The website for Dr Martin Shaw OBE FRCM (1875 –1958)

"After Shaw’s death his papers have remained in private hands, essentially unknown to scholars. We hope that their (re)discovery will enable this remarkable man to be studied afresh and achieve the recognition he deserves. "


A dial of various people associated with Martin Shaw; Shaw himself in the centre


An Introduction to Martin Shaw


This article was originally written as an introduction to the Martin Shaw Archive by the antiquarian bookseller Bernard Quaritch Ltd, of South Audley Street Mayfair, prior to its acquisition by the British Library 


Shaw's Early Life


Martin Edward Fallas Shaw OBE was born on 9 March 1875 in Kennington, London.

He was the eldest of the nine children of James Shaw, church organist, and his wife, Charlotte Elizabeth Shaw, a trained pianist. The family’s upbringing was a musical one; in his reminiscences Up to Now (1929), Shaw wrote that he couldn’t remember a time when he could not play the piano. His brother Geoffrey also became an organist and composer, specialising in Anglican church music.


Shaw attended a local school before entering the Royal College of Music (RCM),

where he studied under the eminent composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Although he spent only a year and a term at the Royal College, Shaw’s time there proved formative. Here he met Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, John Ireland and some of the other musicians who became life-long friends and colleagues.

Here, too, he began to consider the state of English music.

‘During the whole of my college career,’ he wrote, ‘I felt vaguely dissatisfied. I knew that something I instinctively wanted was not there, though it was not till long afterwards that I discovered what it was. I will borrow from The Times critic a word which describes it most adequately: “Englishness”’. From this vague dissatisfaction Shaw would later pioneer a revival of English native musical traditions.


Shaw's Revival of English Music


The first outlet for Shaw’s musical vision proved to be the theatre.

In 1897 he met Edward Gordon Craig, son of the renowned stage actress Ellen Terry. The two men formed a close partnership and together established the Purcell Operatic Society, which staged a series of groundbreaking productions. Dido and Aeneas (produced in 1900, with a cast of 70), gave Gordon Craig an outlet and focus for his hitherto thwarted theatrical ambitions and stimulated the rediscovery of Purcell among British composers.

A favourable review for the production was posted to the Coronet Theatre in envelopes

addressed to ‘Gordon Craig Esq.’, ‘Martin Shaw Esq.’ and ‘Henry Purcell Esq’. It was Craig who introduced Shaw to the celebrated dancer Isadora Duncan, and Shaw became her Musical Director, conducting for her European Tours in 1906 and 1907.

Shaw’s career in the theatre was innovative and stimulating but largely unprofitable.

In 1908 he moved to the more stable occupation of organist at St Mary’s, Primrose Hill, London. Here he began working with the vicar Percy Dearmer. Dearmer was an avowed socialist, secretary of the Christian Social Union, and an early advocate of the ministry of women. He also objected to the sentimentality of popular Victorian church music and wanted a new style of Anglican hymnody. This appealed to Shaw who was keen to translate his earlier longings for ‘Englishness’ into practical use.


National Music


With Dearmer, Shaw edited The English Carol Book and numerous editions of Songs of Praise.

These projects allowed Shaw to collaborate with his long-time friend and fellow English revivalist, Ralph Vaughan Williams, who co-edited the volumes after Shaw’s hymns convinced him of the future of hymnody. These song books reflected the folk revival that was occurring in English music at this time, led by the folklorist Cecil Sharp.

One of Shaw’s best known hymns, ‘Morning Has Broken’ was a reworking of a traditional Gaelic tune, set to words by the children’s author Eleanor Farjeon.

Shaw had a further aim,

to take this ‘national’ music to the English people, in theatres, schools and churches. Much of his work was deliberately written to the capacity of the school classroom, the church choir and the untrained parish congregation.


Theatre and Hymnody


Even after his move into hymnody Shaw remained involved with the theatre.

He had provided music for productions of works by Mabel Dearmer (Percy Dearmer’s first wife, who died in 1915 when they were in Serbia with the British Red Cross ambulance unit), including Brer Rabbit and The Cockyolly Bird, as well as composing his own stage works such as the ballad opera Mr Pepys,with lyrics by Clifford Bax. In 1934 Shaw arranged the music for T.S. Eliot’s pageant play The Rock.


Throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s, Martin Shaw taught and wrote music

for plays and festivals including the first Aldeburgh Festival for which, at the request of Benjamin Britten, he contributed the anthem ‘God’s Grandeur’.

He published over 300 works, including opera, chamber and instrumental music, cantatas and, perhaps his best known work, The Redeemer, a Lenten cantata.

In 1955 Shaw was awarded the O.B.E. for services to music.


A Charismatic Figure


Martin Shaw was a charismatic figure, at home in company and undeterred by a disfiguring birthmark

on the left side of his face. Dedicated to friends and family, he married music teacher Joan Cobbold in 1916 and the couple had three children. Shaw inspired great loyalty from those who knew him well, among them some of the most prominent names in twentieth-century English music. Two of this country’s most popular hymns, ‘Morning Has Broken’ and ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ are testaments to Shaw’s skill and imagination and his democratic ambition.


Sir Michael Holroyd, author of A Strange Eventful History,

his biography of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and families, concluded that ‘Martin Shaw was a remarkable man who is insufficiently recognised these days’. After Shaw’s death his papers have remained in private hands, essentially unknown to scholars. We hope that their (re)discovery will enable this remarkable man to be studied afresh and achieve the recognition he deserves.


The present archive


The present archive is a full and rich record of Martin Shaw’s varied interests and achievements in church music, folk music and the stage. It charts his professional and personal relationships with some of the leading figures of twentieth-century English music, theatre, poetry and literature.

Of particular interest

is the extensive and important series of letters from Ralph Vaughan Williams. Correspondence reveals their close personal friendship as well as the professional creativity and interests they shared throughout their lives. It gives valuable insight into Vaughan Williams’ work on church music, a relatively undocumented aspect of the composer’s career.

The TLS reviewer of Hugh Cobbe’s edition of the Letters of Ralph Vaughan Williams 1895-1958

praised the editor but noted, with regret, that ‘There are gaps: not even Cobbe can conjure up letters where none exist. There is little on editing The English Hymnal or on folk-song collecting’. The correspondence here, more than 100 letters written over more than half a century, fills that gap. There are also approximately 60 letters and cards from Adeline and Ursula Vaughan Williams.


There is also good correspondence from fellow RCM alumni Gustav Holst and John Ireland.

Ireland’s letters are full and fascinating with good discussions of English music, church music and the work of other composers (he found Britten’s Peter Grimes ‘despair-making’). Included with the correspondence is Ireland’s manuscript score for Memory to words by William Blake.

Although the major portions of Shaw’s correspondence with Edward Gordon Craig are located in the Harry Ransom Centre, Texas, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, the present archive includes material relating to the enduring friendship between the two men.


The bohemian world of early nineteenth century Chelsea and Hampstead emerges in correspondence

from Beggarstaff Brother, James Pryde, and the Rothenstein brothers, William and Albert, Eleanor Farjeon and in several typescripts and a rare manuscript by the young playwright George Calderon, who was killed in action in 1915 before he could fulfill his early promise.


Shaw’s early theatrical career is represented

by the typescript, printed score and photographs of the production of Mabel Dearmer’s Brer Rabbit in 1913.

His later work on The Rock and other projects is revealed in correspondence with T.S. Eliot.


The Guildhouse Fellowship period of Martin Shaw’s career

is covered by lively and affectionate correspondence with the suffragist and pioneer of female ordination, Maude Royden and in rare letters from Percy Dearmer.

Shaw’s work on hymnody features extensively in the archive, in his correspondence with Vaughan Williams, Dearmer, Canon Briggs, the Oxford University Press and those involved with the Cramer’s Choral Series for which Shaw was editor.


Typescripts and preparatory notes for articles and lectures given by Shaw

on Church Music are included, as are letters from Bishops, choirmasters and vicars across Britain grateful for Shaw’s help and advice. Correspondence from Benjamin Britten and Edward Elgar in relation to music festivals demonstrate the regard in which Shaw was held as a leader in his field.

Extensive correspondence with music publishers gives insight into the practicalities of making a living, at times precarious, from music composition.


Martin Shaw’s extensive musical output appears here in the manuscripts of his own compositions;

ranging from his dramatic works to his numerous church hymns and carols. Highlights include the autograph manuscript drafts and score of The Redeemer, the full score and parts to The Rock, parts of the score to The Vikings ( a production of the Ibsen play staged with Ellen Terry and Edward Gordon Craig in 1903), and a series of notes and manuscripts used in preparation for The Oxford Book of Carols.

The archive also includes the full manuscript for Shaw’s book of reminiscences Up to Now, published by O.U.P in 1929.


Family correspondence over the course of Shaw’s life

reveals his varied artistic ambitions. It also gives an absorbing portrait of the work and leisure of a family committed to creating and producing music and drama.


© 2009, Bernard Quaritch Ltd