Josef Holbrooke Collection

Scope and Content

Correspondence from Josef Holbrooke (1878-1958) to Granville Bantock (1868-1946), together with a small number of letters to Holbrooke from others, often sent as enclosures to Bantock. The correspondence spans a period of over forty years and only ceases in 1946 on Bantock's death.

The major themes of Holbrooke's letters centre on the composition and performance of his musical works. The earlier letters, for example, provide information about the concerts he gave in various English towns, and his travels abroad to promote his work. The later correspondence reflects the neglect of his work by conductors, the difficulties he had in getting his music performed and the lack of public acclaim for his work. The correspondence also reflects the close relationship which developed between Holbrooke and Bantock. The collection includes various printed items, mainly consisting of concert programmes for performances that Holbrooke was involved in, pamphlets listing Holbrooke's published works, and newspaper cuttings of reviews of Holbrooke's work and other music related subjects.

Administrative / Biographical History

Josef Holbrooke was born at Croydon, Surrey on 5 July 1878. He was christened Joseph, but changed his name to avoid confusion with that of his father, who was a music hall pianist. His mother was a soprano vocalist, and Josef benefitted from this musical upbringing. When his father could not keep his engagements, Josef would go in his place, and he composed several comic songs for the music hall from the age of 12. He studied composition and piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London but left at 17 to earn a living, holding minor positions as conductor and pianist. His career was launched with the first performance of his symphonic poem The Raven , a musical representation of Edgar Allen Poe's poem, at the Crystal Palace in 1900. Provincial festivals then commissioned large-scale choral works. Henry Wood and Thomas Beecham conducted premieres of a number of his early orchestral and choral works, and Beecham's advocacy did much to influence public and critical opinion. However, Lord Howard de Walden (T. E. Ellis) was the most influential figure in Holbrooke's career. He was present at the 1908 premiere of the symphony Apollo and the Seaman (1907), and went on to provide generous financial support for performances and publications of Holbrooke's works, and that of other young British composers until his death in 1946. He also fostered Holbrooke's interest in Welsh subjects. Holbrooke lived at Harlech in North Wales for several years. The operatic trilogy The Cauldron of Annwn (1910-1920) set a cycle of librettos by Ellis, based on tales from Welsh mythology. Besides opera, Holbrooke also wrote orchestral poems, vocal works, works for chamber ensemble, and for brass and military bands. He also wrote for the clarinet, and extensively for the piano. Although he continued to compose into the 1940s, his popularity began to fade in the period after the First World War, and many of his works remained unperformed. Holbrooke repeatedly castigated the English public for their apathy towards young English composers, himself included, and, as a music critic was outspoken about this. He met Granville Bantock when both were studying at the Royal Academy of Music, and their long friendship began in the early 1900s when Bantock promoted Holbrooke's work, among that of other young English composers. Bantock and Holbrooke both campaigned on behalf of British music, with Holbrooke organising concerts to showcase neglected works, and he established the Modern Music Library in the 1920s, which published and controlled all his music and recordings, and aimed to publicise the work of other British composers. Holbrooke married Dorothy Hadfield in 1903. They had three daughters and two sons. He had problems with his hearing from about 1920 onwards . He died on 5 August 1958.

Reference: Stanley Sadie (Ed) The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians ( London : Macmillan, 1980 )

Reference: Who Was Who ( London : A & C Black. )

Reference: University of Birmingham, Special Collections Department, Online Archive Catalogue ( ). Accessed May 2002.


Correspondence is arranged chronologically. Most letters are dated or can be dated from the post mark on the accompanying envelopes; a date range can be inferred for some undated letters from the evidence of the sender's address. Undated correspondence has been filed separately, except where a date can be accurately inferred from the content of the letter. Printed material has been filed with dated correspondence where it obviously formed enclosures with these items or where it was found among dated correspondence from a particular year. Where no connection with Holbrooke's letters has been identified, these items have been filed separately.

Access Information

Open. Access to all registered researchers.

Acquisition Information

This collection was purchased from unknown source. The purchase was reported in the University Librarian's Annual Report for 1974/75.

Other Finding Aids

Please see online catalogue for further details.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the University Archivist, Special Collections. Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Special Collections will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Related Material

The University of Birmingham Special Collections Department also holds the music manuscripts of Granville Bantock (GB 150 GB) and the Raymond Bantock Collection, comprising letters from Josef Holbrooke to Raymond Bantock, (GB 150 MS63).

Other material of Josef Holbrooke is held in repositories elsewhere: British Library, Music Collections (music manuscripts), Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives (correspondence, c.1900-1958, 26 items).