Cyril Rootham

Cyril Rootham
image of Cambridge musician Cyril Bradley Rootham about 1930-32
Cyril Rootham around 1930-32

Cyril Bradley Rootham (5 October 1875 – 18 March 1938) was an English composer, educator, organist and important figure in Cambridge music life.



Rootham was born in Redland, Bristol to Daniel Wilberforce Rootham and Mary Rootham (née Gimblett Evans). His father Daniel was a famous singing teacher whose students included Eva Turner and Dame Clara Butt, and it is therefore no wonder that his son should be such a successful composer of many choral and vocal works.

Educated at Bristol Grammar School, Cyril entered St. John's College, Cambridge to study classics.[1] He developed his considerable musical talents at Cambridge, and later at the RCM under, amongst others, Stanford and Parry.

Rootham's first appointment in 1898 was as organist of Christ Church, Hampstead, followed by a brief period as organist at St Asaph Cathedral (Wales) in 1901. Then later in 1901 he was appointed organist at St John's, a post he held till the end of his life. He also became a University lecturer at the Cambridge University Music Society (CUMS), which thanks to his inspiring leadership became an important and significant influence on English musical life.

Rootham was also responsible for the revival of Handel oratorios, Mozart operas and other "forgotten" works. Although E. J. Dent and others are usually credited with the textual preparation, it was Rootham who held responsibility for their immense musical success.

In 1909, Rootham married Rosamond Margaret Lucas who supplied him with a great amount of support and encouragement. It was also Rosamond who was in charge of the costume making at the CUMS concerts and the Rootham household was always filled with whatever clothes were needed for a new performance. Their son Jasper St John Rootham was born in 1910.

Apart from Mozart, Handel and Purcell, the CUMS concerts also promoted a great deal of modern music such as Kodály's Psalmus Hungaricus, Honegger's Le Roi David and Pizzetti's 'Mass and Piano concerto, all led by Rootham. In 1930 Rootham invited several contemporary composers to the concert; de Falla, Kodály and Arthur Honegger attended as did Kathleen Long.

In 1914 Rootham became a Fellow of the College after taking over the post of University Lecturer in Form and Analysis of Music and later Senior Lecturer in Counterpoint and Harmony in 1924. He was also a much appreciated teacher of orchestration. His many students include Arnold Cooke, Arthur Bliss, Robin Orr and Percy M. Young. Rootham's enviable physique (he excelled in athletics at St. John's) and genial manner made him highly popular amongst students which explains their commitment to the CUMS concerts all of which were basically extracurricular.

As much as he promoted the works of other composers, Rootham did relatively little to push his own compositions into the repertoire. He conducted the first performance of his opera The Two Sisters in 1922 and three years earlier his own setting Laurence Binyon's For the Fallen (which sparked a controversy as Elgar's setting of the same poem was published shortly after Rootham's. Needless to say, neither composer was basically responsible). Rootham's continued involvement with the CUMS included a performance of Handel's Semele and the revival of the tradition of triennial performances of Greek plays with newly composed music, a venue which continued even after his death.

Later in his life Rootham was plagued by illness, he developed Progressive muscular atrophy as the result of a stroke and his active involvement in the CUMS had to be left to Boris Ord in 1936. He completed a few works before his passing including City in the West and his three movement Second Symphony, though the orchestration was completed by his close friend Patrick Hadley. Cyril Rootham died in 1938 at the height of his creative powers, aged sixty-two.


Considering his many activities outside composition, it is no small wonder how Rootham was able to produce such a large musical catalogue, from two symphonies to an opera, several smaller orchestral works, chamber music and a multitude of choral works. In fact overwork may account for the stroke he suffered later in life.

Rootham regarded music with the utmost seriousness but never considered it a luxury to be confined to certain people. This might explain why he never completely broke with tradition; his music has a slight influence from Stanford and especially Parry. A presence of modalism can be found in much of his music as well as, in the later works, harmonic parallelism and bitonality. His harmonies with their unexpected twists and bitonalities, could be criticised for a lack of spontaneity and he is sometimes in danger of repeating himself but if this is the case then Rootham's masterly handling of the orchestra, of which sir Arthur Bliss praised Rootham as a brilliant teacher, certainly makes up for any constructional shortcomings. Favourite teaching examples included Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakov, and there is indeed a Russian love of primary colours in some of Rootham's work.

In other places a certain influence from Kodaly can be detected, especially in the glittering orchestral textures in Rootham's Psalm of Adonis from 1931. Rootham's later works show inspiration from both Delius and Vaughan Williams (whose opera The Poisoned Kiss Rootham premiered), and bear evidence of a progression in his music. Though he acknowledged the "Folksong revival" he never really became an adherent to it and furthermore he avoids many of the clichès described and criticized in Constant Lambert's "Music Ho!".

Henry Colles recognized Rootham's style as "vigorous and genial", which greatly corresponds to his own personality. The Symphony no. 1 in C minor is a prime example of this musical vigour, namely the first and last movements which Arthur Hutchings considers to contain Rootham's most characteristic music. Another Rootham trademark is evident in the symphony which is his superb, difficult and almost vocal writing for brass as well as his ability to write good slow movements, in which many of Rootham's best qualities lie. His string writing is also very refined, as the Rhapsody on the old English tune Lazarus shows.

Rootham was in his true element however, when writing for chorus and voice and many of his masterpieces lie in the realm of choral music. Indeed Rootham's first significant compositions were vocal. It has been said that Stanford, when Rootham studied under him at the RCM, once grunted: "You can write for voices, me boy". Rootham was also extremely talented at combining word and music in an almost perfect unison. He was in that respect, a master of choral setting as Colles writes: "The stimulus of words brings out the more delicate and poetic qualities and gives distinction to his music".The Stolen Child, Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity and City in the West (a poem by his son Jasper), especially represent his finest achievements.

Today, it is quite difficult, for non-musicians especially, to assess Rootham's music. Arthur Hutchings once prophesied a great future for Rootham but apart from a few broadcasts and recordings this has not yet happened. However in a time where a great deal of previously unknown music is being heard anew, it is very probable that Rootham's work will finally receive the attention it fully deserves.

List of principal works


  • The Two Sisters, opera (1918–21)


  • A Passerby, rhapsody after Robert Bridges (1910)
  • Pan, rhapsody for orchestra (1912)
  • Processional for the Chancellor's Music (1920)
  • St. John's Suite, for small orchestra (1921)
  • Miniature Suite, for orchestra or piano and strings (1921)
  • Rhapsody on "Lazarus", for double string orchestra (1922)
  • Psalm of Adonis, for orchestra (1931)
  • Symphony no. 1 in C minor (1932)
  • Symphony no. 2, for orchestra with choral finale (1936)



  • String quartet in D major (1909)
  • String quartet in C major (1914)
  • Suite for flute and piano (1921)
  • Sonata for violin and piano (1925)
  • Septet for viola, wind quintet and harp (1930)
  • Trio for violin, cello and piano (1932-2)


  • Epinikion "Song of Victory" (1907)
  • Elegiac Rhapsody on an Old Church Melody, variations on the hymn tune "Iste Confessor"


  • The modern orchestra and its combination with the singing voice; especially with regard to conductors and composers, Journal of the Royal Music Association, 1910
  • Voice Training for Choirs and Schools, Cambridge University Press, 1912

Published recordings on CD

  • Cyril Rootham: Symphony No 1 (also orchestral works by Bantock and Holbrooke)
    • Artists: London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley (Rootham, Holbrooke); Philharmonia Orchestra Orchestra, Nicholas Braithwaite (Bantock)
    • Publisher: Lyrita Recorded Edition [1]
    • Catalogue No: SRCD.269
  • Cyril Rootham: For the Fallen, Miniature Suite, The Psalm of Adonis, City in the West, The Stolen Child
    • Artists: Alan Fearon, Sinfonia Chorus, BBC Northern Singers, Northern Sinfonia of England, Richard Hickox
    • Publisher: EMI Classics [2]
    • Catalogue No: 5099950592326
  • Cyril Rootham: Violin Sonata in G Minor (also sonatas by Benjamin, Holbrooke, Walford Davis)
    • Artists: Jacqueline Roche (violin), Robert Stevenson (piano); Justin Pearson (cello), Sophia Rahman (piano)
    • Publisher: Dutton Epoch [3]
    • Catalogue No: CDLX 7219
  • Cyril Rootham: Miniature Suite for String Orchestra and Piano (also works by Armstrong Gibbs, Dring, Jacob, Milford)
    • Title: Peacock Pie
    • Artists: Martin Roscoe (piano), Guildhall Strings
    • Publisher: Hyperion Records [4]
    • Catalogue No: B0000631BI
  • Cyril Rootham: Epinikion (Song of Victory) and Elegiac Rhapsody on an Old Church Melody (also works by Alcock, Bairstow, Farrar, Lemare, Stanford)
    • Title: Great European Organs, No 66
    • Artist: Graham Barber (organ of Ripon Cathedral)
    • Publisher: Priory Records [5]
    • Catalogue No: B00008OETY


  • Harold Watkins Shaw: The succession of organists of the Chapel Royal and the cathedrals of England and Wales from c1538 - Also of the organists of the collegiate churches of Westminster and Windsor, certain academic choral foundations, and the cathedrals of Armagh and Dublin, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. 475 p. ISBN 978-0-19-816175-2
  • Enid Bird: 20th century English cathedral organists, E.Bird (Aug 1990) 96 p., ISBN 978-0-9516550-0-9
  • Wolfgang Suppan, Armin Suppan: Das Neue Lexikon des Blasmusikwesens, 4. Auflage, Freiburg-Tiengen, Blasmusikverlag Schulz GmbH, 1994, ISBN 3-923058-07-1
  • Kenneth Shenton: Cyril Bradley Rootham, in: Journal of the British Music Society. 7 (1985), pp 30–37.
  • W.J. Smith: Five centuries of Cambridge musicians 1464-1964, Cambridge: W. Heffer, 1964, 75 p.
  • Percy A. Scholes: The mirror of music 1844-1944 - A century of musical life in Britain as reflected in the pages of the musical times, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948, 2 vols
  • A. J. B. Hutchings: The Music of Cyril Bradley Rootham, in: The Musical Times, Vol. 79, No. 1139 (Jan., 1938), pp 17–22
  • Frederick W. Thornsby, John Henry Burn: Dictionary of organs and organists, Second edition, London: Geo. Aug. Mate, 1921, 476 p.


  1. ^ Rootham, Cyril Bradley in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.

External links

Preceded by
George Garrett
Director of Music, St John's College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Robin Orr

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