SIR IVOR ATKINS, FAMOUS WELSH ORGANIST, FRIEND of EDWARD ELGAR
This advertising cover has a fine example of the slogan BRITISH EMPIRE EXHIBITION/ ALWAYS ASK FOR/ AUSTRALIAN PRODUCTS roller cancel combined with the MELBOURNE/ -7 NO-11-P/ 1924 postmark, which cancels the red 1½d KGV stamp. It is addressed to Sir Ivor Atkins, Mus. D.D.R.C.O., College Yard, Worcester, England, and the sender is identified as The Oceanic Trading Co. Pty Ltd., Melbourne (Figure 1).
Sir Ivor Algernon Atkins was born on 29 November 1869 in Wales at Llandorff, Cardiff, the son of Frederick Pyke Atkins who was the organist at St Johns Church, Cardiff. Sir Ivor became the organist and Master of the Choristers of Worcester Cathedral for more than 50 years and a major driving force in the musical life of Worcester, England. He was a close friend of Worcester's most famous son, Sir Edward Elgar for over four decades. In fact Elgar was the godfather of Sir and Lady Atkin’s only child, a son Wulstan.
Atkins went to Truro at the age of 15 as a pupil and assistant to the Cathedral organist, Dr. G.R. Sinclair whom he followed to Hereford Cathedral in 1890. Two years later he gained his Batchelor of Music degree from Oxford and soon afterward was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, later becoming its president for a term. In 1897 he was appointed as organist at the Worcester Cathedral. Ivor Atkins and Edward Elgar met as young men at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival of 1890, when Atkins was assistant organist of Hereford Cathedral. Both wrote down their impressions of that first meeting.
Atkins recorded: "I knew that I completely understood his music, and that my heart and soul went with it," while Elgar described the encounter thus: "He was too nervous to speak, and so was I. But the eager excited look in his eyes told me that at least one musician had fully understood my music and had made it his own." It was to be a friendship based on a mutual respect for each other as musicians, and the two met almost every week for more than 40 years, until Elgar's death in 1934.
They would go to tea at each other's homes, attend weekend house parties, go out on leisurely cycling or walking excursions, and travel together to concerts by train. They also had their own amusing nicknames for each other, used in frequent letters between them - Elgar was "Reynart" and Atkins "Firapeel." Atkins lived in the shadow of Worcester Cathedral at number 8 College Yard, and the latter is shown in 1925 in Figure 2.
Elgar used to bounce musical ideas off Atkins, and vice versa.. There were loads of musical connections between the two, and they worked together on several arrangements. Elgar dedicated his Pomp and Circumstance March No.3 to Atkins and also compiled the libretto for Atkins' best-known work, the oratorio Hymn of Faith.
Atkins was knighted in 1921, mainly in recognition of the major role he played in the revival of the Three Choirs, Europe's oldest choral festival, which had fallen silent throughout the years of the First World War. He conducted all the Worcester Three Choirs festivals between 1899 and 1948 and was also at the rostrum for many concerts down the years by the Worcester Festival Choral Society and other choral and orchestral groups in and around the Faithful City. He founded the Music Library at Worcester Cathedral and was the Cathedral librarian from 1933 until 1953.
Sir Ivor's wife Katherine (Lady Atkins) was a city councillor and alderman at Worcester for several years and was elected Mayor in 1936, only the second woman in the city's history to be First Citizen. The previous year Lady Atkins had achieved the distinction of being the first woman High Sheriff in England when elected to this civic post at Worcester. Sir Ivor Atkins died 26 November 1953 at the age of 84, three years after retiring as Worcester Cathedral Organist and Lady Atkins died in 1954. A photo of Sir Ivor Atkins is shown in Figure 3.