Classical Musician


Eric Gritton (1889-1981)

Eric Gritton was born in 1889. At the age of 7 he began his choristership at King’s College, Cambridge where he remained for the rest of his schooldays. After these powerfully formative years under the musical leadership of Dr A. H. ‘Daddy’ Mann, Eric went straight from King’s to the Royal College of Music on an organ scholarship in 1905 where he studied organ with Sir Walter Parratt and composition with C.V. Stanford. He won many prizes including the Sullivan Prize for Composition (1908) and Organ Extemporising Prize (1909). Not yet twenty years old, he gained his ARCO and FRCO. Alongside John Ireland, Eric won the Cobbett Prize, coveted by composers and was awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship entitling him to further his studies abroad. When war broke out in 1914, Eric was called up and joined the 3rd Battalion of the London Rifle Brigade where, in addition to his military duties, he was appointed the Battalion’s principal pianist, composer and accompanist producing three very successful Revues.

In 1920-21, Eric composed the unaccompanied Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis for King’s, Cambridge, probably as an expression of gratitude to Daddy Mann. During the 1920s, he performed in London theatres within a varied performing career. Composing success came in 1929 with his cantata The Holy Child written for the Reigate & Redhill Competitive Festival (1929) which was immediately published by Stainer and Bell: interestingly, an ensemble number from the cantata entitled Welcome Yule (SSA + piano) is still sold and regularly performed in the USA.

Through the 1930-40s, Eric had won a reputation as an accompanist and became a favourite with many of the principal singers and instrumentalists of the day such as Isabel Baillie, Heddle Nash and Plunket Green, appearing frequently as pianist at the Myra Hess’ wartime National Gallery concerts and gaving many recitals throughout the UK, with, amongst others, the violinist Alfredo Campoli. He was to be heard regularly accompanying instrumentalists and singers on BBC Radio.

The 1950s saw him frequently performing with BBC orchestras playing orchestral piano, celeste or organ. By this time he had joined the staff at the Royal College of Music as Professor of Piano specialising in accompanying and, in 1952, Vaughan Williams invited him to become the official accompanist for the annual Leith Hill Musical Festival, held in Dorking only five miles from home. This was a task which he relished and continued to fulfil with great enjoyment and aplomb until 1967.

In retirement, Eric would often be found revising his early works. In the 1970s he reorchestrated The Holy Child which was performed in its full glory in 1975. He died in 1981 and is remembered for his innate musicianship, modesty, quiet sense of humour and the extraordinary beauty of tone which he seemingly effortlessly evoked from the piano. His unique sound and sensitivity can still be witnessed on recordings such as the Kreisler pieces with Alfredo Campoli and the Vaughan Williams’ specially composed piano continuo part in Bach’s St Matthew Passion. Renowned viola player and friend Jean Stewart summed up his pianistic skill perfectly in a letter of condolence with words to the effect that he had a touch ‘as soft as velvet yet firm as a rock’.

                            – written by Robin Gritton (Eric Gritton’s son)

Footnote from Peter Gritton – it is an honour to be raising awareness of my grandfather Eric on my website. He was certainly not the first renowned Gritton in the music profession, his father John Gritton having also been a published composer. In the near future, this family page will be developed to include links to the music of other members of the Gritton family. Eric Gritton’s music will be available for purchase here very soon.