IN looking back over the past 150 years, we think of Worcestershire as having been the cradle of only one significant composer of classical music, Sir Edward Elgar - but not so.

The county was also the birthplace of Julius Harrison, a composer widely-respected in his own time, though, alas, his substantial output of music is now largely neglected.

He was a contemporary of Elgar, though much younger, and the two composers had a mutual respect for each other and their music.

Both gained musical inspiration from the landscape of their native Worcestershire and both lived for some years at Malvern, despite their wide travels.

I'm giving a thumb-nail sketch of Julius Harrison today, thanks largely to Pershore councillor David Shaw, who has been eagerly researching the life story of Worcestershire's other composer.

His notes, kindly sent to me, and the cuttings archives of Berrow's Worcester Journal and the Worcester Evening News have provided all the background information for this article.

David Shaw's interest in Harrison was first sparked by Malvern councillor Ann Silk when she asked him if he was aware of a piece of music entitled Pershore Plums, written by Julius Harrison. David naturally pricked up his ears as he is well known in the Vale of Evesham as founder of the Pershore Plum Festival.

Julius Allen Greenaway Harrison was born in 1885, above his father's grocery shop at Stourport-on-Severn. The premises - in York Street - still survive.

His father, Walter Harrison came from Powick, while his mother was of German-Hungarian origin, and Julius had an early introduction to the delights of music as both parents were excellent pianists.

Together with his father and three brothers, Julius also sang in the choir of All Saints, Wilden, and was taught to play violin and organ by the church's organist Irving Glover. Julius had already learned to play piano with his mother from the age of five.

He first attended a Dame School in Foundry Street, Stourport, where lessons were written in sand on slates and, at 11, moved to Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Hartlebury, where the headmaster, E W Hopewell encouraged him towards a musical career.

Julius gained two Firsts in music in Cambridge local examinations, and his headmaster won him a £150 grant from the Worcestershire education authority to attend the Birmingham School of Music, where he studied under composer Sir Granville Bantock.

At just 16, Julius was appointed organist and choirmaster at Areley Kings Church, moving five years later to a similar post at Hartlebury Church. He conducted his first concert at 17, when he directed a performance of his Ballade for Strings by the Worcester Musical Society.

However, his horizons were to be considerably widened in 1907 when, at the age of 22, he won the coveted composition prize at the Norwich Triennial Festival. His cantata Cleopatra was voted the winner by a panel of adjudicators who included composers Delius and Coleridge-Taylor.

His winning cantata was performed at the following year's Norwich Festival with Sir Henry Wood at the conductor's rostrum.

The Norwich prize opened the door for Harrison to enter on a distinguished career as a composer and as a conductor on concert platforms all over Britain and Europe.

He left Worcestershire at 23 to live in London and, around the same time, his parents moved from Stourport to Worcester, taking up residence in St George's Square. His sister Christine gave piano lessons from a house in nearby Britannia Square.

Julius went to Wagner's Bayreuth and conducted for the first time at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1913. He also conducted in Paris and began to establish a high profile as an accomplished interpreter of German opera.

In December 1915, he had the privilege of conducting the first performance of Elgar's incidental music to the play The Starlight Express at London's Kingsway Theatre.

He then served for a time in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and had a lucky escape in 1917 though, ironically, not while in the air. He was conducting a performance of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde at Covent Garden when a bomb fell on the famous market outside, causing widespread damage. It was his 13th performance of the Wagner opera!

In 1919, perhaps homesick, he composed his charming Worcestershire Suite with its four movements entitled The Shrawley Round, Redstone Rock, Pershore Plums and The Ledbury Parson.

The composer, then 34, said the work has been written "in the exuberance of an Armistice leave from the RAF".

A punishing schedule of conducting assignments continued for the next 20 years and he was to conduct all Britain's chief orchestras such as the BBC Symphony, the Halle, the London Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic, the Scottish, the City of Birmingham Symphony, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra.

He conducted the first performance in Scotland of Holst's The Planets and a good number of his concerts up and down the country were broadcast by the BBC. He also gave talks on music over the "airwaves."

Even so, it appears opera was his greatest love, and he was to conduct more than 300 opera performances, primarily at Covent Garden and with Sir Thomas Beecham's Opera Company at Drury Lane and with the British National Opera Company.

It was between his concert bookings that Harrison composed a significant number of orchestral, piano, choral and chamber works, many of them evocative of his native county. He was also for a time Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music.

Alas, increasing deafness began to curtail Harrison's career as a conductor and in 1940, he moved back to Worcestershire, with his wife and children.

From the bedroom of their home in Pickersleigh Road, he enjoyed a fine view of Bredon Hill, the inspiration for his Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra. This piece was dedicated to Miss Winifred Barrows, headmistress of Malvern's Lawnside School, with whom he and his wife had taken a trip to Bredon Hill.

In 1940, Harrison also took up the post of music director at Malvern College and, in the late 40s, was director of the early Elgar Festivals held at Malvern. He organised the first ever performance in the hillside town of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, 47 years after this choral masterpiece had been composed, and he became a founder member and vice-president of the Elgar Society.

All this personal homage to Elgar, long after the composer's death, no doubt stemmed from Harrison's years of professional association and friendship with Elgar. In his teens, Harrison had attended the 1900 premiere of Gerontius at Birmingham Town Hall, and he shared the rostrum with Elgar at a Worcester Three Choirs Festival concert in the Public Hall on the evening of September 8, 1920.

Harrison conducted his Worcestershire Suite in the first half, while Elgar conducted his Introduction and Allegro for Strings in the second.

At a social event afterwards, Elgar told his great friend Sir Ivor Atkins how much he had enjoyed hearing Harrison's Worcestershire Suite. The two composers corresponded occasionally afterwards and, at some stage, Sir Edward sent Harrison the gift of a 1775 engraving of Stourport-on-Severn.

During his Malvern years, Harrison also composed a Sonata for Viola and Piano and a cantata for a jubilee celebration of the Downs School, Colwall.

His native county was also the inspiration of his Three Sketches for Piano under the collective title Severn Country but called individually Far Forest, Dance in the Cherry Orchard - inspired by Ribbesford - and Twilight on the River, inspired by Bewdley.

During his career, Harrison conducted quite a number of concerts at Three Choirs festivals in Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester and had some of his own works premiered at the Three Choirs, including Four Cavalier Tunes written for the famous tenor Heddle Nash and performed at the 1930 festival in Hereford.

Harrison's twilight years as a composer were devoted mainly to writing major choral works. His Mass in C was composed as a memorial to his daughter Joan and was first performed at Stoke-on-Trent in 1948. The 100-minute-long work was so well-received that it was chosen for the 1951 Worcester Three Choirs Festival, being performed under the baton of David Willcocks, and was later broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall with Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Harrison's Requiem was completed in 1957 and was performed at that year's Worcester Three Choirs to mark the centenary of Elgar's birth.

The late A T Shaw, long-time music critic of the Evening News and Berrow's Journal, wrote of Harrison's late choral works: "By keeping to well-tried methods, our most eminent living Worcestershire composer has enriched the choral repertory with two fine works which are acceptable to performers and hearers alike. The scoring is rich and the vocal writing exceedingly grateful to the singers."

The Harrisons moved from Malvern at the end of the 1940s and Julius died at Harpenden, Hertforshire in 1963, at the age of 78.