Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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Orr, C(harles) W(ilfred)

(b Cheltenham, 31 July 1893; d Painswick, 24 Feb 1976). English composer. In his youth he learnt the piano and musical theory and was inspired by performances of Elena Gerhardt. Attracted to lieder, particularly those by Brahms and Wolf, he decided to be a songwriter and moved to London, where he enrolled at the GSM. Entranced by the music of Delius, he introduced himself to the composer who became his mentor and criticized sympathetically his early compositions; through Delius he met Warlock who helped him publish his first songs. A victim of eczema since a childhood vaccination, in adulthood he developed tuberculosis. Orr married in 1929 and, following medical advice, left London and settled in Painswick, where, except for a spell during World War II, the couple lived until his death.

Orr spent his life perfecting the art of setting words to music. He immersed himself in poetry, particularly that of A.E. Housman and went on to write more Housman settings than any other composer. He penetrated to the heart of each poem, intuitively understanding Housman’s repressed emotion. Anguish is portrayed with poignant chromaticism in, for example, The Lads in their Hundreds (1936). Piano parts, including many postludes, not only provide the harmony but evoke the scene, ranging from fluttering semiquavers depicting aspen leaves in Along the Field (1927) to the heavy chordal march to the scaffold of The Carpenter’s Song (1922). Orr’s harmonic language, a blending of English modality and post-Wagnerian Romanticism, gives him a singular voice. Though his output was small, he proved one of Britain’s finest 20th-century songwriters.


Songs, 1v, pf; Plucking the Rushes (after Chin., trans. A. Waley), 1921; Silent Noon (D.G. Rossetti), 1921; When the Lad for Longing Sighs (A.E. Housman), 1921; 2 Songs from A Shropshire Lad (Housman): Tis Time I Think by Wenlock Town, Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry, 1921–2; The Carpenter’s Son (Housman), 1922; When I was One-and-Twenty (Housman), 1924; With rue my heart is laden (Housman), 1924; Is my team ploughing (Housman), 1925; On your Midnight Pallet Lying (Housman), 1925; O When I Was in Love with You (Housman), 1926; This Time of Year (Housman), 1926

The Earl of Bristol’s Farewell (J. Digby), 1927; Tryste Noel (L.I. Guiney), 1927; When as I Wake (P. Hannay), 1928; 7 Songs from A Shropshire Lad (Housman), song cycle (1934): Along the Field, 1927, When I Watch the Living Meet, 1930, The Lent Lily, Farewell to barn and stack and tree, 1928, O fair enough are sky and plain, 1931, Hughley Steeple, 1930, When Smoke Stood Up from Ludlow, 1929; Soldiers from the Wars Returning, 1928; Bahnhofstrasse (J. Joyce), 1932 [see 4 Songs, 1959]; The Lads in their Hundreds (Housman), 1936

3 Songs from A Shropshire Lad (Housman) (1940): Into My Heart an Air that Kills, 1935, Westward on the High-Hilled Plains, 1927, O see how thick the goldcup flowers, 1939; The Isle of Portland (Housman), 1938; In Valleys Green and Still (Housman), 1952; Hymn before Sleep (Latin, trans. H. Waddell), 1953; While Summer On is Stealing (Latin, trans. Waddell), 1953; 4 Songs (1959): Bahnhofstrasse (Joyce), 1932, Requiem (Latin, trans. Waddell), 1954, The Time of Roses (T. Hood), 1955, Since Thou, O Fondest and Truest (R. Bridges), 1957

Choral: The Brewer’s Man (L.A. Strong), B, TB, 1927; Slumber Song (N. Lindsay), unison vv, pf (1937); Fain would I change that note, SAA, pf (1937)

Inst: Cotswold Hill-Tune, str orch, 1937; Midsummer Dance, vc, pf (1957)

Principal publishers: J. & W. Chester, Oxford University Press


S. Northcote: ‘The Songs of C.W. Orr’, ML, xviii (1937), 355–9

I.A. Copley: ‘An English Songwriter: C.W. Orr’, Composer (1968), no.29, pp.12–14

C. Palmer: ‘C.W. Orr: an 80th Birthday Tribute’, MT, cxiv (1973), 690–92

C. Palmer: ‘In Memoriam C.W. Orr’, Delius Society Journal, no.55 (1977), 10–15

J. Wilson: C.W. Orr: the Unknown Song-Writer (London, 1989)


Orr, Robin [Robert] (Kemsley)

(b Brechin, Angus, 2 June 1909). Scottish composer and teacher. He attended Loretto School, Edinburgh, and learned the organ from an early age, for his father, an amateur organist, had built an instrument in his home. Organ studies continued, under Alcock, when he went in 1926 to the RCM, where he also studied the piano with Benjamin and composition with Moule. In 1929 he was elected organ scholar of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and there he was a pupil of Rootham and Dent, taking the MusB in 1932 and the MA in 1938. He continued his composition studies under Casella at the Accademia Chigiana and under Boulanger in Paris. In 1933 Orr was appointed director of music at Sidcot School, Somerset, and in 1936 he became assistant lecturer in music at Leeds University. He returned to Cambridge in 1938 to succeed Rootham as organist of St John’s College, where he taught for the next 18 years, apart from a period of war service as an intelligence officer in the RAF (1941–5). In 1947 he was appointed university lecturer in music; in 1948 he was elected Fellow of St John’s; and in 1951 he received the Cambridge MusD. He also taught at the RCM, and was, from 1953, a trustee of the Carl Rosa opera company. Orr left to become professor of music at Glasgow University in 1956, and was the founding chairman of Scottish Opera in 1962; but in 1965 he went back once more to Cambridge, to take the chair of music. There he was the force behind the construction of the new faculty building and concert hall. He was made a CBE in 1972 and received the honorary DMus of Glasgow University the same year. In 1976, the year he retired, Dundee University awarded him the honorary LLD. He was elected an honorary fellow of St John's College in 1987 and of Pembroke College in 1988. The ‘Robin Orr’ lectures at Cambridge were inaugurated in 1989.

Orr's music, outward-looking and cosmopolitan thanks to the influence of Dent and studies abroad, finds its sources in the interwar music of Stravinsky and Bartók, fusing lively and sometimes startling rhythms with shrewd transformation techniques and at times innovative harmony. He works slowly and methodically, and is keenly responsive to the quality of text in both lyric poetry and drama. Orr is at his best in such compact, impulsive scores as the three symphonies, the Sinfonietta helvetica and his three operas. Of these last, the pithy, socially perceptive Full Circle (commissioned by Scottish Television) employs identical forces to Stravinsky's L'histoire du soldat; Hermiston is tense and powerful, lyrical and graphically bleak, with skilfully characterized libretto by Bill Bryden; the witty, artful comic opera On The Razzle, commissioned for the opening of the new Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama theatre in Glasgow, displays a flurry of ingenious personal vignettes. Equally noteworthy is Orr's vocal output, in particular his settings of Skelton and Rilke, and his useful and substantial contribution to Anglican church music.


(selective list)

Stage: Oedipus at Colonnus (incid music, Sophocles), 1950; Full Circle (op, 1, S.G. Smith), Perth, 1968; Hermiston (op, 3, B. Bryden, after R.L. Stevenson), Edinburgh, 1975; On the Razzle (op, 3, T. Stoppard), Glasgow Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, 1988

Orch: The Prospect of Whitby, ov., 1948; Italian Ov., chbr orch, 1952; Rhapsody, str, 1956; Sym. in one Movt (Sym. no.1), 1963; Sym. no.2, 1970; Sym. no.3, 1978; Sinfonietta helvetica, 1990

Sacred choral: They that Put their Trust in the Lord, SATB, 1946; A Festival Te Deum, SATB, org/orch, 1951; Te Deum and Jub, C, SATB, org, 1953; I Was Glad, SATB, 1955; Come and Let Yourselves be Built, SATB, org, 1961; Mag and Nunc dimittis, SATB, org, 1967; Sing Aloud unto God, SATB, org, 1968; Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord, SS, org (1969); Songs of Zion (pss), SATB, 1978; O God, Ruler of the World, SATB, org, 1982; Trinity Blessed, SATB, 1987; Laudate Dominum, SATB, 1987; Jesu, Sweet Son Dear, carol, SATB, 1989

Secular vocal: 3 Songs of Innocence (W. Blake), Mez, str qt, 1932; 3 Chin. Songs, Mez, pf, 1943; 4 Romantic Songs (Lat., trans. H. Waddell), T, ob, str qt, 1950; 3 Pastorals (M. Webb), S, rec/fl, va, pf, 1951; Arr. 7 Scots Songs, medium v, pf, 1954; Spring Cant. (medieval Lat. verse, trans. Waddell, T. Nashe), Mez, chorus, orch, pf obbl 1955; Arr. 7 Trad. Scots Airs, medium v, pf, 1964; From the Book of Philip Sparrow (S. Skelton), Mez, str orch, 1969; Journeys and Places (E. Muir), Mez, str qt, db, 1970; Liebeslied (R.M. Rilke), Mez, pf, 1972 [after R. Strauss]; Versus from Ogden Nash, medium v, str/pf, 1978

Chbr and solo inst: Toccata alla marcia, org, 1937; Sonatina, vn, pf, 1938; Sonata, va, pf, 1947; Serenade, str trio, 1948; Serenade, hn, pf, 1951; Duo, vn, vc, 1953, rev. 1965; Sonata, vn, hpd/pf, 1956; 3 Preludes on Scottish Psalm Tunes, org, 1958; Elegy, org, 1968; 3 Lyric Pieces, pf, 1994; Rondeau des Oiseaux, rec/fl, 1994

Principal publishers: Anglo American, Bayley & Ferguson, Chappell, Hinrichsen, OUP, Paraclete Press


‘Full Circle’, MT, cix (1968), 321–3

‘Hermiston’, MT, cxvi (1975), 700–02

Musical Chairs (London, 1998) [Autobiography]


CC (I. Weir)

GroveO (H. Cole)

F. Aprahamian: ‘Full Circle’, Sunday Times (14 April 1968)

W. Mann: ‘Hermiston’,The Times (29 Aug 1975)

‘On the Razzle’, Neue Zűrcher Zeitung (9 July 1988)

J. Day: ‘Robin Orr at 80’, Centrepiece, [Cambridge] no.4 (1989), 7

C. Grier: ‘No Mean In-Between’, The Scotsman (11 Sept 1989)


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