Bliss's musical training was cut short by the First World War, in which he served with distinction in the army. In the post-war years he quickly became known as an unconventional and modernist composer, but within the decade he began to display a more traditional and romantic side in his music. In the 1920s and 1930s he composed extensively not only for the concert hall, but also for films and ballet.
In the Second World War, Bliss returned to England from the US to work for the BBC and became its director of music. After the war he resumed his work as a composer, and was appointed Master of the Queen's Music.
In Bliss's later years, his work was respected but was thought old-fashioned, and it was eclipsed by the music of younger colleagues such as William Walton and Benjamin Britten. Since his death, his compositions have been well represented on record, and many of his better-known works remain in the repertoire of British orchestras.