. After his father’s death in 1901 he was left in very comfortable circumstances – with a house on the river at Henley, cars, chauffeurs, a flat in London with servants. From 1903-8 he was in Frankfurt studying piano with Ernest Engesser and composition with Iwan Knorr at the conservative Hochkonservatorium. It is from those years that his talent as a composer, already evident at Eton, began to mature. From 21 December 1906, Kelly began to keep a remarkable diary which ended only the day before his death on 12 November 1916.
His published music includes songs, music for piano solo and duet and (posthumously) two organ preludes and an Elegy for String Orchestra. Of his unpublished works the 24 Monographs op. 11 and 12 Studies op. 9 for piano solo are the most significant. There are numerous chamber and orchestral works. Following the outbreak of World War One, Kelly obtained a commission as a sub- lieutenant in the Royal Navy Division in September 1914. In February 1915 he transferred to the ‘Hood’ Battalion where he enjoyed the company of old friends, among them fellow musician Dennis Browne and the poet Rupert Brooke. He was on board the HMT Grantilly Castle bound for Gallipoli when Rupert Brooke died from septicaemia and was present at the poet’s burial on Skyros. His beautiful Elegy for string orchestra in memory of Rupert Brooke was composed at Alexandria in June 1915, where he was recuperating from wounds received at Gallipoli. It is one of his finest works.
On his return to Gallipoli in July, Kelly was one of three officers who remained at their posts until a final evacuation. For his services he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After a period of rest back in England, he rejoined his battalion in France in May 1916. He was killed in action at Beaucourt-sur-l’Ancre while attacking a German machine-gun emplacement on 13 November 1916.
Thérèse Radic, editor of the Kelly diaries, sums up his all too brief musical career: ‘He was an expatriate, a colonial, and as far as is yet known, had no entrée into English society other than money, but that fortune had brought him into contact with the sons of the establishment at Eton and Balliol and Kelly was adept at developing such contacts… Edwardian society was his metier, the days and nights filled with music-making in great houses and his own’. The Balliol College Memorial Register says of him: ‘He was a man of extraordinary vitality and physique, and of great powers which had only begun to mature and to find their unison and harmony. Time alone was wanting’.
Biography by Bruce Steele and Richard Divall
Alex Wilson is a musician with a passion for the unusual, new and unexplored: a versatile pianist with interests ranging from fascinating repertoire by forgotten composers to cutting edge new music. Alex is a former British Contemporary Piano Competition finalist, Park Lane Group Young Artist and performer of new music across Britain and Europe as soloist, accompanist and chamber musician. Self- promoted solo concert tours of the forgotten piano music of WW1 (Banks of Green Willow) and the European traditions associated with Christmas (Noël: a concert by candlelight) enjoyed large audiences and received critical praise. Alex’s debut solo CD – a recording of works by WW1 composer F.S.Kelly – was released in June 2020.
Alex studied for a music degree at York University, and graduated from the Royal College of Music with a MA (distinction) in piano performance in 2011, following studies with Andrew Ball. He lives in beautiful Devon with his wife and two small children.
Sadie Harrison is an Australian UK-based composer known particularly for the socio-political aspects of music-making with several works challenging stereotypes of marginalised peoples – refugees, Afghan women, the deaf, the homeless – celebrating their creativity and individuality with powerful expressions of musical solidarity. For several years, she also pursued a secondary career as an archaeologist, specialising initially in the Irish Neolithic, and latterly in the prestige pottery of the Continental Bronze Age (also appearing on Channel 4’s Time Team). Reflecting her interest in the past, many of Sadie’s compositions have been inspired by the traditional musics of old and extant cultures with cycles of pieces based on the folk music of Afghanistan (as Composer-in-Association with the Afghanistan National Institute of Music), Lithuania, the Isle of Skye, the Northern Caucasus and the UK. Sadie’s music has been performed and broadcast internationally with works released to critical acclaim on Naxos, NMC, Cadenza, Sargasso, Toccata Classics, BML, Divine Art/ Métier, and Clarinet Classics. Her music is published by UYMP with several works on the ABRSM and Trinity Examination lists.
The Frederick Septimus Kelly Project is thankful to the following organisations for their support:
Ambache Charitable Trust
Vaughan Williams Foundation
The Marchus Trust
The Golsoncott Foundation
F.S.Kelly – Piano Music (Toccata Classics)
F.S.Kelly – A Race Against Time (ABC Classics)
F.S.Kelly – Orchestral Works (ABC Classics)
Harrison – Pasture & Storm: New Music for Left Hand Piano (Prima Facie)
Harrison – An Unexpected Light (NMC)
Harrison – The Rosegarden of Light (Toccata Classics)