Michael Head (composer)

Michael Head (28 January 1900 – 24 August 1976) was a British composer, pianist, organist and singer who left some enduring works still popular today. Noted for his association with the Royal Academy of Music, his compositional oeuvre mainly consists of songs, as well as choral works and few larger-scale pieces such as a piano concerto.



Michael Dewar Head was born in Eastbourne, United Kingdom on 28 January 1900. His father was a barrister and journalist and his mother an accomplished amateur singer and pianist. His mother’s influence evidently dominated, and at age 10 he commenced his musical training, taking piano lessons with Jean Adair and singing with Fritz Marston at the Adair-Marston School of Music.[1] He was educated at Monkton Combe School in Somerset. In 1919, after a period of study at the Royal Academy of Music, he won the Sir Michael Costa scholarship for composition. During World War I he was called up for service, and while working at an ammunition factory, composed the song cycle Over the rim of the moon (Head et al., 1920).[2] This was to become his first published work.[1]

After the war, Head resumed his studies at the Royal Academy of Music. He studied composition with Frederick Corder, piano with T B Knott and organ with Reginald Steggall. In addition to the Costa Scholarship, he won several awards for composition, sight singing and harmony. In 1924 Michael Head was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music.[3] Two years later, he took up a post at Bedales School, Petersfield, where he taught for three years.

Head gave his first public recital as a self accompanied singer at Wigmore Hall in 1929. After this debut performance, his fame grew rapidly. He gave several more recitals in the British Isles and in many parts of the world. Additionally he gave several radio recitals, both in Britain and Canada. He took up the post of Pianoforte Professor at the Royal Academy in 1927 after an invitation by Sir John McEwen. This post he was to hold until his retirement in 1975.

Head was appointed as an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and as such toured many countries, including South Africa and Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). At the outbreak of World War II, he returned to London and continued teaching throughout the blitz. During this time, he gave hundreds of concerts in factories and in small towns. Head died in Cape Town whilst examining for the Associated Board in Rhodesia and South Africa, from a sudden and unexpected illness on 24 August 1976.[3]


Most of Head's works are songs.[4] However, his early works include a piano concerto, a tone poem, and scherzo for orchestra. His best known albums are Over the Rim of the Moon (1918-19) and Songs of the Countryside. The first of these contains probably his most famous song, "Ships of Arcady". All the lyrics in this album, including "Ships of Arcadey", were by the Irish war poet, Francis Edward Ledwidge killed in action during World War I on 31 July 1917 [5]. Songs of the Countryside were poems of W. H. Davies, set to music. Another well-known work is "The Piper", a setting of Seamus O'Sullivan's famous poem of the same name. One of his popular songs is the Christmas Carol, The Little Road to Bethlehem ("As I walked down the road at set of sun"), the words of which are by Margaret Rose. Other famous songs include, Sweet chance that led my steps abroad and Why have you stolen my delight? (see Bush, 1982).

Head used two types of scale in his compositions; diatonic and chromatic. Using the former, he produced simple, melodic tunes, easily remembered and easily sung. As they are pleasant and easily understood, people who have heard them often find themselves humming or whistling them to themselves (see Bush, 1982). They are thus the type for which he is best remembered. Ships of Arcady is an example of these. The chromatic style is best represented by Nocturne, A Piper. In all of his songs Michael Head exhibits two areas of equal importance; musical content, and the effectiveness of the word setting to create a complete whole.


  1. ^ a b Bush, N., 1982, Michael Head: Composer, singer and pianist, Kahn & Averill, London. ISBN 978-0-900707-73-5.
  2. ^ Head, M. D., and Ledwidge, F, 1920, Over the rim of the moon, Boosey, UK.
  3. ^ a b Armstrong, Sir T., 1976, "Obituary of Michael Head", Magazine of the Royal Academy of Music.
  4. ^ Bush, A. , 1982, "The vocal compositions of Michael Head", in Bush, N., 1982, Michael Head: Composer, singer and pianist, Kahn & Averill, London. ISBN 978-0-900707-73-5.
  5. ^ The complete poems of Francis Ledwidge with introductions by Lord Dunsany.Published 1919 by Brentano's in New York

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Michael Head — may refer to: Michael Head (composer) (1900–1976), British composer, pianist, organist and singer Michael Head (academic), Australian legal academic and lecturer Mick Head, English musician This disambiguation page lists articles associated with… …   Wikipedia

  • Michael Bradford — Origin Detroit, MI, United States Michael Bradford was born and raised on Detroit s East Side, an area that was once a working class neighborhood, but quickly deteriorated into decay after the city s tumultuous riots in 1967.[1] …   Wikipedia

  • Head of the Class — Genre Sitcom Created by Michael Elias Rich Eustis Starring See: Cast …   Wikipedia

  • Michael Symmons Roberts — (born 1963) is a British poet. He has published five collections of poetry, all with Cape (Random House), and has won the Whitbread Poetry Award, as well as major prizes from the Arts Council and Society of Authors. He has been shortlisted for… …   Wikipedia

  • Michael DeSisto — (born Albert Michael DeSisto) DeSisto in school gown at 1983 graduation Born May 29, 1939(1939 05 29) Boston, Massachusetts Died …   Wikipedia

  • Michael Blake (musician) — Michael Blake (Born: May 19, 1964 in Montreal, Canada) is a saxophonist, composer, and arranger. For over two decades the Brooklyn based saxophonist/composer/arranger Michael Blake has presented an array of innovative bands and compositions that… …   Wikipedia

  • Michael Praetorius — (probably February 15, 1571 – February 15, 1621) was a German composer, organist, and music theorist.[1] He was one of the most versatile composers of his age, being particularly significant in the development of musical forms based on Protestant …   Wikipedia

  • Michael Alec Rose — in 2007 Born September 9, 1959(1959 09 09) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Occupation …   Wikipedia

  • Michael Franti — in 2008 Background information Born April 21, 1966 (1966 04 21) (age 45) …   Wikipedia

  • Michael of Russia — Michael Romanov redirects here. For other uses, see Michael Romanov (disambiguation). Michael Tsar of All Russia Reign 21 February 1613 – 12 July 1645 C …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.