Eloise Akpan’s typically well-written and researched article on the South Norwood composer William Yeates Hurlstone (Norwood Review No. 154) was no doubt partly inspired by the fact that she lives in Hurlstone Road. Eloise has asked me to correct the date when the name was changed in memory of the composer: this took place in 1938/9 when the old county borough was seeking to remove duplicated road names.

The article ended with Hurlstone’s untimely death  at the age of  30. His genius was never allowed fully to develop – but creative artists leave a legacy. So what has happened to his music since his death in 1906?

A twenty-page booklet “William Yeates Hurlstone – Musician and Man” by H G Newell was published by the composer’s sister in 1936. In it are listed over sixty scores then available from various publishers with their 1930 prices. Presumably a few scores are still available – certainly a pianist friend of mine in Gloucestershire instantly recognised the composer’s name, for he had recently contributed to a performance of his popular pieces for piano and clarinet.  Generally speaking, however, Hurlstone’s music has faded very much into the background.

A search on the Internet made for me recently revealed only one CD available that included his music – the aforementioned clarinet pieces included in a recording of Clarinet Classics with works by three other composers. An enquiry to the BBC Information Service could trace no music by Hurlstone performed on the Third Programme over the last three and a half years, though on the centenary of the composer’s birth in January 1976, his piano quartet in E Minor was broadcast on that programme. This was featured in an article on the composer in the Croydon Advertiser of January 9th 1976, written by David Squibb of Trinity Boys Choir fame. The writer said “Why does not a Fairfield Orchestral programme honour this composer so highly-rated in his lifetime?”. I am fairly certain this appeal was never followed through.

However, more recently composer Christopher Wood, who writes on music matters for the Croydon Advertiser, made a further attempt to bring this “forgotten music man” to the fore. In an article in July 1999, he said that Hurlstone’s Quintet for flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon and piano had recently been published by Emerson Edition. The upshot of this publication was that, after a lifetime of intense interest in classical music, I was given the first opportunity to hear Hurlstone’s music. The first movement of this Quintet was included in a Fairfield Tuesday lunchtime concert by the Croydon Composers Group, amongst some of their own compositions. The Quintet was rich and accomplished music, leaving one longing to hear more. The instrumentalists were supplied by the Fine Arts Sinfonia who presided at the Concert under their conductor Michael Nebe.

So what can be done to bring the man and his music to the fore? We can only rely on musical enthusiasts to do so. But there will be ample time to organise commemorative concerts on the centenary of his death, which will occur on May 30th 2006. These could be in Croydon, or even Norwood (St John’s Church?)

In the meantime a heritage plaque on his home in Selhurst Road could help to familiarise his name. Incidentally, the Croydon Directories appear to show that the Hurstone family originaly lived at 173 Selhurst Road moving next door in 1902 to the now dilapidated 171.

Intriguingly, the first preface to the booklet “William Yeates Hurlstone – Musician and Man” is signed by the author thus:

H G Newell, Mus. Bac. Dunelm, F.R.C.O., LRAM (Composition) Upper Norwood, 17th Oct 1936. My 1939 Croydon Directory shows him living at 117 Church Road. Does anyone have information about this obviously accomplished musical gentleman who lived in our midst?

Hugh Byford

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