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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Albert Ketèlbey's House, Cowes, Isle of Wight

Rookstone, the house of Albert Ketèlbey, Egypt Hill, Cowes

The composer Albert William Ketèlbey (1875-1959) was tremendously famous in his day and was heralded as Britain's greatest living composer in 1929 as his work was performed more than any other British composer that year.  He is also believed to be Britain's first millionaire composer.  Yet by the time of his death in 1959 he was almost forgotten; his melodic, programme music becoming very unfashionable.  Now he is rehabilitated somewhat with compositions such as In a Monastery Garden, In a Persian Market and Bells Across the Meadows being performed regularly and receiving significant airtime on radio.  In fact, the latter composition was actually banned from radio broadcast (the first recording banned by the BBC!) during WW2 in case people thought that the bell chimes in the piece were the warning for a German invasion.

Born in Birmingham, the son of an engineer, he began piano lessons at the age of eight and started his formal studies at the age of eleven at the School of Music of the Birmingham and Midland Institute.  At the age of eleven he performed his own piano sonata in Worcester Town hall and greatly impressed Sir Edward Elgar, who was in the audience. At thirteen he won the Queen Victoria scholarship to London's Trinity College of Music, beating one Gustav Holst into second place. At Trinity he won numerous prizes and became a very young professor there; affecting a tail coat to make himself look older.  His first major compositions followed at the age of eighteen and by the age of twenty his Piano Concerto in G Minor won the Tallis Gold Medal for Counterpoint.

He met his first wife, Charlotte Siegenberg, while acting as musical director of the Vaudeville Theatre, where he started work at the age of 22.  For over forty five years his compostions made him "The King of Light Music" and in 1926 sales of the sheet music for In a Monastery Garden, the composition that made him a household name in 1915, passed one million copies.  He composed a lot for the pre-sound cinema and was also involved in the early days of gramophone recording.  His wife died of pneumonia in 1947 and he moved out of London to the south coast to recover from a nervous breakdown. There he met  and eventually married Mabel Pritchett, then the manageress of a hotel he was staying in and who had refused his request to have a piano installed in his room. They moved to the Isle of Wight, which was where Pritchett's family came from, in 1948, initially living in Bembridge. The following year the couple moved to Rookstone a bungalow on Egypt Hill Cowes where he continued to compose, although his music had faded from popularity after World War 2.  He wrote one piece, in 1952, named after a place on the Isle of Wight, On Brading Down, but it wasn't published and is now lost.

Osborne Court, Cowes 1958

In 1959 he moved to the Art Deco Osborne Court, built in the late thirties, on the Parade at Cowes but died there on December 1st the same year.  Osborne Court is still there today but for how much longer, given it's prime seafront position and the alarming rate of development in Cowes, we don't know.

Osborne Court today

Last week Agent Triple P was walking up Egypt Hill in Cowes and noticed that Rookstone, the bungalow he moved to in 1949, and where he enjoyed playing billiards, had been demolished and replaced with a rather horrible (and expensive looking) modern monstrosity (not that Rookstone had any architectural merit but that's not the point).  There were several letters of protest to the Isle of Wight County Press at the time but to no avail.  Fortunately Triple P had captured a photo a few years ago (top).

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