Lost work by Stevenage composer Elizabeth Poston found after 59 years

Stevenage composer Elizabeth Poston wearing her old French shepherd’s coat. Picture: Margaret Ashby

Stevenage composer Elizabeth Poston wearing her old French shepherd’s coat. Picture: Margaret Ashby - Credit: Archant

A lost work by noted Stevenage composer Elizabeth Poston has been rediscovered after 59 years.

The composer, who was born at Pin Green in 1905, lived on the northern edge of Stevenage at Rooks Nest House – the childhood home of author EM Forster, with whom she was friends. She is best known for her Christmas carol Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, and was music director for the BBC’s European Service in the 1940s.

The search for the Poston work Festal Te Deum, commissioned by St Matthew’s Church in Northampton for its patronal festival in 1959, was prompted by the publication of a book about her by Dr John Alabaster – a personal friend of the late composer, who died in 1987.

Dr Alabaster listed almost two dozen lost Poston compositions in his book, of which Festal Te Deum was one.

The work was dedicated to the director of music at St Matthew’s Church of Northampton, Dr John Bertalot, and its choir – and it is a longstanding St Matthew’s chorister, William Miller, who has succeeded in tracking down the long-lost musical score.


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The music proved not to be in the church archives or recorded at the Northampton public records office, but Dr Bertalot remembered handing it to his successor Andrew Shelton – who is now in the United States.

Mr Shelton had indeed deposited it at the records office in Northampton, where the lost Poston work was finally unearthed in one of about 20 uncatalogued boxes relating to St Matthew’s Church.

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Dr Alabaster was delighted to learn of the discovery.

“A copy of the manuscript will be deposited at the British Library to join the rest of her compositions there, and it is to be hoped that it will soon be heard again after a silence of nearly 60 years,” he said.

“Now that the list of her lost works is published, it is also to be hoped that more of them will come to light. In some cases it would be her only copy of a work, where the instruction to return it to the composer had not been followed!

“One can understand the temptation to retain original manuscripts, but at least copies could be made available to the British Library.”

Elizabeth Poston’s other works included the music for the 1970 TV adaptation of Howards End – EM Forster’s masterpiece, based on the house at Rooks Nest they both loved.

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