Photograph courtesy of the Edgar Bainton Society (UK)
Edgar Bainton today is remembered by most people for his anthem ‘And I Saw a New Heaven’. The son of a Congregational minister, Bainton studied at the Royal College of Music under Stanford before accepting an appointment as piano professor at the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Conservatory; there he played a major role in the music life of the region and introduced the music of Bax, Holst and Vaughan Williams. A nature lover at heart, Bainton enjoyed long country walks and it was during this time that he formed close ties with the poets Wilfred Wilson Gibson and Gordon Bottomley.
Having travelled to Germany to hear Wagner’s operas at the Bayreuth Festival, Bainton was interned at Ruhleben Camp for the duration of WW1. After his release, his work as an examiner required extensive travel throughout the British Empire and in 1934, he accepted a position as Director of the New South Wales Conservatorium in Sydney. According to his daughter, Bainton was a man possessing “a deep philosophy of life”; he was shy, modest, hard working and whole heartedly devoted to the well-being of the institution he now governed. Determined to impart an artistic inheritance steeped in the traditions of the British school of music, he founded an opera school and gave the première of music by British and European composers as well as supporting music written by Australian composers such as Alfred Hill, Roy Agnew, Arthur Benjamin and Percy Grainger.
Opportunities for performance and the publication of his own music was more restricted in Australia but one of the highlights during his time at the Conservatorium was the première of his opera, The Pearl Tree (1944). The production was repeated in 1946, the same year as he was obliged to retire at the age of 65 at a time when his creative powers were still vitally alive. Although he remained in Australia, he began to travel once more by taking over the conductorship of the New Zealand Orchestra and giving lectures in Canada. His compositional output is extensive with numerous songs and chamber music still in manuscript form unpublished; a third symphony and even a foray into film music for a documentary on the Australian Bush Police was completed before his death while swimming in Sydney Harbour off Point Piper in the summer of 1956.