Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-72)

His Life & Music

Derbyshire-born pianist Roger George Sacheverell Coke was also a prolific composer whose oeuvre includes solo piano, chamber music, songs and a significant body of orchestral works (symphonies, tone poems and concerti). From a very young age it is clear that music was his one great love and he devoted his life to the perfection of his art. Sadly however, his works have disappeared into the abyss – a fate suffered by so many English composers perhaps due to the powerful popularity of the ‘greats’ being so overwhelming – and it is only in recent years that Coke’s music has begun to be uncovered. His archive, consisting mostly of manuscript scores but also including two meticulously compiled albums of newspaper articles and reviews of his performances, is held at Chesterfield Library in Derbyshire. The British Library holds the only surviving recordings of broadcasts, the first of the 2nd Cello Sonata in C Op.29 by Alexander Baillie and Piers Lane and the second of two Preludes from Op.33, played live in concert by Maura Lympany (at the suggestion of Gordon Clark, Director of Music) at Abbotsholme School in 1970. The studio recording I made in August 2014 of the Preludes Opp.33 & 34 coupled with the 15 Variations & Finale in C minor Op.37 was the first commercial recording of any of the composer’s piano works, joining Rupert Marshall-Luck’s release of the First Violin Sonata in D minor Op.46 in launching the rediscovery of this unjustly neglected music.

Born in Alfreton, Derbyshire on October 20th 1912, Roger was the son of Lieutenant Langton Sacheverell Coke of the Irish Guards who lost his life at the first battle of Ypres only just over a week after his son’s second birthday. Roger inherited the family estate, Brookhill Hall (in Pinxton, Derbyshire) and lived there from this point on with his mother and his sister’s governess, Julie Baud. While his elder sister (born 1909) was sent for lessons in the village, the ‘man of the house’ as he now was, was enrolled at Eton College (from 1926-30) where he was a dedicated contributor to the debating society, played cricket for the school and was often to be found late at night composing under the bed sheets. At Eton, he was also able to immerse himself in a thriving music department where his own teacher Dr. Henry Ley gave frequent organ recitals, visiting quartets performed a wide range of repertoire (with works by Franck being particularly in vogue) and fellow students including none other than Roger Quilter and George Butterworth gave first performances of their own works. During his time at Eton, Coke performed in public for the first time selections from his 24 Preludes – a work that was to be very important to the composer throughout his life. He won prizes for piano performance and sight-reading for three consecutive years from 1926.

Journal Musical Opinion
Year 2015
Volume July-September

Callaghan, Simon (2015) Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-72): His Life & Music. In: Musical Opinion, Vol. July-September. Available at https://openmusiclibrary.org/article/44371/.

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