Victor Hely-Hutchinson

Christian Victor Hely-Hutchinson (26 December 1901 – 11 March 1947)[1] was a British composer, conductor, pianist and music administrator. He is best known for the Carol Symphony and for humorous song-settings.[2]

Early lifeEdit

Hely-Hutchinson was born in Cape Town, Cape Colony (now in South Africa). His father, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, was the last Governor of Cape Colony from 1901 to 1910 during and after the Boer War. He initially lived in Kent, then moved back to South Africa in 1907. He was taught the piano by Dr Thomas Barrow Dowling (1861–1926), the organist of Cape Town cathedral. Victor was a child prodigy, composing many pieces before the age of ten – his parents had a collection of sketches for violin and piano published as A Child's Thoughts in 1909.[3] In England in 1910, he was taught piano by Donald Tovey and was initially educated at Heatherdown School, near Ascot in Berkshire. In 1914, his father died. Victor was then educated at Eton College, and then read history at Balliol College, Oxford. Music, however, prevailed and after one year at Oxford he was granted permission to study for a Mus. Bac. at the Royal College of Music, where he studied conducting under Adrian Boult. In 1922, he returned to Cape Town to teach at the South African College of Music, which was later incorporated into the University of Cape Town.

Later lifeEdit

He joined the BBC at Savoy Hill in 1926, becoming a conductor, pianist, and accompanist. He moved to Hampstead, where his two sons were born. In 1933, he moved to Birmingham to become Midland Regional Director of Music for the BBC, where he formed and conducted the Midland Studio Orchestra. In 1934, he left the BBC to become Professor of Music at the University of Birmingham, taking over from Sir Granville Bantock. In 1938, he saw signs of war, and moved his family out of Birmingham to a nearby village. During the war he became an ARP warden. He became a D.Mus from Oxford University in 1941. He also joined the university's officer cadet force. In 1944, he returned to the BBC to become overall Director of Music, succeeding Arthur Bliss. He moved to St John's Wood. He never purchased a car, always using his bicycle.

The winter of 1947 was very long-lasting and to save fuel (which was still rationed), Hely-Hutchinson refused to switch on the radiators in his office. He developed a cold, which became pneumonia. He died on 11 March 1947 at the premature age of 45. His wife Marjorie died in 1988. Astra Desmond sang at his memorial service.


Although mostly forgotten now, Hely-Hutchinson's orchestral music enjoyed some popularity during his lifetime, including the Overture to a Pantomime, and the substantial Variations, Intermezzo and Finale, (described by the composer as a set of symphonic variations[4]) premiered at the Proms in 1927.[5] The Young Idea, a lighter, jazz-influenced rhapsody for piano and orchestra, was also played at the Proms in 1930 and was recorded in 2008 with the BBC Concert Orchestra and David Owen Norris as soloist.[6] A Symphony for short orchestra, using music reworked from some of his film scores, was heard posthumously at the Proms in 1947.[7] By far his best known work is the Carol Symphony written in 1929.[8] The four movements - really chorale preludes rather than symphonic movements[9] - are based on the traditional English Christmas carols:[10]

The third movement was used for the title music of the 1943 Children's Hour and 1984 BBC children's television adaptation of John Masefield's The Box of Delights, in particular the variation on the theme of The First Nowell.[11]

He remains well known for his settings of various nursery rhymes and children's poems. His setting of "Old Mother Hubbard" is arranged in the manner of Handel.[12] His song setting of Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat" was notably recorded in 1955 by Elton Hayes[13] and featured regularly on the BBC's Children's Favourites radio show.[14]


With texts by William Blake[15]

With texts by Edward Lear

With texts by Harry Graham

  • Twenty-one songs from "Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes"[17]
  • More Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes

With texts by Walter de la Mare[15]

  • Three Songs from "Peacock Pie"
    • The cupboard
    • The window
    • The little old Cupid
  • Song of a Soldier (1933)[18]


  • Three Fugal Fancies, for strings (1925)
  • Carol Symphony (1927)
  • Variations, Intermezzo and Finale for orchestra (1927)
  • The Young Idea: Rhapsody for piano and orchestra (1930)
  • Overture to a Pantomime (1938)[19]
  • Symphony for Small Orchestra (1942)
  • Solemn Prelude, in G
  • South African Suite


  • Hearts are Trumps (Operetta) (1932)
  • The Unveiling (Nativity play) (1932)
  • Much incidental music for plays, theatre and radio


  • Piano Quintet
  • Piano Sonata
  • String Quartet
  • Viola Sonata
  • Violin Sonata


  • Jürgen Schaarwächter, Two Centuries of British Symphonism: From the beginnings to 1945. A preliminary survey, Vol. I, pp. 564–565, Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim-Zurich-New York, 2015.
  • Artist Biography by Bruce Eder,,
  • Mark Connelly, Christmas: A History, I. B. Tauris, London New York, 2012.
  • Benjamin Britten, Letters from a Life Vol 1: 1923-39, Edited by Donald Mitchell.


  1. ^ David Mason Greene (1985). Greene's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers. Reproducing Piano Roll Fnd. p. 1318. ISBN 978-0-385-14278-6.
  2. ^ Hurd, Michael. 'Hely-Hutchinson, (Christian) Victor (Noel Hope)' in Grove Music Online, 2001
  3. ^ Brock, Donald. Composers' Gallery (1946), p 74
  4. ^ Dibble, Jeremy. 'Hutchinson, (Christian) Victor Noel Hope Hely-' in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  5. ^ BBC Proms, 10 September 1927
  6. ^ Land of Lost Content
  7. ^ BBC Proms, 25 July 1947
  8. ^ Jürgen Schaarwächter, Two Centuries of British Symphonism: From the beginnings to 1945. A preliminary survey, Vol. I, p.564, Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim-Zurich-New York, 2015.
  9. ^ Philip L Scowcroft. Victor Hely-Hutchinson, short biography at Wise Music
  10. ^ Mark Connelly, Christmas: A History, p. 231, I. B. Tauris, London New York, 2012.
  11. ^ Theme to The Box of Delights, Pro Arte Orchestra (1966)
  12. ^ Old Mother Hubbard. Exultate Chamber Choir (2004)
  13. ^ Elton Hayes. The Owl and the Pussycat
  14. ^ The Owl and the Pussycat. Performance (as a duet) from the Leeds Lieder Festival, 2016
  15. ^ a b The LiederNet Archive - Christian Victor Hely-Hutchinson
  16. ^ Paterson's Publications Ltd. (1927)
  17. ^ Edward Arnold & Co. (1945)
  18. ^ Helen Woo, New Music in China and the C.C. Liu Collection at the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press, HKU
  19. ^ Radio Times Issue 796, 1 January 1939, p 18

External linksEdit