This is the first of a new blog ‘series’ of posts on Ireland’s pupils, making use of information gleaned from the composer’s teaching registers at the RCM. In 1926 one of the names listed for the Christmas term, with lessons on a Friday, was Percy Turnbull.
Percy Purvis Turnbull (1902–1976) was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. His early years were influenced by William Whittaker, conductor of the Newcastle upon Tyne Bach Choir Society, who befriended the young musician. In 1923 he won a Foundation Scholarship to the RCM, where he studied with Holst, Vaughan Williams, and then Ireland, the latter remaining a lifelong friend. On leaving the RCM in 1927 after one last Easter term with Ireland, he became an editor for the Aeolian Piano Company and reader for OUP, also working as a freelance pianist and music copyist. Indeed, it was Turnbull who made the first copies of Vaughan Williams’s fourth symphony and Job.
In the mid-1930s he moved to Chalfont St Giles, close to his friend the composer John Longmire. After Longmire had moved to Guernsey with Ireland, Turnbull visited them in May 1940, shortly before the German invasion of the Channel Islands. In the following month finding himself in the situation of having to wait for an evacuation boat along with Ireland and Longmire. During World War II he served in the Royal Artillery, after which he became principal piano teacher at the Surrey College of Music until its closure in 1956.
Following his divorce from his first wife, Turnbull remarried in 1956, his second wife the Hon Mary Elizabeth Parnell, an associate of the RCM and daughter of John Brooke Molesworth Parnell, the sixth Baron Congleton. In that same year he moved to West Sussex to a beautiful house, West Broomers, located in a rural part of the Downs just north of Pulborough, very close to Ireland’s home at Rock Mill.
Much of Turnbull’s work, which includes songs, orchestral and chamber music, remained in manuscript, and was only brought to publication after his death, thanks to the efforts of his wife. Turnbull was clearly strongly influenced by Ireland both in the genres he favoured and in stylistic terms, producing a body of miniatures for piano, including:
- Seven Character Sketches(1923–7)
- Eight Short Piano Pieces(published under the pseudonym Peter Thrale) (1931)
- Six Pastoral Miniatures(1938)
- Three Winter Pieces(1956–7)
After 1960 Turnbull turned his attention away from music to drawing and painting, favouring in particular landscapes in watercolour. He died on 9 December 1976.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
RCM teaching registers