Skip to main content

Albert Ketèlbey

Composer, Conductor, Pianist

Music

Albert Ketelbey

Biography

Albert Ketèlbey was a composer, conductor, pianist and a Queen Victoria Scholar from 1889-95. As a young child, he performed a piano sonata that allegedly received praise from Edward Elgar, and later at the age of 13 won scholarship to Trinity College of Music, now Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Eventually he became an examiner with the College, enabling him to include his own compositions in the examination syllabus. His oeuvre comprises primarily colourful character pieces, often with oriental inspiration. As a gifted musician, he learnt a variety of instruments whilst at the college, although the piano continued to be his first instrument. Composition became increasingly significant to Ketèlbey’s musical work and during his time at Trinity, he began publishing short pieces, often under pseudonyms! Ketèlbey held several positions, including organist at St John's, Wimbledon, before being appointed musical director of London's Vaudeville Theatre, where he continued to compose vocal and instrumental music. During this time, Ketèlbey was also involved in a variety of other work in his field. As an adept pianist with experience of a number of other instruments, he worked with the publishing houses Chappells and Hammonds, arranging compositions for the piano at the former and orchestrating piano repertoire at the latter. He took up the post of Musical Director of the Columbia Gramophone Company, where over 600 recordings were made with him conducting the Court Symphony Orchestra, the Silver Stars Band and other ensembles. He began developing his mood-setting compositions for revues and the silent movies. With the change in musical tastes and the new market of popular music he became famous for his light music, also used as mood music at tea dances. A collection of his compositions for silent movies were published by Bosworth, his publisher after the First World War.

Ketèlbey  is often cited as England's first millionnaire composer, indeed successful pieces such as In a Monastery Garden and At a Persian Market enabled him to live off his composing.  He was proclaimed "Britain's greatest living composer" in 1929. His famous piece Bells across the Meadows was voted No. 36 in a poll of the most popular English tunes.

Awards

Turner Medal, 189 ATCL, piano

Gabriel Prize, 1892 LTCL, 1895

Tallis Gold Medal, 1895

Sir Michael Costa Prize, 1896, awarded for Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn FTCL, 1922