Obituary: Helen Glatz

Helen Glatz's catalogue of composition is extensive and ranges over solo pieces, chamber music and brass ensemble to incidental music for Dartington College of the Arts' Barn Theatre, Shakespeare plays and puppet theatre.

Among her most distinguished works are A Brass Fanfare, written for a visit to Dartington of Jennie Lee, Minister for the Arts in 1967; an Elegy for Violin and Strings, first performed in the Great Hall, Dartington in 1993 to celebrate the centenary of its founder Leonard Elmhirst's birth; Two Hungarian Folksongs arranged for Flute and Guitar (1987), written for the former Deputy Principal and Director of Music at Dartington, Jack Dobbs, on his retirement; and some very successful incidental music for Romeo and Juliet, written in 1956. One of her last pieces is entitled Soccer for solo double bass and traces the flawless arc of a penalty shot.

Born Helen Hunter in 1908 in the border country, of Scottish ancestry, she grew up in an environment of intensive music-making, playing piano with her two sisters, piano duet with Margaret her elder sister. Together they would play through the entire Ring Cycle in piano duet version. Her formal music studies were with the music scholar and composer, Professor William (Gillies) Whittaker at Armstrong College, Durham University, and then composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams, orchestration with Dr Gordon Jacob and conducting with Sir Charles Groves at the Royal College of Music.

At the RCM in the 1930s she met Imogen Holst, Elizabeth Maconchy, Elisabeth Lutyens, Thea Musgrave and Benjamin Britten. He was known as Edward Britten at the time and some attribute the change in his second forename to the influence of the alliterative Helen Hunter. Under Vaughan Williams's tutelage and Gordon Jacob's guidance she orchestrated Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, "after" Ravel.

Helen Glatz became the first woman composer to be awarded the RCM Albert Medal for Composition, for outstanding contribution to composition, and a travelling scholarship to Hungary in the 1930s, ostensibly to study with Kodly, although she spent more of her time studying with the composer Sndor Vegh; he was a great influence on her, as was the rhythmic quality of Hungarian folk music. In Hungary she also met her future husband, Dr Wolf Glatz, a brilliant linguist.

She knew hard times in Hungary and for two years lived in cellars, away from the fighting on the streets, and spent almost another year trying to secure a passage out of the country for her husband.

Together they came to live in south Devon in 1949, where she took a post at St Timothy's School in Dawlish. She also accepted an invitation to join the staff of Dartington College of Arts in Totnes. There Glatz worked closely with Imogen Holst and later with Nigel Amherst on the preparatory course and with Sir William Glock at the Summer School.

Imogen Holst wrote of Helen Glatz, "She is a first-rate accompanist, a really superb sight-reader", but her instinctive gift for improvisation and her rhythmic acuity also made her a natural choice as a ballet rehearsal pianist for Marie Rambert.

With her innate rhythmic sense, it is not surprising that Glatz should be drawn towards percussion instruments and she had the good fortune to study with the most famous percussion player this century, James Blades, at Dartington. It was to her that Blades gave his precious side-drum, which she treasured. She took part in early performances of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast and was to add percussion to her already extensive list of teaching specialities.

She taught generations of college students; Rosamund Strode, who was Benjamin Britten's amanuensis after Imogen Holst, the jazz saxophonist Lindsay Cooper and the organist John Wellingham among many others. Helen Glatz received a Dartington 20-year service award in 1972 and an honorary fellowship of the college in 1995.

She could hear perfect rhythm in nature and in Shakespeare verse. "Rhythm has made my life", she said, and later recalled that, on her arrival in Hungary, a professor at the Liszt Academy in Budapest exclaimed: "You can't possibly be English, they have no sense of rhythm whatsoever".

Helen Sinclair Hunter, composer and teacher: born 13 March 1908; married Wolf Glatz (one son); died Totnes, Devon 15 June 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk