- [1940s]-2008 (Creation)
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0.94 cubic metres
45 boxes, 1 roll and loose material
Name of creator
Wilfrid Howard Mellers was born at Leamington Spa on 26 April 1914, the son of Percy Mellers, a school teacher, and his wife Hilda Lawrence. Educated first at Leamington College, he then won a scholarship to study English at Downing College, Cambridge, followed by a further degree in music. Whilst at Cambridge he contributed a number of articles to the critical journal, ‘Scrutiny,’ eventually joining the editorial board in 1942.
In 1945 he was appointed to teach English and music at Downing College. He moved to Birmingham University as extra-mural tutor in music in 1949, earning his doctorate there for his work on François Couperin. He subsequently published his thesis in 1951 as ‘François Couperin and the French Classical Tradition.’ In 1960-1962 he was the Andrew Mellon Visiting Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh in the USA. His time in America inspired his 1964 book, ‘Music in a New Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Music,’ a study of American composition from colonial times to the twentieth century.
It was in that same year that he took up a post at the newly founded University of York, initially to teach English and music but soon becoming the university’s first Professor of Music. At York he had the freedom to create his own innovative music school made up of likeminded composers and musicians. Notably he included popular music in his curriculum, giving seminars on the work of The Beatles and Bob Dylan alongside more traditional subjects like Bach, Beethoven and Vaughan Williams. In 1973 he published ‘Twilight of the Gods: The Beatles in Retrospect,’ and in 1984 he produced a similar study of Dylan, ‘A Darker Shade of Pale: A Backdrop to Bob Dylan.’
He was also a prolific composer, writing more than 60 pieces of music. Beginning with the composition of incidental music for Midlands theatres in the 1940s, he went on to write two operas in the 1950s: ‘The Tragicall Historie of Christopher Marlowe’ in 1950-1952, and ‘The Borderline’ in 1958, followed by ‘Rose of May’ in 1964 for the Cheltenham Festival and ‘Yeibichai’ in 1969 for the Proms, a fusion of folk music, jazz, traditional orchestral music and Native American texts.
He retired from the University of York in 1981 but continued to write, producing a further eleven published works on the history of music. These included ‘Beethoven and the Voice of God’ in 1983; ‘Vaughan Williams and the Vision of Albion’ in 1989; ‘Francis Poulenc’ in 1993; ‘Singing in the Wilderness: Music and Ecology in the Twentieth Century’ in 2001; and ‘Celestial Music? Some Masterpieces of European Religious Music’ in 2002.
He was widely recognised for his work during his lifetime. He was an honorary fellow of Downing College, Cambridge, and was made Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of York in 1984. He was also awarded an OBE in 1982. In 2004 York Late Music Festival held a weekend tribute to Mellers to mark his 90th birthday year, followed by a further tribute concert at Downing College later that year which featured Mellers’ own music and new compositions written for the occasion by David Matthews, Stephen Dodgson and Howard Skempton.
Professor Mellers died on 17 May 2008.
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- University of York (Subject)