Willie B Manson

1 July 1896 - 1 July 1916

Portrait of William Manson, c.1915, courtesy RAM museum William Braithwaite Manson (1 July 1886 to 1 July 1916), mostly referred to as Willie B Manson, was a promising composition student at the Royal Academy of Music. Born at Dunedin on the south island of New Zealand, he became a chorister at the Chapel Royal at St James’ Palace, London from at least 1906; several photographs of the young Willie in various outlandish ceremonial robes exist in the RAM archive.

By 1912 he had joined the Royal Academy of Music where he studied composition under Harry Farjeon. Manson was evidently a high achiever. His Musical Times obituary notes:

“After only four terms he was appointed sub-professor of year's work he gained three silver medals, the Oliveria Prescott prize, and the Charles Lucas silver medal for composition, which is looked upon as the 'blue riband' of the Academy, and later he won the Battison Haynes prize for composition.”

Regrettably, the available published obituaries of Manson tell us nothing of his character, but simply note this long list of prizes, although Harry Farjeon's tribute to him was published in the RAM Club magazine in 1916.

He joined the London Scottish Regiment as a private in January 1916 and served on the Western Front from May. He was killed on his birthday in July that year, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

A Pianoforte Trio is mentioned as having been performed at an RAM concert in his memory in November 1916, but if at all he is known for his two published song collections Songs of Love and Youth which sets the poems ‘Love! What wilt thou with this heart of mine?’ and ‘Hence, Away Begone’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and ‘A Birthday’ by Christine Rossetti and Three Poems from “A Shropshire Lad”; ‘Think no more, lad’, ‘When I came last to Ludlow’ and ‘Loveliest of Trees’. Both were published posthumously in 1919 and 1920 respectively.

His composition tutor Harry Farjeon dedicated his Piano Sonata to his memory. His parents gave money to the RAM to create a new music ensemble, and the Manson Ensemble continues to this day. The Academy's Manson music recording studio is also named in his honour.

Obituary: Willie B. Manson in The Musical Times, Vol. 57, No. 883 (Sep. 1, 1916), p. 410
Obituary: Willie Braithwaite Manson, The Musical Times, Vol. 58, No. 888 (Feb. 1, 1917), pp. 68-69
A collection of photographs and memorabilia related to the composer are viewable on the RAM museum website.

Two of his Songs of Love and Youth performed by Walter Widdop are available as very old 78 recording transfers on the Symposium CD An Anthology of Song, Vol. 2: 1903-1935 (SYMP1357)