Maurice Miles – New London String Ensemble: John Humphries, Concerto – Recorded February 16, 1945 – BBC Transcription Service –
Maurice Miles leading the New London String Ensemble in a performance of John Humphries’ Concerto, recorded at the BBC on February 16, 1945 and issued as part of the BBC Transcription Service on a 78 rpm set.
It’s difficult to figure out who is more obscure, conductor Maurice Miles or 18th century composer John Humphries. Miles was one of those figures who had a wide range of musical interests and who strived to introduce audiences to new and unfamiliar music, both new and old. He was one of the guiding lights of the then-newly formed Ulster Orchestra and was its principal conductor in 1966 and was a highly regarded teacher of conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Maurice Miles was born in 1908, and was principal conductor of the Yorkshire Symphony from 1947 until 1954. The orchestra played many twentieth century works, including more than thirty by British composers in his first season alone. His repertoire was eclectic, and he gave a rare performance of Arthur Honegger’s oratorio King David at the 1950 Leeds Triennial Musical Festival.
But the star system was setting the musical agenda more than fifty years ago, just as it does today. In 1954 Maurice Miles was replaced as conductor in Leeds 1954 by the much higher profile Russian Nikolai Malko, who had given the first performances of Shostakovich’s First and Second Symphonies (even Malko these days isn’t mentioned very much, even in collectors circles).
Maurice Miles’ specialities were never likely to become fashionable. Arnold Bax, and Arthur Butterworth were among the composers he championed. He gave the first performance of Gerald Finzi’s beautiful Dies Natalis in the Wigmore Hall in 1940, and conducted Geoffrey Bush’s Symphony No. 1 at the Proms in 1958. As well as his work in Northern Ireland Maurice Miles was a frequent conductor of the BBC Welsh and Scottish Symphony Orchestras.
Maurice Miles taught conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London (from 1953), and at the Royal Military School of Music Kneller Hall (1969). In 1977 he produced a guide to conducting (published by Novello) with the title ‘Are you beating Two or Four?’ – and subtitled ‘Some hints to help you make up your mind’! He published orchestral transcriptions of Jesus My Dearest Friend (J.S. Bach) and Blessed Virgin Expostulation (H. Purcell).
As far as I can suss, Maurice Miles didn’t record anything commercially (although I am more than happy to be corrected on that one), and over the years since his death in 1985, Miles has gone into almost complete obscurity.
John Humphries, as Groves puts it: (bc1707; d March 26, 1733) was an English composer and violinist. The op.1 trio sonatas were published as by J.S. Humphries, and the other works as by John Humphries; however, the sonatas and the concertos have enough in common to suggest that they are by the same composer. He was also considered that ‘a good performer on the violin’. There are two commercial recordings of Humphries music – so, one imagines in the recognition sweepstakes, Humphries wins.
In any case, here is a chance to hear a radio performance by a forgotten conductor of a lesser known composer in 1945.