Born in 1878, Boughton, was a pupil of Stanford at the Royal College of Music in London. Boughton was a socialist from his early 20s and was acquainted with the poet Edward Carpenter, parts of whose poem “Towards Democracy” he had set to music in 1909.
Boughton first became known as a composer of orchestral and choral music. He worked for many years within the Clarion movement, as a conductor and adjudicator of labour choirs and orchestras. His opera The Immortal Hour (1912) achieved enormous success, breaking box office records.
Opera was his real love and in 1914 he established the first of his Glastonbury Festivals. Boughton was something of a mentor to the much younger Alan Bush in his youth (see separate entry).
In 1922 his opera The Immortal Hour was produced in London where it enjoyed a phenomenal success, setting a still unbroken world record for the longest continuous run of any opera. It was followed by notable London productions of Bethlehem and Alkestis.
Rutland Boughton was the most celebrated composer of the labour movement between the wars forever associated with the Communist Party. By 1926, he had mounted over 300 staged performances and 100 chamber music concerts. This was also the year he joined the Communist Party, giving as his main reason for joining the fact that capitalism prevents working people from fulfilling their full potential, especially in artistic terms; in a word – `alienation’, the theory first postulated by Marx.
He had a column for much of the mid to late 1920s in the Sunday Worker’s impressive arts pages, entitled “Music and the Class War”.
He and his contemporaries, involved in music and the arts, perceived a very clear role for romantic aesthetics in the work of socialists. One of the most praised of the works that came out of this movement was The Immortal Hour, a setting of texts by the poet and playwright William Sharp, writing under the pseudonym Fiona Macleod, to Boughton’s music. Premiered at the first Glastonbury Festival in 1914, the work was performed over 300 times in the 1920s and 30s in Birmingham and London,
Alan Bush, who first became involved in politics in the 1920s, joined the London Labour Choral Union as the conductor of a labour choir in Finchley, became Rutland Boughton’s deputy in the LLCU, and, in 1929, its Musical Director when Rutland Boughton retired from that post.
Boughton died in 1960.