(b Oxton, Cheshire, 27 Sept 1879; d Eastbourne, 31 Dec 1970). English composer, writer and pianist. He showed early musical talent and at the age of 12 was sent to the Hoch Conservatory, Frankfurt, to study under Lazzaro Uzielli and Humperdinck. He returned to England 18 months later and continued his studies under Steudner-Welsing in Liverpool. A second period of study at Frankfurt began in 1895, this time under Iwan Knorr. Fellow composition students included Grainger, Norman O’Neill, Roger Quilter and Balfour Gardiner, who, together with Scott, were soon to be referred to as the ‘Frankfurt Group’. It was during this period that he formed a close friendship with the poet Stefan George, whose work he later translated.
Scott left Frankfurt in 1898, returning to Liverpool and teaching. In 1900 his Heroic Suite was performed in Manchester and Liverpool by Richter, and his First Symphony in Darmstadt under Willem de Haan. Although well received at the time, both works, together with much of the chamber music he had written during this period, were later withdrawn. Scott’s London début came in 1901 with a performance of the Piano Quartet in E minor. His Second Symphony (later reworked as Three Symphonic Dances) was conducted by Wood at a Promenade Concert in 1903. He signed a contract with Elkin for songs and piano pieces, and in 1909 a similar agreement was made with Schott for large-scale works. Many of the original manuscripts of works published in Germany were destroyed during World War II. The long series of Impressionist piano pieces and songs that followed the Elkin agreement, together with frequent recitals and his own strikingly romantic appearance, established his reputation as a ‘modernist’ composer. His most outstanding achievement in the pre-war period was the Piano Concerto which Beecham introduced at the British Music Festival of 1915.
In 1921 Scott married the novelist Rose Allatini. By this time he had begun to take a serious interest in Indian philosophy, which led to his becoming a Vedantist and finally a follower of the Higher Occultism. He also became absorbed in the study of naturopathy, osteopathy and homeopathy. He was to write successfully and frequently on all these topics, his work being translated into many languages. His literary output included several volumes of poetry (much influenced by Swinburne and Dowson), a large number of unpublished plays, and an entertaining autobiography, My Years of Indiscretion (1924).
Between the wars Scott’s music was much performed on the Continent, and a highpoint in his career came with the production of his one-act opera The Alchemist at Essen in 1925 under Felix Wolfe. In England, large-scale works for chorus and orchestra were heard at the 1936 Norwich Festival (Let us Now Praise Famous Men) and the 1937 Leeds Festival (La belle dame sans merci). But by now his music had begun to lose something of its appeal as a novelty. The rich harmonies, languorous melodic lines and rhapsodic diffuseness of form that had once seemed daring and very un-English, came to be regarded simply as part of a period tendency which had seen its most successful expression in the music variously of Debussy and Skryabin. Though still in demand as an interpreter of his own music (he made recital tours all over the world), his reputation as a significant composer went into partial decline.
By 1944 Scott had decided to abandon composition, but according to his own account (1969), a ‘significant occult sign’ led him to continue. The fruits of this renewed activity included the opera Maureen O’Mara (1946), an oratorio Hymn of Unity (1947), and a considerable quantity of orchestral and chamber music.
In 1962 a group of friends and admirers formed the Cyril Scott Society with the object of arousing interest in his work, but their efforts did not lead to any large-scale revival. A performance of a piano concerto in 1969, however, revealed a work that for all its rhapsodic opulence was stronger than had been suspected, and the Hourglass Suite made a similarly favourable impression in 1971. These performances and a 1993 recording of five major orchestral works suggest that a thorough-going examination of his life’s work is long overdue. In the meantime his reputation is kept alive in England by a handful of songs and piano pieces, though abroad his chamber music still commands respect. The importance of his achievement was acknowledged, during his lifetime, by the International Academy (MusD, FIA 1956), the American Conservatory in Chicago (DMus 1959) and the RAM (1969).