Boult, SIR Adrian Cedric (1889–1983), orchestra conductor, was born 8 April 1889 in Chester, the only son and younger child of Cedric Randal Boult, JP, oil merchant, and his wife, Katherine Florence Barman. The family were Unitarians. He was educated at Westminster School, and at Christ Church (of which he was made an honorary Student in 1940), Oxford, where he was president of the University Musical Club in 1910, and took a pass degree in 1912. After studying under the distinguished German conductor Arthur Nikisch at the Leipzig Conservatorium in 1912–13, he sat his B.Mus. examination at Oxford in 1913, receiving his degree in 1914. He achieved his Oxford D.Mus. in 1921.

Boult's talent for music had revealed itself at a remarkably early age. At sixteen months he was able to pick out tunes on the piano, and by his seventh birthday he had begun to compose. There was, therefore, never any doubt about his choice of profession. At the beginning of 1914 he joined the music staff of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where he participated in the first British performances of Richard Wagner's Parsifal in February and March, playing the off-stage bells. As a young man he suffered from a heart condition which rendered him unfit for active service during World War I. He helped to drill recruits in Cheshire for two years, worked in the war office in 1916–18, and found time to organize concerts in Liverpool with a small orchestra drawn from the ranks of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society. This led to his being invited to conduct the full orchestra at a concert in Liverpool in January 1916. The programme of this, his professional début as a conductor, included works by Bach, Haydn, Liszt, and the contemporary composers Sir C. Hubert H. Parry [q.v.] and Arthur de Greef.

In 1918, at the invitation of its composer, Boult conducted the first performance of The Planets by Gustav Holst [q.v.] at a concert in the Queen's Hall, London. In the following year he joined the teaching staff of the Royal College of Music, where he remained until 1930, continuing to accept engagements as a conductor in London. His first experience as a conductor of opera was gained with the British National Opera Company, and in 1926 he rejoined the Covent Garden company as a staff conductor. He was also at this time the musical director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (1924–30) and, from 1928 to 1931, conductor of the Bach Choir, London.

The most important phase of Boult's career began when he was invited to succeed Percy Pitt as director of music of the BBC at the beginning of 1930. In addition to his other administrative duties, this involved him in recruiting players for and becoming chief conductor of the newly formed BBC Symphony Orchestra which during the following years he developed into a first-class ensemble. From the beginning the orchestra gave public concerts as well as broadcasting from the BBC studios, and Boult took it on tour in Europe with great success in 1935 and 1936, giving concerts in Brussels, Paris, Zurich, Vienna, and Budapest.

Boult had by this time become well known abroad, having been invited to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in Vienna for the first time in 1933, and having later conducted in Salzburg, New York, and Boston. Nor did he lose contact with the world of opera, his performances of Die Walküre at Covent Garden in 1931 and Fidelio at Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1930 being considered outstanding. He also introduced much new music in his concerts with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, giving the first performances in England of Alban Berg's Wozzeck in 1934, and Busoni's Doktor Faust in 1937, perhaps his most notable and memorable operatic achievements.

Relinquishing the position of music director of the BBC in 1942, Boult became associate conductor of the Promenade concerts, and continued as conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra until 1950 when, having reached the age of sixty, he was retired by the BBC (the wife of whose new director of music Boult had married) and immediately became musical director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra with which he toured West Germany in 1951 and the Soviet Union in 1956. Although, in the following year, he announced his retirement from the London Philharmonic, he continued to make a number of guest appearances with orchestras at home and abroad, in Europe and the United States, and was able to devote a large part of his time to recording many of the works in his vast repertory, especially the music of Sir Edward Elgar [q.v.] and Ralph Vaughan Williams [q.v.] . He conducted the music at the coronations of George VI and Elizabeth II.

In 1959, the year of his seventieth birthday, Boult was offered and accepted the presidency of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, in succession to Vaughan Williams. In the same year he became musical director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for the second time (until 1960), and he returned to the Royal College of Music to teach from 1962 to 1966. Among the many honours he received were his knighthood in 1937, the gold medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1944, and the Harvard medal in 1956. He was made a Companion of Honour in 1969. He had honorary degrees from six universities, including Cambridge (Mus.D., 1953) and Oxford (D.Litt., 1979).

One of the leading British musicians of his time, Boult was the least demonstrative of conductors on the concert platform, obtaining his effects by meticulous rehearsal, impeccable musicianship, and a natural authority. A tall man of erect, almost military bearing, Boult was taciturn by nature. However, his courteous manner could occasionally, at rehearsals, give way to storms of violent temper. He was always concerned to present the music as the composer conceived it, and was reluctant to impose his own personality upon a work in the name of interpretation. He excelled in the nineteenth-century classics as well as in the music of his British contemporaries, and was the author of two excellent books on conducting, The Point of the Stick (1920) and Thoughts on Conducting (1963), as well as a fascinating volume of memoirs, My Own Trumpet (1973).

In 1933 he married Ann Mary Grace, daughter of Captain Francis Alan Richard Bowles, RN, JP, of Dully House, Sittingbourne, Kent, and mother of four children from a previous marriage to Sir (James) Steuart Wilson [q.v.] . There were no children of this marriage. Boult died in a London nursing home on 22 February 1983.


Adrian Cedric Boult, My Own Trumpet, 1973; Michael Kennedy, Adrian Boult, 1987; Ronald Crichton in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1980 (ed. Stanley Sadie); personal knowledge.


Original date of publication: 1990