‘The greatest amateur rower of his day, a brilliant pianist and a composer of genius’. So says Chris Latham (Director of the ‘Flowers of War’) on Frederick Septimus Kelly, a composer and pianist who left a legacy of music that is full of feeling and emotional resonance and at times youthfully exuberant and unashamedly unrefined. Music reminiscent of Scriabin, Chopin, Rachmaninov and Vaughan Williams, yet always passionate and certainly distinctive.
Born in Sydney, Australia, in 1881, F.S.Kelly (or ‘Cleg’) performed with superstars Pablo Casals and Jelly d’Aranyi in concerts around the world, won a rowing gold medal at the 1908 London Olympics and died at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, aged 35. He was perhaps Australia’s first great romantic composer, composing music for piano, voice and orchestra. His most well-known work is ‘Elegy, In Memoriam Rupert Brooke’, a moving tribute to a friend lost during WW1.
British pianist Alex Wilson has been working with Cleg’s music since 2014, performing it to honour the recent WW1 Centenary and recording most of his piano music on the Toccata Classics label - most of which had never previously been recorded, or even performed in public during the last 100 years. A CD of the ’24 Monographs’ and ’12 Studies’ was released in 2020 and, denied an in-person launch at the time due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Alex will be performing some of Cleg’s music in lieu of this missed launch in the glorious surroundings of Southwark Cathedral.
For this concert Alex has commissioned Sadie Harrison to write ‘To dear Cleg - 10 Portraits of Frederick Septimus Kelly’. Sadie’s music is a celebration and homage to Cleg, telling his fascinating story by illuminating Kelly’s diary entries and letters from friends. The music references Kelly’s own work and other classical and traditional tunes associated with his life, from Beethoven and Schumann to ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and bagpipe lament ‘The Battle of the Somme’. It tells tales of love, of rowing excellence, family loss and wartime experience, but also light-hearted stories of clockwork wooden boats and excessive musical exuberance.
This music complements and honours Cleg’s music beautifully, painting a picture of his life better than words ever could.
The concert - featuring Harrison’s music interspersed between Cleg’s own piano pieces - introduces a London audience to a forgotten musical and cultural icon of the early twentieth century.
His story will resonate with music, sport and history lovers alike and this promises to be a concert of discovery that is not to be missed.