Rutland Boughton


(Circa 1955)


Rutland Boughton (pronounced "Bow", as in receiving applause, with a "ton" on the end) was born in Aylesbury on 23 January 1878. After studying with Sir Charles V Stanford and Walford Davies at the Royal College of Music he spent some years as repetiteur at the Haymarket Theatre in London before eventually being offered a permanent teaching post by Sir Granville Bantock at the then Birmingham and Midland Institute of School of Music. He established himself there as a singing teacher, composer and writer. In 1914, and with the support of the Clark family (of the famous shoe manufacturing company), he founded and directed the first of his Glastonbury Festivals in order to provide a platform not only for his works but for any other music that accorded with his artistic ideals. The Festivals, the first of their kind to be seen in England, became a huge success and by 1926, he had mounted over 300 staged performances and 100 chamber concerts, besides related lectures, exhibitions and a series of innovative Summer Schools.

In 1922 his opera (or choral-drama)'The Immortal Hour' was produced in London where it enjoyed a phenomenal success and still holds the world-record for a continuous run of any serious opera written by an Englishman. Boughton's other notable works for the stage are "The Queen of Cornwall" (based on the play by Thomas Hardy),'Bethlehem' (a Christmas choral drama) and 'Alkestis' (based on the Greek play by Euripides).

After Glastonbury, Boughton took up residence at Kilcot, a small village in Gloucestershire, primarily to complete the cycle of Arthurian Music Dramas that he had begun in 1908 but also to organise further festivals at Stroud (1934) and Bath (1935). Whilst living at Kilcot, Boughton also produced some of his finest orchestral pieces. Despite successful revivals of 'The Immortal Hour' and 'Bethlehem', Boughton's fame declined and it is only in recent years, largely through the activities of The Rutland Boughton Music Trust, that his importance in the history of British music has begun once more to be appreciated.


Picture postcard of Buckingham Street, Aylesbury, 1907
Boughton was the son of grocer William Boughton (1841-1905) whose shop occupied 34 Buckingham Street in Aylesbury. From an early age, he showed signs of musical talent although his formal training did not begin until he was apprenticed to a London concert agency and later, with financial assistance from the Rothschild family and by recommendation from his future teacher Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, he was able to take up studies at the Royal College of Music. Insufficient monies meant he had to depart college after one year and after a short while performing ad- hoc duties, he secured a job in the pit at the Haymarket Theatre in London and then as official accompanist to the baritone David Ffrangcon-Davies. In 1905, he eventually got invited by Sir Granville Bantock to join his staff at the Birmingham school of music.

Whilst at Birmingham, Boughton made many new friends and accepted new opportunities and proved to be an excellent teacher and an outstanding choral conductor which won him much recognition. He was drawn into the socialist ideas through the writings of John Ruskin, William Morris, Edward Carpenter and George Bernard Shaw. Out of his process of self-discovery and self-education came the artistic aims that were to occupy Boughton for the rest of his life. As a young man he had planned a fourteen- day cycle of dramas on the life of Christ in which the story would be enacted on a small stage in the middle of an orchestra which soloists and the chorus would comment on their action. Although this did not come to fruition, the idea remained with him and by 1907 Boughton's discovery of the theories and practices of Wagner turned to another subject, that of King Arthur. Based upon the festivals at Bayreuth and parallel to the ideas set about by the poet Reginald Buckley in his book called "Arthur of Britain", Boughton set out to create a new form of opera which he called "music-drama" and to establish a national festival of music and drama. Although some of the national opera houses were less than ideal, Boughton and Buckley were moved to create their own theatre and by using local talent create a form of musical cooperative. At first, Letchworth Garden City was deemed a suitable location (the Arts and Crafts Movement there was significant at this time) but he later turned to the Somerset town of Glastonbury where, allegedly, King Arthur had been laid to rest. Meanwhile, Sir Dan Godfrey and his Bournemouth orchestra had established a reputation for supporting new English music and it was there where Boughton's first opera from the Arthurian cycle, "The Birth of Arthur", was performed.

Assembly Rooms, High St, Glastonbury

By 1911, Boughton had left his post at Birmingham and moved to Glastonbury where, with Walshe and Buckley, began to focus on establishing the country's first national annual summer of music and drama. The first production was not, in fact, the project of the Arthurian Cycle but that of Boughton's new opera, or music- drama, "The Immortal Hour" which he had composed in 1912 and following a national appeal to raise funds supported by the likes of Sir Granville Bantock, Sir Thomas Beecham, John Galsworthy, Eugene Aynsley Goossens, Gustav Holst, Dame Ethel Smyth and George Bernard Shaw, plans were laid to build a temple theatre with a seating capacity of over 1200. Sir Edward Elgar (who later was President elect) promised to lay the foundation stone whilst Beecham was to lend his Beecham Symphony Orchestra. In August 1914, and the day the opening production was set to take place, World War I was declared which caused the plans to be postponed. However, Boughton was determined to see his project go forward and instead of Beecham's orchestra, a grand piano was employed, and instead of a purpose-built theatre, the local Assembly Rooms, that were to remain the centre of activities until 1926, became the venue. By the end of the Festivals, Boughton had mounted over 350 staged works; 100 chamber concerts, a number of exhibitions and series of lectures and recitals never previously seen in England. In 1922, the Glastonbury Festival Players went on tour and became established at the Bristol Folk House (now demolished) and at Bournemouth.

The most notable and successful of Boughton's works is the music-drama "The Immortal Hour", an adaptation of the play by Fiona Macleod (the pseudonym name for William Sharp) based on Celtic mythology. Having been successful at Glastonbury and well received in Birmingham, the Director of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Sir Barry Jackson, took the work to the Regent Theatre in London where it achieved a record-breaking run of over 600 consecutive performances. On its arrival in 1922, it secured an initial run of over 200 performances and a further 160 the following year with a successful revival in 1932. The work was attended by many people on more than one occasion, including Royalty, especially to hear the young Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies whose portrayal as Etain began her professional acting career.

Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Etain in "The Immortal Hour"

In addition to "The Immortal Hour" and "Bethlehem", his other notable operas include "The Queen of Cornwall" (completed 1924 and based on Thomas Hardy's play); "Alkestis" (1922 - based on the Greek play Euripides and eventually reaching Covent Garden) and "The Moon Maiden",(a ballet for female dancers and singers). The Cycle of Arthurian Music Dramas began in 1908 with "The Birth of Arthur" followed by "The Round Table" in 1915, "The Lily Maid" (1934), "Galahad" (1944) and "Avalon" (1945). Of these "The Lily Maid" was first performed at Stroud in 1934 whilst the last two operas have never been performed.

The downfall of the Glastonbury Festivals came about when Boughton, sympathising with the Miners' Lockout in 1926, insisted on staging his "Bethlehem" at Church House, Westminster, London, with Jesus born in a miner's cottage and Herod portrayed as a top-hatted Capitalist, surrounded by soldiers and police. The event caused much embarrassment to the people of Glastonbury and they withdrew their support. The Festival Players went into liquidation and Boughton was forced to move out.

From 1927, and until his death in 1960, Boughton lived in the tiny village of Kilcot, near Newent, in Gloucestershire where he went on to produce, arguably, some of his finest works, only a handful of which have been realised in the past 25 years. These include his second and third symphonies, short orchestral pieces, a number of concertos and chamber pieces - many of which took a further 50 years to be revived. 

Rutland and third partner Kathleen at Kilcot

Boughton also attempted to repeat his successes at Glastonbury by organising festivals at Stroud, Ross-on-Wye and Bath but these became short-lived, despite attracting such singers as Elsie Suddaby and Astra Desmond. Boughton was visited by many well-known figures, among them were Alan Bush, Vaughan Williams and the American singer Paul Robeson. Boughton died at his daughter's home in Barnes, London, in 1960.


A full account of the life and music of Rutland Boughton was made by the late Michael Hurd, official biographer, in his book "Rutland Boughton and the Glastonbury Festivals" in 1993. The book is republished by The Rutland Boughton Music Trust - ISBN 978-0-992-71730-8 - in August 2014. Price £35 (includes P & P)  (£45 for overseas orders)

See attached notice and order form:  here and here

(For further information about Michael Hurd, see )


Other publications on or featuring Boughton include:

King Arthur in Music (2002) (Boydell & Brewer Ltd, ISSN 0261- 9814;

"The Avalonians" by Patrick Benham (1993 revised 2003) (Gothic Image Publications -;

"The Little Book of the Great Enchantment" by Steve Blamires (R J Stewart Books, USA,

"Musical Lives - Intimate biographies of the most famous by the famous" (OUP ISBN 0-19-860528-5,

Thesis "The Twilight of the Knights: Rutland Boughton's Arthurian cycle and national epic/Le Crepuscule de la chevalerie: le cycle arthurien de Rutland Boughton et l'epopee nationale - by Dr Nadege Le Lan (in French see

"Music in the Landscape - How the British Countryside Inspired our Greatest Composers" by Em Marshall. Publishers: Robert Hale Ltd, London (2011). Details see

"Masques, Mayings and Music-Dramas by Roger Savage. Boydell Press (2014) ISBN 978-1-84383-919-4 ( (2014)

"Holy Grail and Holy Thorn - Glastonbury in the English Imagination by Richard Hayman. Fonthill Media (2014) ISBN-13:978-1-78155-049-6 (


BBC Radio 4: The First Glastonbury Festival 1914.


"Glastonbury - The Untold Story", (2010) film about the lives of Boughton, Buckton and Bligh Bond (includes interviews with Michael Eavis and Charles Hazlewood). Compiled and presented by Dr Tim Hopkinson-Ball in association with 4reelfilms and Strode Theatre. Details Tel:            01458 442846      .

Website signature tune: extract from "The Faery Song" from "The Immortal Hour" (Hyperion), sung by Maldwyn Davies.