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

" the missing link between Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams"

Iain Burnside

part of an illustration which shows various small black figures silhouetted against a blue sky background,flanked by the square base of of large pillars


Martin Shaw's Music

Martin Shaw composed music between the years 1896 up to his death in 1958, with some work published posthumously. While the range of his choral work varies from anthems for double choir and orchestra to three-part songs for fireside gatherings, his complete output falls into six categories as his aims and ambitions changed during the course of his life:

INSTRUMENTAL From Shaw's log book we can see he started writing instrumental pieces after he left the RCM. Most of these were unpublished - however, some manuscripts of these longer works are with his archive at the British Library.

SONGS & CANTATAS Shaw’s first regular publication success came with his solo songs, written mainly between 1914 - 1930. Cantatas and song sequences were to follow, his last, The Changing Year, published in 1951, was written for the Festival of Britain.

SACRED MUSIC In the 1920s he published his first anthems - Fanfare and With a Voice of Singing - which are still widely sung today. He continued to write anthems for all types of choir which were published until the end of his life and beyond: The Greater Light (for double choir) was published in 1966. His oratorio The Redeemer is regarded as one of the best written in the 20th century by those who know it.

Throughout his career Shaw wrote a number of church services, often based on his love of Plainsong which had been introduced to him by the Rev. Percy Dearmer when they worked together at St Mary’s Primrose Hill (SMPH) in London.

EDITORIAL WORK His friendship both with Dearmer and Ralph Vaughan Williams (RVW) led to many editorial collaborations. Shaw had originally worked with Dearmer and RVW on The English Hymnal ( He is credited in later editions of the book.) His first editoral work was Songs of Britain, published in 1913. However, in 1908 Shaw had begun to work with Dearmer full time when became organist and Music Director at SMPH. The men worked on The English Carol Book and Songtime before the Dearmers left in 1915 for Serbia, where sadly Mabel Dearmer died. On Dearmer's return, their partnership continued and led to many more editorial collaborations: The Oxford Book of Carols and Songs of Praise are two of the better known titles, which gave us Rocking and Morning has Broken respectively. Shaw also did much editorial work for Cramer.

SCHOOL SONGS Shaw’s associations with Mabel Dearmer (1910-15) and Gresham’s school (between 1908 - 24) led him to write and edit music for children and schools. Initially he wrote songs for stage productions such as Brer Rabbit and Fools and Fairies (an adaptation of Midsummer Night's Dream) . Shaw's wife Joan Cobbold was a music teacher; in the 1920s they collaborated on plays and pageants for schools.

STAGE PRODUCTIONS The stage had always been close to Shaw’s heart – he had first shot to fame in 1900 with his productions of Purcell’s operas, (Purcell being unknown to the British Public at the time). His first plays were written with Mabel Dearmer for the Morality Play Society on the themes of the birth and passion of Christ (Soul of the World ) and Joseph (The Dreamer) - subjects which Lloyd Webber reinvented for the stage 60 years later. Brer Rabbit with its theme of a rabbit outwitting a fox is a seeming precursor for Bugs Bunny. Shaw composed for West End productions too, which reached a height with his collaboration in 1934 with T.S. Eliot, for a pageant piece, The Rock , with a cast of 300. Sadly due to copyright issues it was never performed again. However, the music is available for researchers in the British Library.

CD cover of The Airmen - a Lancaster Bomber CrewThe Airmen

Find out more about the Martin Shaw songs CD: The Airmen, and background information on all 36 songs.

Extract from 1918 article in The New Statesman:

from an article titled “Progress in Music” published on November 16th 1918:

...Mr Shaw, who, by the way, has lately written some beautiful songs – “The Land of Heart’s Desire”, “Over the Sea”, “Easter Carol”, “Bird or Beast” are some I remember– is one of a small but important group of young English musicians who, if their activities were political instead of musical, would be called “Impossibilists”.

That is to say, he sighs over the decay of folk-song and abhors in theory concert music, in the modern sense in which people go to listen to other people performing works so extraordinarily elaborate and technically difficult that none but highly trained specialists can play or sing them.

He would have men sing and play at work, or in their homes or at their social or trade and professional gatherings; and the songs or instrumental pieces he would like to hear would be a more spontaneous expression of their thoughts and emotions, coloured by their environment and their traditions, than the sophisticated, cosmopolitan music of today.

. . .



Martin Shaw's Compositions by number:
Songs 112
Cantatas 7
Sacred Music 133
Plays 11
Pageants, Operas and Instrumental Work over 20
Editorial Titles over 16


Martin Shaw Crest

Martin Shaw's Works

A updated list of Martin Shaw's works is available from the Martin Shaw Trust Archivist...