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Date of Graduation
Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)
School of Music
During the first few decades of the twentieth century, prolific composer, teacher, and conductor, Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960), was well-regarded for his contribution to the landscape of English art song. However, against the backdrop of Modernism and the tumult of the Second World War, his musical style was deemed “out of touch.” In a 1943 chain of correspondence with fellow songwriter Roger Quilter, Gibbs describes feeling “exceedingly sore and discouraged at neglect at the hands of the critics.” He further explains, “Just because we both write music that is intelligible & frankly tries to aim at beauty, we are considered beneath the notice of the clever young men who are wholly occupied in boosting the [newer generation].” Indeed, England’s sensibilities had changed, and its spotlight turned to a list of younger composers. Gibbs’s songs—many of them steeped in Romanticism, childlike imagination, and magic—were criticized for avoiding bleak subjects. However, the intentional wide-eyed wonder in his songs is anything but escapist. Gibbs’s ideals concerning beauty had everything to do with a lifelong progression of Christian theological thought that evolved from an orientation of Nostalgia to the hope and future of Heaven. In this vein, Gibbs’s songs—including some missing ones that I recently discovered—very much confront harsh realities such as the composer’s troubled childhood and the tragic death of his son in the Second World War.
Analysis and appreciation of Gibbs’s music demand sensitivity to the following four themes: 1) Gibbs’s spoiled childhood; 2) the wars that bracketed his adulthood; 3) Nostalgia as the shaping force behind his concept of beauty; and 4) evolving Christianity as its guiding light. The first two are biographical realities. The latter two are lenses through which I assert Gibbs worked and through which scholars and performers can achieve the richest understanding of Gibbs’s songs. To that end, this DMA document includes five analyses of songs that span Gibbs’s career, woven into a biographical narrative that examines various aesthetic philosophies that undergird Armstrong Gibbs’s maturing Christian worldview. These selections are: “Ann’s Cradle Song,” “The Splendour Falls,” “Before Sleeping,” “Quiet Conscience,” and “The Oxen.”
Richardson, James Kellogg, "Five Songs by Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960): From Nostalgia to Christian Hope and the Assurance of Heaven" (2021). Dissertations, 2020-current. 92.