Joseph Holbrooke (1878 - 1958)

Joseph Holbrooke was a well known composer, conductor and pianist at the start of the 20th century,  though his fame gradually faded. He was born in Croydon in 1878,  lived in Tufnell Park between 1910- 1929 and then until his death  he lived at various addresses in  St Johns Wood- 60a Boundary Road ( 1929 – 1937), 48 Boundary Road ( 1937-40 ) and 55 Alexandra Road (1940-58) – all these were destroyed in the Alexandra Road rebuilding scheme in the 1960s. He also had a house in Harlech, Wales, (1911 to 1934) where he would  complete his operatic trilogy The Cauldron of Annwn  which was based on the tales from the Welsh Mabinogion. His son was the legendary English bassoonist Gwydion Brooke.


He was born into a family who worked touring music halls; in his teenage years  his father encouraged him to  write musical arrangements for leading music hall artists and then he attended the Royal Academy of Music and made his solo piano debut at St James Hall in 1896 and joined various musical groups  of varying sizes touring the United Kingdom. In December 1899 he conducted the Bournemouth orchestra in his Suite for Strings op40 . It was all a struggle as he had no inherited wealth to fall back on,  but later success brought commissions and finally a millionaire patron who continued his support until the mid 1940s.

His compositions appealed to leading musicians and also to the upper and middle class pupils he taught and  included a Saxophone concerto and his most popular work, Variations on Three Blind Mice. Edgar Allan Poe’s writings were an enduring obsession and he wrote 35works based on Poe’s poems and tales. He also promoted the work of other British composers including the earliest ever performance of a work by Delius.

There is an extensive entry in Wikipedia that is well worth exploring - and a huge amount of Holbrooke’s sheet music is available from June Emerson Wind Music, Yorkshire



This page was added on 18/10/2023.

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