John Bath, Composer and Conductor, 1915-2004

Vocal parts of a lost Mass, written for the Catholic Church in Rye by the composer John Bath, have been found a week after his own Requiem was held there. A significant figure in both the church, where he was choirmaster and organist in the 1940s and 1950s, and the Rye Singers, he wrote hundreds of pieces, the Mass of St. Anthony of Padua being Opus 467; it was found by Sheila Miller who remembered it in the days after his funeral. A search is now on for the part scored for the organ.

When John Bath died he was, at 89, the oldest surviving chorister of the Westminster Cathedral Choir School, where he was educated in the 1920s, and sang at their re-union in 2003. The current choirmaster and organist at St. Anthonys, Professor Trevor Ling of the Royal Academy of music, himself spent more than 20 years with the Cathedral choir and led the singing during the RequiemMass.

John Hubert Giffin Bath was born in London on 2 July 1915, son of the composer and conductor Hubert Bath, who is still remembered for his popular work “Cornish Rhapsody”.

When war broke out in 1939 John joined the Army and served with a film unit; after the war he worked primarily as a composer of music for films, including one about life on board an aircraft carrier. The music was played by Royal Marine bandsmen and matched to the film under his supervision at Ealing Studios. On other occasions he flew to newly liberated France, and sometimes Germany, putting together an orchestra to record his music.

Altogether, he wrote hundreds of works, including wedding marches for members of his own family. For some time, he was, on the recommendation of Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor of the BBC’s West of England Light Orchestra. After leaving Rye, where they lived in Mermaid Street and are still remembered, the family moved to Hollywood via Canada. His best-known music in Britain is the theme music from the Canadian Television series “The Forest Rangers”, 45rpm records of which were distributed to the people attending his Requiem Mass on September 2nd 2004; it was celebrated by the parish priest, Fr. Aidan Walsh OFM (Conv).

Apart from the composing and conducting, he was involved in amateur, and sometimes not so amateur dramatics. It was while playing with the CurtenePlayers in Hastings that he met his wife Iris; after working for the British Foreign Office she became a professional actress and appeared in a number of Hollywood films. They married in London in 1958. It was at about this time that he conducted the mysterious Hastings Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Borodins Symphony No 2, released on the Allegro label as ALG3048.

John and Iris Bath returned to the UK recently. He died unexpectedly in the Conquest Hospital.

One son, Tristan, is on the diplomatic staff of the US Embassy in Warsaw; the other children Piers, Perpetua, and Felicity live in California. All were present to support their mother at the funeral, Piers and Tristan helping to carry the coffin into the church.

“Rye’s Own” November 2004

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