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Muir Mathieson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Muir Mathieson
James Muir Mathieson

(1911-01-24)24 January 1911
Died2 August 1975(1975-08-02) (aged 64)
SpouseHermione Darnborough

James Muir Mathieson, OBE (24 January 1911 – 2 August 1975) was a Scottish conductor whose career was mainly as the musical director for British film studios. Among the composers from whom he commissioned film scores were Arthur Bliss, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Benjamin Britten. Though not a composer, Mathieson arranged concert suites from some of the scores he commissioned.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • William Walton arr. Muir Mathieson : Richard III, Prelude & Suite ex the film music (1955 arr. 1963)
  • Vaughan Williams arr. Muir Mathieson : Coastal Command, Suite from music for the film (1942)
  • Muir Mathieson (1911-1973) From the Grampions Suite - In Glengarry, a Highland Stream


Life and career

Early years

Mathieson was born in Stirling, Scotland on 24 January 1911, the elder of the two sons of John George Mathieson (1880–1955), an artist and engraver, and his wife Jessie née Davie (1884–1954), a violinist, pianist and teacher.[1][n 1] Jessie ("Jen") Mathieson was a talented musician, who among other engagements foreshadowed her son's career by playing the piano accompaniment for silent films at the local cinema.[3] As a teenager Mathieson formed and conducted a youth orchestra in Stirling.[4]

After attending Stirling High School Mathieson went to the Royal College of Music in London from February 1929, winning a succession of scholarships.[5] At the college he studied piano with Arthur Benjamin and conducting with Malcolm Sargent.[6][n 2] As a student his talent for conducting attracted attention. The Times commented that handling of a college production of Benjamin's musical farce The Devil Take Her, Mathieson "made the points of a witty score pointedly".[8] While still a student he undertook a range of jobs, from conducting a choir of Welsh miners, to touring Canada conducting a ballet company, and taking the baton for an amateur production of The Pirates of Penzance.[9]


Mathieson graduated from the college in 1933, and Sargent recommended him to Alexander Korda as a conductor and assistant to Kurt Schröder, musical director of Korda's new company, London Films.[1] Mathieson joined Korda's team following the introduction of synchronised sound on film and as the process of providing recorded music to accompany the images was being developed. According to Mathieson's biographer Andrew Youdell, Schröder contributed "a reasonable though hardly memorable background score" to Korda's first major success, The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), after which political developments in Continental Europe led him to return to his native Germany in 1934, succeeded as Korda's head of music by Mathieson.[1]

Away from the film studio, Mathieson conducted Kurt Weill's A Kingdom for a Cow at the Savoy Theatre in June 1935. [10] This was a revised version of the thus-far unstaged Der Kuhhandel.[11] Despite good notices it was not a success.[12]

On 21 December 1935, at the Brompton Oratory, London, Mathieson married Hermione Louise Alys Darnborough (1915–2010), principal ballerina of Sadler's Wells Ballet.[1] Two years earlier, when already engaged to be married, they had both taken part in Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall in London, when Mathieson deputised at a few minutes' notice after the scheduled conductor, Sargent, was taken ill during a performance of the piece, in which Darnborough danced the role of the Spirit of Spring.[13] They had one son and three daughters, among them the actress Fiona Mathieson (1951–1987) later known for her appearances in the BBC radio serial The Archers.[1]

Youdell comments that Mathieson's name appeared so frequently on film credits as musical director that there grew a widespread belief that he composed the music, but in fact he preferred to commission scores from other musicians, believing himself to have little talent for original composition.[1] Arthur Jacobs comments in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "more than anyone else, he was responsible for the British practice of engaging independent composers for films, instead of maintaining (as did Hollywood) a localized core of 'film composers'".[14] He was dubbed the "Tsar of music for British films"; the composer James Bernard wrote, "If you wanted to write music for films at that time you had to be 'in' with Muir".[15] Mathieson believed that music written for the screen could not only become an integral part of the film but could be an entity in itself, on a par with theatrical incidental music written by Grieg for Peer Gynt and Mendelssohn for A Midsummer Night's Dream.[16] He admired the technical skill with which Hollywood composers fitted their music to the action, but judged British scores to have "more intrinsic musical value". He quoted with approval Vaughan Williams's comment that film "contains potentialities for the combination of all the arts such as Wagner never dreamt of."[17]

While Mathieson was in charge of music for Korda, a range of composers provided scores, including his old teacher, Arthur Benjamin, Richard Addinsell, Georges Auric, Miklos Rozsa, and Arthur Bliss. Benjamin wrote scores for The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1937); Addinsell wrote for Dark Journey (1937), Farewell Again (1937), South Riding (1937), and Fire Over England (1936); Auric composed the score for The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936), Rozsa for The Four Feathers (1939) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940), and Bliss for Things to Come (1935). The last of these was regarded as a landmark in film music, and the score was quickly arranged into a concert suite, becoming a best-seller for Decca when released on record.[1]

See also

Notes, references and sources


  1. ^ The younger brother, Dock Mathieson, followed him into the musical profession and became a conductor and musical director of British films.[2]
  2. ^ In her biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams his widow Ursula states that Mathieson also studied under her husband at the Royal College, but this is not substantiated in the biographies of Mathieson by Hetherington or Youdell.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Youdell Andrew. "Mathieson, (James) Muir (1911–1975)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2012. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ McFarlane, p. 465
  3. ^ Hetherington, p. 16
  4. ^ Hetherington, p. 20
  5. ^ "Muir Mathieson's Visit", Faversham News, 10 September 1948, p. 8; and Hetherington, p. 33
  6. ^ Hetherington, p. 32
  7. ^ Vaughan Williams, p. 239
  8. ^ "Royal College of Music", The Times, 5 June 1933, p. 8
  9. ^ Hetherington, p. 34
  10. ^ "Savoy Theatre", The Times, 29 June 1935, p. 12
  11. ^ Robinson, J. Bradford and David Drew. "Weill, Kurt (Julian)", Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2001 (subscription required)
  12. ^ Schebera, p. 231
  13. ^ Reid, p. 206
  14. ^ Jacobs Arthur. "Mathieson, Muir", Grove Music Online, Oxford University Press, 2001 (subscription required)
  15. ^ Huckfield, p. 76
  16. ^ Mathieson, p. 7
  17. ^ Mathieson, p. 9


  • Hetherington, S. J. (2006). Muir Mathieson: A Life in Film Music. Dalkeith: Scottish Cultural Press. ISBN 978-1-89-821811-1.
  • Huckvale, David (2006). James Bernard, Composer to Count Dracula: A Critical Biography. Jefferson: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-78-642302-6.
  • McFarlane, Brian, ed. (2005). The Encyclopedia of British Film (second ed.). London: Methuen. ISBN 978-0-413-77526-9.
  • Mathieson, Muir (December 1944). "Aspects of Film Music". Tempo: 7–9. (subscription required)
  • Reid, Charles (1968). Malcolm Sargent: A Biography. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 978-0-24-191316-1.
  • Schebera, Jürgen (1995). Kurt Weill: An Illustrated Life. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-30-006055-3.
  • Vaughan Williams, Ursula (1964). RVW: A Biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-315411-7.

External links

This page was last edited on 11 February 2024, at 17:20
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