Bell, H.P.

H.P. (Hugh Poynter) Bell. Critic, composer, b Kew, London, 1872, d Montreal 28 Jan 1961. His mother, Clara, with whom he began his music training, made the first English translation of Spitta's Johann Sebastian Bach in collaboration with J.A. Fuller-Maitland. Bell was also a cousin of Rudyard Kipling. Despite the family's activities in the arts, Bell decided to become a chemist. He attended Clare College, Cambridge, where his studies included music, and the universities of Kiel and Bonn. He moved to Canada in 1912, working first for the federal government, then at Hart House, University of Toronto (secretary-treasurer 1921-3), before succeeding Philip King in 1923 as music and art critic of the Montreal Daily Star, a position he held for the next 26 years. For some years afterwards he contributed a weekly column to the Montreal daily The Herald, which ceased publication in 1959.

Bell considered himself little more than a cultivated amateur, but he brought to his writing a high level of perception and a richness of experience that few people in the field could match at that time. He had met Tchaikovsky and had heard performances by Clara Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Saint-Saëns, and others. An ardent Savoyard, he had attended all the premieres of the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas from The Mikado on. In another person, such a background could have led to a patronizing attitude towards the musical life of Montreal in the years after World War I. Bell's writings, however, did not condescend, and he missed no opportunity to praise merit, even while discerning faults. It is probable that Bell composed throughout his life, but his known compositions postdate World War II. Like his gentle watercolours, they were done for the pleasure of doing: Bell had no ambitions as either a composer or a painter. In spite of this, 'Love's Philosophy' (1945, one of his 16 known songs) was published by BMI Canada, and his Sonata for violin and piano (1946) was performed by Ethel Stark and John Newmark for the CBC IS. Bell also composed eight Interludes for piano during the 1950s.