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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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The history of British music in the 20th century is a remarkable one. Between the glorious days of Tudor music (culminating in the 17th century in the music of Purcell) and the end of the 19th century, British music was essentially defunct, producing not a single work of note except for the satirical operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, its only event of consequence being the work of the German Handel in London. By the 1990s, Britain had not only produced a handful of major international composers, but many of the larger number of accomplished secondary British composers had become familiar internationally.

The genesis of this Renaissance was in large part due to the Irishman Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924 - see under `Eire'), who revitalized music teaching at Cambridge University, and included many of the most celebrated of the next generation of British composers among his pupils, to Sir Hubert Parry (1848-1918), professor of music at Oxford for eight years, to Sir George Grove (1820-1900), who edited the massive and extraordinary music dictionary that bears his name, and by Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944), who took charge of the Promenade Concerts in 1895, and who included the works of the latest British and foreign composers in his programmes. It was the music, especially such popular music as marches and patriotic songs, of Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) that convinced the general musical public that Britain had a composer to match the works of such composers popular in Britain as Mendelssohn, Grieg, and Dvořák. The power and impact of his most important works was slower to be internationally recognized, but he has now taken his place as one of the major figures of late-Romantic classical music. Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was the main British composer to embrace Impressionism, combining it with the settings and sensibilities of English subjects, with a colourful passion in part drawn from his experience in Florida, and with a Germanic ruggedness and philosophical impulse in his major choral works. His cosmopolitan achievement influenced and encouraged a number of later British composers. The other celebrated figure of his generation was Dame Ethyl Smyth (1858-1944), writer, composer and suffragette. She found a more ready response to her music in Germany and Austria, and her output awaits a comprehensive reassessment. The overture to the opera The Wreckers (1906) is her best-known work, a powerful and well-constructed tone-poem that bursts into passion with a memorable march. The opera itself is built around the wrecking and plunder of ships by the Cornish, and the attempts by a sailor and a Methodist minister's wife to prevent the practice; they are condemned to death by drowning. The Mass in D (1891) for soloists, chorus and orchestra with organ, an advanced work in the British context of its time, is the finest of all British 19th-century choral works, big, richly textured, Germanic, and late-Romantic; in part it looks back to the grandeur of Berlioz, but the magnificent Credo, with its dramatic changes of mood, complex and often luminous interweaving of voices, and undercurrent of gigantic power, looks forward to Mahler's Symphony No.8. The Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra and The Prison (1925) for chorus and orchestra were the most highly regarded of her other works. Cyril Scott (1879-1970), another composer who deserves reassessment, was seen as the English modernist of the Edwardian period. He is now remembered more as a spiritualist and the author of Music: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages (1933) and other occult books. Works such as his Piano Concerto No.1 (1913-1914) with its exotic touches and an extended role for the glockenspiel, the Piano Concerto No.2 (c.1956), with its highly chromatic writing, constant rhythmic changes, and touches of mysticism, and the rich, sometimes languid chromaticism of the Piano Sonata No.3 (1956) suggest the possibility of interesting music that needs to be unearthed. Even more eccentric was Lord Berners (Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 1883-1950), whose works are infused with wit, glittering colours, and a Gallic grace and craftsmanship. Best known is the ballet The Triumph of Neptune (1926), written for Diaghilev. The scenario is based on figures from pantomime, with the story of a sailor who sees Fairyland through a telescope, visits, returns to find his wife with a beau, is turned into a prince, and marries Neptune's daughter. The music is full of verve, delightful colour, instrumental wit, and a hazy lyricism in its series of miniatures. His piano music has the influence of Impressionism (Le poisson d'or) and something of the satirical wit of Satie (Three Little Funeral Marches, commemorating a statesman, a canary, and an aunt). The prolific Bernard van Dieren (1887-1936, born in Holland of Dutch and Irish parents) was influenced by Busoni, initially experimental in harmony, occasionally Impressionistic (following Delius), later more tonal; on available evidence, he is one of those composers whose individual sense of complex exploration exceeded a personal, idiomatic achievement, perhaps hampered by his regular illnesses. His earlier piano music, such as the Six Sketches (1910-1911), is essentially atonal, with a sense of introverted exploration. His fourth and fifth string quartets include a double-bass in the quartet; the Delian Chinese Symphony (1914) for soloist, chorus and orchestra uses the same poems as Mahler's Das Lied von Der Erde. His songs, wide-ranging in idiom, are perhaps his most permanent legacy.

With the exception of Elgar, all these composers were essentially widening the range of British composition to acknowledge and include the various contemporary developments in European music, and as such remain at a tangent to the British musical renaissance. For that renaissance, propelled by the generation of composers born in the 1870s and 1880s, was founded on two elements that created a specifically British idiom: the resurgence of the English song, in parallel with the new literary vitality of English poetry, and the rediscovery of English folk-music that led to the sound of English `pastoralism', in parallel with a renewed social awareness of the English landscape and heritage. The revival of English folk-music was led by Cecil Sharp (1859-1924), who founded the English Folk Dance Society (1911), and by the towering figure of the late-developer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), whose best-loved works are in the pastoral style, but went far beyond its limitations in his large output, especially in his nine symphonies, the finest by any British composer. The melodic content of the English pastoral style is often founded on folk-music; the harmonic content is largely traditional, but gains a distinctive sound from the use of Church and Renaissance modes that arose from the re-appreciation of English Tudor music. The most distinctive aspect of the idiom is its uncanny evocation of the varied English landscape, with a joy and wonder in its contemplation intertwined with a nostalgia for its history and heritage. Arthur Somervell (1863-1937), John Ireland (1879-1962), George Butterworth (1885-1916) and Ernest Moeran (1894-1950) are all best remembered for works deeply imbued with the spirit of the English landscape and British folk-music. Herbert Howells (1892-1983) embraced the idiom in his chamber-music, and incorporated its influence in church music. Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) turned the idiom, and the English literary heritage, to effective use in choral works. Gustav Holst (1874-1934), best-known for his orchestral suite The Planets (which is not typical of his work), combined the pastoral style with Eastern philosophies and musical influences. The roots of Frank Bridge (1879-1941) were in the pastoral tradition, but, in part in reaction to the horrors of the First World War, he developed a more rugged, advanced, and pessimistic idiom, extending beyond conventional tonality. An offshoot of this tradition was a renewal of interest in the Celtic heritage. The major composer of this movement, and one of the finest British composers of the century, was Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953), composing in a late-Romantic idiom, stretching tonality, with seething complex textures and emotions at their finest in his seven symphonies. Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946) veered between Celtic orchestral works and music reflecting his deep interest in Persian and Arabic culture. The output of Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) was small but fine, especially the Viola Sonata (1919), a late-Romantic work influenced by Bloch and tempered in the central short vivace by Impressionism, and the Piano Trio (1921), a grittier work that starts where the sonata had left off.

All these composers contributed to the resurgence of the English song, in which the English landscape, its characters, and its history play a major part. The most significant poetic impulse of this resurgence was perhaps the poetry of A.E.Housman (1859-1936), whose combination of the evocation of the Shropshire landscape, a consistent sense of loss and regret that eventually seemed especially pertinent in the emotional aftermath of the First World War, and the exceptionally musical verse attracted almost all the main English composers. Anyone wishing to explore a cross-section of English song in the first half of the century could well simply explore settings of his poetry. Perhaps the finest of the song-composers was Ivor Gurney (1890-1937). The most arresting work of the psychologically disturbed Peter Warlock (real name Philip Heseltine, 1894-1930), who edited 300 old English songs, is the song-cycle The Curlew (1920-1921) for tenor, string quartet, flute and cor anglais. In its linked settings of four W.B.Yeats poems, the cor anglais reflects the sound of the bird of the title and the overall mood is one of desolation. Many of his other songs, easy-flowing but with subtle shadings and detail and ranging from nursery songs to works of jauntiness and profound sadness, are very fine. Roger Quilter (1887-1953) is now remembered entirely for his songs.

Some younger composers, such as William Alwyn (1905-1985) continued to have their roots in English pastoralism, but the reaction against the general style came in the 1930s, in part reflecting the political and social concerns of the period. Sir William Walton (1902-1983) echoed Satie is his Façade (1923), but then injected a new sense of power and turmoil (heralded by Bax) into his Symphony No.1 (1935); Vaughan Williams found a similar explosive quality in his Symphony No.4 (1931-1934). Walton's oratorio Belshazzar's Feast (1931) introduced an element of barbarism into a rather moribund English oratorio tradition. Its self-confident brashness influenced the marvellous short cantata The Blacksmiths (1934) for mixed chorus and orchestra or strings, two pianos, timpani and percussion, by Sir George Dyson (1883-1964). An adaptation of an alliterative Middle English text, it is dramatic, percussive in feel, taut in its word setting, unexpected in its direct power of portraiture. His other choral works have been largely forgotten, but the thick-textured cantata Sweet Thames Run Softly (1955) for baritone, chorus and orchestra, with its echoes of Delius and the English pastoral tradition, well matches its title, and is worth an airing by those exploring the by-waters of English music. Of other composers less influenced by pastoralism, Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) concentrated on symphonies of contrapuntal energy, the later works reflecting religious themes. Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989) emerged as the most abstract of English composers, delighting in craftsmanship, instrumental precision, and a restrained pleasure in music-making. Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971) brought a northern English ruggedness and an accomplished craftsmanship to largely abstract works, influenced by Hindemith.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Covent Garden, London, remained a major international opera house, but English opera remained parochial, its one masterpiece, Vaughan Williams's Riders to the Sea (1936) largely unnoticed, until the advent of two major composers, Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and Michael Tippett (1905-1998), and the first performance of the former's Peter Grimes in 1945. Britten's musical idiom broke no new ground, but his instinctive response to words, his sure musico-dramatic sense, his pervasive theme of innocence lost and its consequences, and his strongly personal idiomatic musical language created a most distinctive and individual voice. Tippett has been more exploratory within a mainstream heritage, and his operas have been built around Jungian principles. For both composers opera was merely the central aspect of their genius; Britten's song-cycles and choral works are as powerful as his operas, and Tippett has extended his idiom into such forms as the symphony.

By the end of the Second World War, English music, although now well established, was essentially conservative and insular in spirit. Elizabeth Lutyens (1906-1983) had been one of the first composers to embrace 12-tone techniques after hearing Webern in 1938, but her music was generally overlooked in the 1950s and 1960s, and her large output deserves reappraisal. Much of her finest work involves the voice, ranging from the delicacy of the Rimbaud setting of O saisons, o châteaux (1946) for soprano, guitar, harp, violin and strings through the use of baritone and soprano in the largely orchestra Quincunx (1959-1960) to the Quasimodo setting And Suddenly it's Evening (1966) for tenor and eleven instruments. Her output includes a large body of chamber music, and stage works such as the music-theatre The Linnet from the Leaf (1972) and the `scena' One and the Same which uses mime. The earlier music of Nicholas Maw (born 1935) absorbed a wide range of contemporary European influences, including a serial phase, arriving at a sumptuous sound in Scenes and Arias (1962) for soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto and orchestra (setting a c.14th-century love-letter and the reply), and culminating (to date) in the gigantic Odyssey (1974-1989) for orchestra, over an hour-and-a-half in length, covering Maw's own musical stylistic journeys.

Alexander Goehr (born in Berlin, 1932) infused a younger generation of composers with new Continental ideas and the examples of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, although his own compositions did not have the same impact. A group of these younger composers became known in the 1950s as the `Manchester school'; the major figures were Harrison Birtwistle (born 1934), whose especial achievement has been ritualistic operas and music-theatre works of a singular individuality, and Peter Maxwell Davies (born 1934), whose idiom has ranged from hard-hitting avant-garde instrumental, orchestral and music-theatre works to attractive music aimed at a wider audience and inspired by his adopted home of the Orkney Islands. The marxist Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) was the most extreme of the British avant-garde composers, a brief flare of a phenomenon now best remembered for his `scratch-orchestra' consisting of musicians of widely varying talents. David Bedford (born 1937) produced some of the most promising music of the English avant-garde, especially the Two Patchen Poems (1966) for choir, influenced by Ligeti, and Star's End (1974) for orchestra. Using amplified guitars in the orchestra to memorable and haunting effect, this is one of the finest British orchestral works of its period, creating emotive vistas of the night sky and the explosion of the star of the title in a forthright structure. He then moved through an unfortunate phase of ineffectual quasi-pop music, and his more recent works have not had the impact of the earlier. In a more mainstream tradition, John McCabe (born 1939) was influenced by Hartmann (to whom he paid tribute in the Variations on a Theme of Karl Amadeus Hartmann, 1964, for orchestra, mixing the rugged with the delicate in clear-cut colours). His output includes three symphonies, an opera based on C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1969), and the most effective song-cycle Notturni ed alba (1970) for soprano and orchestra, where the often sensual orchestral textures (including a large percussion section) graphically support the four poems of night and sleep based on Latin medieval texts. His best-known work is the orchestral suite Chagall Widows (1974), an abstract evocation of Chagall's twelve stained-glass windows at the Hadassah-Hebrew University in Jerusalem, organized symphonically, where McCabe's clear-cut sense of bright orchestral colour admirably matches the inspiration. This generation also includes the more conservative Malcolm Lipkin (born 1932) and David Morgan (born 1933), whose neo-Romantic music, following a European mainstream tradition, includes a beautiful and sensuously passionate Violin Concerto (1967), four symphonies and six string quartets.

The generation of British composers born in the later 1940s and 1950s has been especially interesting, deserving more coverage that this Guide can accommodate. Many of these composers have come to the fore in the late 1980s and 1990s, and seem destined to produce their most significant work into the 21st century; certainly all the composers discussed in the following are worth encountering. The depth of quality and quantity of these composers partly reflects the emancipation of British music from more insular and conservative outlooks, and particularly the gradual disappearance of music critics brought up in an age that viewed Continental musical developments with deep mistrust. Brian Ferneyhough (born 1943) continued to develop total serialism into what has become known as the `New Complexity'. The music of Michael Finnissy (born 1946), also springing from the avant-garde, can appear similarly complex, but includes such works as Cabaret vert (1985) for voice and two instrumentalists that uses the simplest of effects and means drawn from Eastern folk-musics. Other musics have sometimes been the starting point of his own inspiration, such as the intervals of a Romanian folk-song in Câtana (1984) for ensemble. His String Trio (1986) uses Mahler's Symphony No.9 as its general source, its melodic material drawn from the symphony, its 28 sections following the symphony's tempo markings. Himself a formidable pianist, he is probably best known for his piano music, notably the long English Country Tunes (1979), wide-ranging (like much of his music) in effect and emotion. The Minimalist movement is represented by Michael Nyman (born 1944), the more mainstream integration of avant-garde techniques by Michael Berkeley (born 1948) and Oliver Knussen (born 1952). Robin Holloway (born 1943) has a kind of sumptuous Viennese fin-de-siècle imagination transported into the late 20th century. The Scenes from Schumann (1971) for orchestra use Schumann tunes as their base in a welter of allusion; the vibrant, sometimes raucous and perhaps over-lush Concerto No.2 (1979) uses block procedures and dabs of orchestral colour, constantly tugging towards the neo-Romantic to which it eventually succumbs in an orgy of orchestral sound. The Viola Concerto (1983-1984) is a lyrical work in four movements. A major achievement was his opera Clarissa (begun 1971, performed 1990), based on Richardson's novel and recreating the mood but not the musical styles of the 18th century. After earlier explorations of serialism, a similar richness of orchestral colour and complexity of effect is found in the music of Colin Matthews (born 1946, and not to be confused with his brother David, above), in such works as the series of orchestral `sonatas', the Cello Concerto (1983-1984) or, in more fragmented fashion, in Sun Dance (1985) for orchestra. The earlier music of Gavin Bryars (born 1943) followed the model of Cage, culminating in an evocation of the disaster of The Sinking of the Titanic (1969); after the opera Medea (1982-1984) his idiom has become eclectic, drawing on inspirational sources as far apart as jazz and the chromaticism of Viennese music at the turn of the century, often with repetitive rhythmic elements. Throughout it is infected with a gentle sense of irony and wit, exemplified in his choices of texts for vocal works, with something of the lateral view of the world of one of his major influences, Marcel Duchamp. Brian Elias (born 1948) has written emotional and passionate works in a post-Berg milieu influenced by his teacher Lutyens, lean and with a touch of the archaic in the vocal lines of Somnia (1979) for tenor and orchestra, setting six poems of the night by Propertius, emotionally and sometimes lyrically expressive in L'Eylah (1984) for orchestra. Nigel Osborne (born 1948) adopted the less startling effects and procedures of the legacy of the avant-garde for an expressive idiom with heightened emotions, sometimes inspired by Soviet poets (Voznesenky in I am Goya, 1977, for baritone and chamber ensemble, Mayakovsky and Esenin in The Sickle, 1975 for soprano with chamber ensemble, the flute and guitar prominent). Poem Without a Hero (1980) for voices and instruments, is based on Anna Akhmatova in what amounts to a dramatic cantata, using speech effects and extended vocal techniques. This Russian interest culminated in the opera The Electrification of the Soviet Union (1987), using a chamber orchestra with tape and based on a Pasternak story. His music also has a more subdued lyrical side, as in the slow movement of the virtuoso Concerto for Flute and Chamber Orchestra (1980), while the Sinfonia (1982) has a more direct appeal, coloured with an almost neo-Romantic hue in the slow first movement (using a Gaelic folk-song and reflecting events in Northern Ireland) and Caribbean-inspired drums in the second. John Casken (born 1949) was initially influenced by Lutosławski and the Polish avant-garde, in such works as Amarantos (1978) for nine instruments, with slow block-like movement, moving to an uneasy lyricism (with touches of Near East inflections) in the Cello Concerto. Golem (completed 1989) tells the story of the clay man who comes to life, his effect on a Jewish family and community, and eventual demise, in an interesting opera of the interaction of subconscious and conscious forces, using electronic and instrumental forces. It is a combination of more disjointed post avant-garde effects and a lyricism drawn with more traditional harmonic brush-strokes that doesn't quite match the potential of the libretto. Dominic Muldowney (born 1952), who studied with Birtwistle and succeeded him as musical director at the National Theatre, has been noted for his concertos, including the Saxophone Concerto (1984), incorporating jazz elements, the Percussion Concerto (1991) and Violin Concerto (1992), and his vocal settings of Brecht. His style can include a astute compendium of different traits, ranging from the neo-Romantically lyrical to the hard-hewn serial in the String Quartet No.2 (1980). Robert Saxton (born 1953) has developed a sound of intense orchestral or instrumental density, often furious movement, and colourful tapestry effects, founded on the movement of harmonies that hover between the tonal and the more acerbic, looking for resolutions. Many of his works have literary inspirations; there is a vitality, a young almost explosive energy to the Concerto for Orchestra (1984), inspired by the Kabbala, whose panache is continued in such works as the Violin Concerto. The theme of his opera Caritas (1991), to a libretto by Arnold Wesker, is the immurement of a young woman in a medieval church. George Benjamin (born 1960, not to be confused with the Australian Arthur Benjamin) has written aural landscapes using post avant-garde techniques, ranging from the bold colour and timbral effects of At First Light (1982), inspired by a Turner painting of a castle against the sun, to the rarefied, distilled effects of the fragile Antara (1987), with electronics.

Welsh classical composition is largely a 20th-century achievement, in spite of the reputation of the country for its singing abilities. The founders of modern Welsh music were Grace Williams (1906-1977), whose haunting atmospheric idiom owed much to Vaughan Williams, and Daniel Jones (1912-1993), whose principal achievement was in the field of the symphony and string quartet. Alun Hoddinott (1929-2008) has combined modern mainstream elements with a strong sense of the Welsh Celtic heritage, and William Mathias (1934-1992) was chiefly noted for his choral music. Of other Welsh composers, David Wynne (1900-1983) was influenced by Bartók, and his strong chamber music is well worth encountering. Mervyn Burtch (born 1929) has concentrated on vocal works, particularly works and operas for children. Scottish composition has been dominated by the figure of Peter Maxwell Davies, who although born in Manchester, has become immersed in a Scottish spirit. Iain Hamilton (born 1922), a serialist in the 1950s, has become primarily known for his operas, notably The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1967-1969), based on the Shaffer play, and Anna Karenina (1981), based on Tolstoy. Edward Harper (born 1941) has followed a mainstream path: the Symphony (1978) draws on Elgar for its basic material, though the result is contemporary, and his Clarinet Concerto (1982) is an attractive work, neo-Romantic in spirit. Judith Weir (born 1954) has developed a striking instinct for dramatic works, often economical and precise, as in the ten-minute `grand opera' King Harald's Saga (1979) and The Vanishing Bridegroom (1990), using Scottish folk-themes. Her inspirations have been global: Scottish in such works as the appealing Airs from Another Planet (1986) for chamber ensemble conjuring up a picture of Scottish settlers in Mars, Chinese culture in a number of works including the opera A Night at the Chinese Opera (1987), and Norse and Norman material, the Bayeux Tapestry inspiring Thread! (1981) for narrator and ensemble and the orchestral Isti mirant stella (1981).

An incomparable element in the development of British music from obscurity to international eminence has been the work of the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC) founded in 1922. Its Radio Three (formerly the Third Programme) has the highest standards of any classical music radio station in the world, the hidden benefits in promoting British musical culture far outweighing the immediate economics of its relatively small audience. It also supports its own orchestras, and the finest and most comprehensive series of concerts anywhere in the world, the Promenade Concerts at the Albert Hall, London. These standards and achievements have been under threat towards the end of the century from that curse of late 20th-century societies, the philistine American corporate cultural mentality; it is to be hoped that erosion of the BBC's standards will continue to be resisted. Of the very many outstanding British performers of the 20th-century, Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983), who founded the first radio orchestra, deserves especial mention for his championing of British music (besides introducing such works as Berg's Wozzeck to Britain).

Britain has three music centres, reflecting the three constituent countries of the mainland:

British Music Information Centre

10 Stratford Place

London W1N 9AE

tel: +44 071 499 8567 (to dial from outside the U.K, omit the 0 from 071)

fax: +44 071 499 479  (to dial from outside the U.K, omit the 0 from 071)

Scottish Music Information Centre

1, Bowmont Gardens

Glasgow G12 9LR

tel: +44 41 334 6393

fax: +44 41 334 8132

Welsh Music Information Centre

Music Department, Box 78

The University of Wales, College of Cardiff,

Cardiff CF1 1XL

tel: +44 222 874000 ext. 5126

fax: +44 222 371921








































ALWYN William                                                                                                                        

born 7th November 1905        at Northampton

died 11th September 1985      at Southwold


William Alwyn is probably better known for his film music (over 60 scores) than for his rather conservative concert music, which nonetheless has continued to have strong adherents, and may well appeal to those who enjoy a traditional but ruggedly individual and cosmopolitan idiom. A painter and writer as well as a composer, he acknowledged only the works written after 1939, when he reappraised his position and in particular his technique, which he considered inadequate.

The major earlier works were the Piano Concerto (1930) and the oratorio The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1936). There followed a period of neo-classical music (including 3 Concerto Grossi for orchestra, 1942, 1951, 1964), until he turned to a number of unashamedly romantic works (now termed 'neo-Romantic') in the middle of the 1950s, in a self-professed search for musical beauty. By the 1960s he had adapted the uses of rows from 12-tone techniques, marrying them to his tonal base, as in the short and pithy String Trio (1961), which is also under the influence of Indian classical music and scales. But throughout, his style is lyrical and usually rhapsodic, moulding and exploring soft orchestral colours. it is free in feel, usually using ostinati and ground basses in preference to any strong sense of counterpoint. What prevents his lyrical idiom from appearing merely anachronistic is the unobtrusive but highly refined craftsmanship. This gives a feeling of strength and sometimes of ruggedness that blends with and supports the lyricism. Drama is sometimes inherent (especially in the symphonies), but is muted by his long melodic lines.

The core of his output are five symphonies, which attracted attention both inside and outside Britain as they became more widely known in the 1970s, and three string quartets. The conventional Symphony No.1 (1949) is in the grand style, rather rambling and unmemorable, but with characteristically clear and prominent brass writing. In the next three symphonies he developed his use of rows, building material from the initial row: in both the third and the fourth symphonies the row is divided to provide two interacting and contrasting keys. The Symphony No.3 (1956) includes a romantic and beautiful ending (with soaring violins in octaves). The Symphony No.4 (1959) is more muted, ending with a passacaglia, while the Symphony No.5 (1973), inspired by the 17th-century prose writer Sir Thomas Browne, is perhaps the most immediately compelling, with a strong sense of drama and changing mood. Also inspired by extra-musical associations (here the mystical poetry of the 17th-century English poet Fletcher) is the very attractive and rhapsodic Concerto for Harp and String Orchestra 'Lyra Angelica' (1954), where the harp is closely integrated into the orchestral colours, and where there is an English sense of nobility.

Of his chamber music, the lyrical, sometimes yearning String Quartet No.1 (1955) concentrates on tone colour rather than formal matters, and is eclectic in its synthesis of romantic influences. The String Quartet No.2 (Spring Waters, 1975), which, like the first, has something of the atmosphere of Janáček's two string quartets, is a haunting, valedictory, but affirmative work loosely following hopes and disillusions from youth to old age. The String Quartet No.3 followed in 1984. The three Concerti Grossi (the second is a rather indistinctive work for strings, the third explores different colours in each movement: brass, woodwind and strings) was followed by the first Sinfonietta (1970) for strings. His piano music includes a set of 11 Fantasy-Waltzes, neo-classical remouldings of the salon music tradition. His vocal output is small; the song cycle Mirages is a setting of his own verse. In the 1970s he concentrated on two major large scale operas. Don Juan or the Libertine (1972-1976) is a symbolic and sometimes ironic modern retelling of the Don Juan story. The highly-charged Miss Julie (1977) is based on Strindberg's play, the vocal lines having the flow of speech, the orchestral textures in constant flux. It is ultimately overwhelmed by the strength of the play on which it is based, in spite of the powerful portrait of the title role.

Alwyn was also a flautist and a conductor, and taught at the Royal Academy of Music from 1926 to 1955.


works include:

- 5 symphonies (No.5 Hydriotaphia); 2 sinfoniettas for strings

- piano concerto; 3 Concerti Grossi for orch. (No.2 for strings); Autumn Legend for English horn and strings; Lyra angelica for harp and strings

- Elizabethan Dances, The Magic Island, Scottish Dances for orch.

- Divertimento for flute; fantasy-sonata Naiades for flute and harp; string trio; 3 string quartets (No.2 Spring Waters) and other chamber works

- 12 Preludes and other works for piano

- song cycles Mirages and Nocturnes

- oratorio The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

- operas Juan, or the Libertine and Miss Julie; radio opera Farewell Companions


recommended works:

Concerto for Harp and String Orchestra (Lyra Angelica) (1954)

String Quartet No.1 in D minor (1955)

Symphony No.5 (Hydriotaphia) (1973)


ARNOLD Malcolm Henry                                                                                                          

born 21st October 1921 at Northampton

died 23rd September 2006 at Norwich


Malcolm Arnold is something of an anomaly in modern English music: a prolific, sometimes brilliant but often depressingly banal composer totally out of touch with the developments of the second half of the 20th century. His orchestral command is sometimes so powerful that it has a infectious sparkle, but he writes in an idiom whose basis is so anachronistic that - apart from the music written for pure entertainment, which carries its own built-in purpose - it seems to have little relevance to the times, the issues, or even the emotions of the age in which he is writing.

His mastery of the orchestra came from his years as an orchestral trumpeter, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1941-1942 and 1946-1948) and with the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra (1942-1946). His diatonic harmonic idiom is usually conservative but his orchestration is always strikingly clear, and there is sometimes a delight both in using unexpected but effective combinations of instruments, and in including some element of surprise in a work - a sudden change of dynamic, an unexpected change of emotional direction. His structures are usually conventional, but within them he will often propound a theme, examine it, and then reject it.

The best of his brilliant orchestral showpieces are so full of deft touches, infectious tunes, and a sense of humour, that they deserve to survive. The comedy overture Beckus the Dandipratt op.5 (1943) abounds in odd and impish instrumental juxtapositions and the lively urgency of the urchin of the title. The orchestral folk-song suites English Dances op.27 and op.33 and the Four Scottish Dances op.59 (1957) are vividly entertaining, especially the latter, with their grandiose opening and a Hebridean slow dance. With the exception of a Robert Burns tune in the Scottish set, they do not use actual folk-songs but original tunes in the appropriate style. But the best of these occasional pieces is the marvellous overture Tam O'Shanter (1955), a miniature tone-poem with a strong Scottish flavour built around a graphic storm that owes much to the example of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869).

With his flair for melody rather than for formal construction, Arnold's symphonies are too amorphous to be of real interest, and the Symphony No.4 op.71 (1960), with its Afro-Cuban percussion section, and a Hollywood-style finale with touches of the macabre of Shostakovich, must be one of the most banal ever written. The impressive moments (such as the gentle and restrained slow movement in the Symphony No.6, 1967, or the impressive slow movement of the Symphony No.2, influenced by Sibelius) only makes their many facile passages the more disappointing. All too often the darker emotions seem assumed, rather than inherent. The exception is perhaps the Symphony No.5 (1961) where the popular elements are much more rigorously examined and then transformed, and what emerges is an eclectic and unsettling work.

The large number of concertos are essentially works of pleasant music-making, exemplified by the easy-going Organ Concerto (1955). The one most likely to be encountered is the Guitar Concerto (1959), complete with the usual memorable tune in the first movement. A different side of Arnold's output is shown in his chamber pieces, written with strong sensitivity for the instruments concerned, and mixing humour and melodiousness with an effortless, armchair charm. They sometimes have structural tricks, such as the passacaglia of the Piano Trio op.54 (1956), where each entry moves up a semitone until all twelve notes are covered. They include the deftly characterised series of short Sonatinas for solo wind instruments and piano (opp.19, 28, 29, 41: 1948, 1951, 1951 & 1953), and the much more virtuoso series of short Fantasies for solo wind (opp.87-90, 1966). His best-known chamber work is probably the Three Sea Shanties op.4 for wind quintet (1943), full of felicitous discords. But these works, too, lack an individual voice or a sensibility beyond the superficial; for all that, they will give relaxing pleasure to many who like their music mainly as a divertissement.

As his style would suggest, Arnold has been a conspicuously successful composer of a very large number of film-scores, notably The Bridge on the River Kwai (1959), for which he won an Oscar.


works include:

- 8 symphonies; 3 sinfoniettas

- 19 concertos including harmonica concerto, guitar concerto, organ concerto and trumpet concerto; Beckus the Dandipratt, Eight English Dances, Fantasy on a Theme of John Field, Four Scottish Dances, Peterloo, Tam O'Shanter and other works for orch.

- much chamber music especially using wind instruments including piano trio; trio for flute, viola, and bassoon; Three Shanties for wind quintet; quintet for flute, violin, viola, horn and bassoon

- piano music

- Five Songs of William Blake for voice and strings; cantata John Clare; The Return of Ulysses for chorus and orch.

- ballets Homage to the Queen and Rinaldo and Arminda

- operas The Dancing Master and The Open Window; nativity play Song of Simeon


recommended works:

overture Tam O'Shanter op.51 (1955)

Sinfonietta No.1 op.49 (1954)

Symphony No.5 op.74 (1960)


BANTOCK (Sir) Granville                                                                                                         

born 7th August 1868 at London

died 16th September 1946      at London


Sir Granville Bantock's fame, certainly in the earlier part of his life, was out of all proportion to his current reputation, which has suffered from the reaction in the 1930s against his style of music. In addition, the very large-scale nature, often in both duration and size of forces, of the best of his huge output has mitigated against revival.

His rich idiom was derived from late-Romanticism and the example of Wagner, but his interest in exotic (especially the East), Greek, and Celtic subjects is very British, as is his Romantic treatment of such history and such subjects. Indeed, Bantock, rather than Elgar, represents in music that exploring, enquiring, slightly gullible wandering spirit of the best of the late-Victorian English Romantics. He is also the one English composer whose idiom belongs to the late-Romantic rich outpouring that includes Zemlinsky and Pfitzner. His two masterpieces both include choral forces, the huge three-part setting of Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyám (1906), and the `choral symphony' Atalanta in Calydon (1912). The former is essentially a song-cycle for soloists, chorus and orchestra, though very long, at around two hours. In part it comes from the tradition of the English oratorio (in the part-writing for chorus), in part from the Wagnerian Germanic tradition. But at the same time there is some wonderfully delicate tone-painting in the orchestration to contrast with larger moments, occasionally almost Impressionistic, and above all a linear flow. This drive, with sinuous lines of counterpoint, gives a rarefied undulating thrust that is the work's particular character. Although it suffers from its considerable length, just when the inspiration seems to flag a new moment of swell and flow almost invariably emerges to recapture the attention. This is an English masterpiece full of the warmest fervour, and it deserves to be unearthed. Atalanta in Calydon is for unaccompanied choir, divided into three to correspond to the tone colours of sections of an orchestra. The first, a six-part mixed choir, parallels the string section; the second, a three-part mixed choir, the woodwind; the third, a four part-male voice choir, the brass.

Of his orchestral music, the best-known is Fifine at the Fair (1901), No.3 in a set of Six Tone Poems. Based on Browning, it is a lively, richly scored and descriptive work, well worth hearing. The Hebridean Symphony (1915), descriptive of the sea, was quite widely admired at the time of its composition. It is a splendid work, more a tone-poem than a symphony, with a very wide range of mood and drama. Bantock's skill at orchestral colour blazes out, and there are polyrhythmic moments, as well as a distinct nod in the direction of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture in the very opening. Those who enjoy the best of Bax's tone-poems will find this equally rewarding. The Pagan Symphony (1923) is a wonderfully sumptuous one-movement tone-poem divided into four symphonic sections, its orchestration decadently rich, its tone a pictorial representation of the sensuousness of a pre-Christian, Nature-orientated world. The Celtic Symphony (1940) for strings and six harps is a rich and beautiful work in one movement divided into sections matching those of a symphony, though with its use of Hebridean folk-song. It follows the English tradition of large-scale string works, here with the addition of the sonorous textures of the harps and with broad and memorable melodies.

There is much music by Bantock waiting to be explored, and it may be, judging by the quality of some of the work that does have the spasmodic outing, that interesting and important works will surface in an age more indulgent to his idiom. Bantock was also an important and influential teacher, with more advanced views than his own music might suggest. He was principal of the Birmingham School of Music (1900-1908), professor at Birmingham University (1908-1934). He was knighted in 1930.


works include:

- Celtic Symphony for strings and 6 harps; Hebridean Symphony; Pagan Symphony; choral symphony Atalanta in Calydon for unaccompanied choirs; choral symphony A Pageant of Human Life; choral symphony Vanity of Vanities

- symphonic ode Aphrodite in Cyprus; 6 Tone Poems (No.1 Thalaba the Destroyer, No.2 Dante, No.3 Fifine at the Fair, No.4 Hudibras, No.5 Witch of Atlas, No.6 Lalla Rookh)

- cello sonata; 2 viola sonatas; 2 violin sonatas and other chamber music

- Nine Dramatic Poems and other piano music

- many songs and song cycles (160 solo songs, 160 parts songs, and 10 volumes of edited national and folk-songs), including six series of Songs from the Chinese Poets

- The Time Spirit for chorus and orch.; Fire Worshippers, Omar Khayyám, Pilgrim's Progress and Song of Songs for soloists, chorus and orch.; King Solomon for narrator, chorus and orch. ; many other works for voices and orch.

- ballet Aegypt; choral ballet The Great God Pan

- operas Caedmar, The Pearl of Iran, The Seal-Woman

───────────────────────────────────────recommended works:

choral symphony Atalanta in Calydon (1912)

Celtic Symphony (1940) for strings and six harps

tone poem Fifine at the Fair (1901)

Omar Khayyám (1906) for soloists, chorus and orchestra

Hebridean Symphony (1915)

A Pagan Symphony (1928)



M.Bantock      Granville Bantock, 1972


BAX (Sir) Arnold Edward Trevor                                                                                               

born 8th November 1883        at London

died 3rd October 1953           at Cork


The music of Arnold Bax, for so long a neglected British master, has undergone an astonishing revival in the last few years, due to advocacy of a handful of British conductors and the enterprise of one British recording company. His name, deservedly, is now known throughout the arena of Western classical music, a position unthinkable in the 1970s.

The leading composer of the Celtic revival in Britain, Bax was deeply influenced by Irish thought and culture, and indeed successfully wrote Irish stories under the name Dermot O'Byrne. Throughout, his idiom is Romantic, usually within the framework of traditional structures, and his evocation of mood is often prompted by non-musical events or places. His style displays a fecundity of idea and effect, whose virtue is the multiplicity of invention, and whose vice is a tendency to over-complex detail and ornamentation, leading occasionally to apparent disjointedness. However, that complexity is necessary to his harmonic palette, sensual and richly chromatic, extending traditional harmony to its boundaries, although in later works the chromatic colours are used against a diatonic base. His compelling orchestration, usually of large or very large forces, is thick in texture, sometimes brilliant in detail, and often explores the extreme ranges of more unusual instruments; the use of the lowest register of a darker coloured instrument can give a sense of great aural space or depth, especially in the symphonies. His idiom requires rapid changes of mood, emphasis, and rhythm, and the difficulties orchestral players have had with these, and the consequent unsatisfactory performances, were partly responsible for his neglect until orchestras became used to playing much more complex modern music. In addition, his later works sometimes avoided the denser, emotional Celticism, with mixed results, leading to an impression of creative decline.

His most effective works are for the medium of the tone-poem, the symphony, or chamber music. His early works (mainly chamber music and songs) are excessively complex in technique and melodic invention, but a relative simplification coincided with his desire to express Celtic mythology in music. This led (1905-1919) to a series of orchestral tone-poems on Celtic subjects, epic in intent, rich in texture and melodic expression, and portraying a wide range of moods and emotions. In Spring Fire (1913), inspired by Swinburne and the paganism of Diaghilev's ballet company, the luxuriance of invention runs too riot, though its marvellous passionate moments of orchestral power make it worth hearing. There then followed Bax's three finest tone-poems, in which he concentrated his musical imagination while retaining all his descriptive powers. The Garden of Fand (1913-1916) describes a miraculous island in the mid-Atlantic in music of the rise and fall of the sea, with harp and celesta creating sparkling effects, a restless storm, and a gradual change of mood towards the calm end. November Woods (1917) is turbulent, while the finest of these Celtic-inspired works is Tintagel (1917-1919), describing the Cornish seat of King Mark of the Tristan story. It has a rugged, sometimes explosive, vigour, with a Sibelian mystery in the opening and an allusion to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. The fourth tone poem of this period, The Happy Forest (1914-1921) is more Russian in feel, with exuberant fifes and drums and a lovely broad theme. Of his later shorter orchestral works, Mediterranean (1920, orchestrated 1922) is a kind of Spanish waltz, and of the three Northern Ballads (c.1927-1934) inspired by the `fiery romantic life' of the historical Scottish Highlands, the second is a powerful work, the third the most interesting, expansive, constantly changing mood, and emotionally complex. The once popular Overture to a Picaresque Comedy (1930) is great fun, if not characteristic of Bax's general idiom. Describing various characters from theatrical comedy, it combines an intentionally Straussian cast (with many near references) with an English rumbustiousness.

Bax wrote a number of concertante works. The Phantasy for Viola and Orchestra (1920) includes one of Bax's rare quotes of an actual Irish folk-song. The Edwardian flavour of the Cello Concerto (1932) rambles too much to be of real interest, in spite of an atmospheric slow movement. Much finer is the Violin Concerto (1938), with a slow and thoughtful central movement framed by two dance movements, in the first of which the sweetly lyrical second subject at one point almost turns into a Spiritual. This attractive concerto, with lighter textures than Bax commonly employed, deserves to be better known. More likely to be encountered are the two works for piano and orchestra. In the relatively few major works for piano and orchestra from the highly chromatic twilight of late-Romanticism, Bax's Symphonic Variations (1914-1917) occupies an important place. A big work (forty-five minutes, though Bax produced shortened and simplified versions), its six variations with an intermezzo seem to follow an autobiographical journey, each variation having a descriptive title. The piano writing is densely textured, the idiom ranging from the Celtic mystery of `Nocturne', through Impressionist and exotic effects in `Temple' to a triumphant close. It will not appeal to everyone; its grandeur comes from the density of texture and shifting restlessness rather than from the bold flourish, and there is no obviously memorable theme. Winter Legends (1930) for piano and orchestra is equally long, more wide-ranging in its moods from the percussively barbaric to the lyrical, and less sure of its structure.

The complex emotions and dense shifting textures of Bax's idiom found their finest expression when faced with the demands of the form of the symphony. On first encounter their three-movement forms, largely based on sonata principles, can appear amorphous. But while the progress from emotion to emotion is the dominant feature, the construction of these symphonies is much more subtle than first appears, often built on small cells of notes whose interaction becomes clearer on familiarity. A striking feature is the unity of the whole series of seven symphonies, creating (like those of Sibelius) a clear emotional progression, from the turbulence and anger of the first two, through a more lyrical reassessment in the third and fourth, a combination of emotional turbulence and sea-painting in the fifth, a more mature summation of all these emotions in the sixth, to an understanding and acceptance in the seventh. The Symphony No.1 (1921) is a tremendous work, exploding with power and anger, seemingly reflecting the emotional legacy of the First World War and the Irish Easter Rising. In three taut movements, unified by the return of the opening material as a triumphant march at the end, the scurrying rhythms of the first movement, the brooding basses and huge climax of the middle movement, and the heightened emotions were unlike anything written in Britain before. Some of its mood returns in the turbulent and martial third movement of the Symphony No.2 (1924-1925), which includes organ and piano in the orchestration. The previous two movements are more relaxed, solo lines and colours more prominent in the opening movement, emerging from the detailed textures, and with a sonorous and expressive lyricism in the slow movement, verging on the feel of the blues. These two symphonies are the antithesis of both Edwardian musical self-satisfaction and the English pastoral movement; the Symphony No.3 (1929) is more accessible but less arresting. The textures are much thinner, linear woodwind prominent, with moments of Mahlerian beauty in the first movement, a nocturnal atmosphere in the slow movement. An initially rather brash finale progresses through an Elgarian slow march to the innovative close, a beautiful and wistful epilogue that causes one to re-evaluate the early emotional progression of the work, a technique pioneered by Vaughan Williams to descriptive rather than symphonic-emotional ends in his second symphony. The Symphony No.4 (1931) is lighter in tone, the most brazen and outgoing of the symphonies, inspired by the sea, and written for a very large orchestra including organ. The Symphony No.5 (1932) is dedicated to Sibelius, and its quiet troubled opening and general construction has affinities with the Finnish composer, although it is by no means an imitation. The first movement covers a wide sweep of mood, from brooding melancholy to a brutal quality underpinned by ostinato figures, countered by the broad, homogeneous textures of the slow movement that creates the main weight of the work, still with an undercurrent of melancholy, but leavened by sparkling figures. The final movement, grappling with conflicting emotions towards a broad nobility and a final blaze, tries to reconcile the earlier conflict; throughout the symphony the sound vistas are huge and deep, including great subterranean hammer-blows, as if Bax was equating mood-painting of the northern seas with a complex internal struggle. The symphonic experience of all these symphonies culminates in the magnificent Symphony No.6 (1934). The pulse and tension of the opening movement has a fabulous energy and momentum, ostinato figures interrupted by huge chords, moments of more studied contemplation always hauled back into the tempestuous restlessness. The tone-painting of the central movement, with slowly swirling textures and lazily drifting melodies that gradually evolve into a shadowy march-like image, creates a disturbing ambiguity. Both these movements are preparation for the extraordinary final movement, cast in three sections, an introduction, scherzo with trio, and a final epilogue. Its opening, with a long clarinet solo, is gentle, nostalgic, slightly melancholy, opposed by the dance of the scherzo, interrupted by the gently swaying strings and harps of the trio, and leading to the emotional culmination of Bax's turbulence: the return of the scherzo (with a quote from Sibelius), now in the guise of a demonic storm. This final outpouring dies down into the lovely epilogue, horns, harps and hushed strings prominent in the delicate textures and colours, disturbed by ostinato figures and distant mutterings from timpani, but finally creating a mood of peace and acceptance, a reconciliation of all the moods not only of this symphony, but of the earlier ones as well. The Symphony No.7 (1939) is freer and more fluid in construction, bolder and brighter, with distinctly Elgarian elements (as well as the Tristan quote used in Tintagel). Heard on its own it might seem too nebulous, too easily positive, but the most effective way to hear this symphony is to listen to it immediately after the sixth, when the true character of this last symphony becomes apparent: a triumphant affirmation of the sixth's epilogue, an emotional movement from reconciliation to a positive understanding.

Bax was perfectly capable of writing dull music, and the Sinfonietta (1932) is no match for the symphonies; the considerable body of chamber music varies from some of the most effective of all British chamber music to such relatively uninteresting works as the Piano Trio (1945). The finest of the chamber works is the Viola Sonata (1921), powerful and yet lyrical, making the most of the darker beauty of the viola, single-minded in its emotional mood. Works such as Piano Quintet (1914-1915), the Harp Quintet (1919), the short and tempestuous Piano Quartet (1922, later orchestrated as Saga Fragment), and the Cello Sonata No.1 (1923) represent Bax in his Celtic turbulence mood, with rapid changes of colour and emotion; the Cello Sonata uses the device of a quiet epilogue to close a work that is almost symphonic in scale, in three movements. In contrast, there are a number of unpretentious and melodious chamber works, the scale more intimate, the emphasis on a more charming lyricism, including the rather rambling Violin Sonata No.1 (1910-1915), the light and flowing String Quartet No.1 (1918), the pastoral Oboe Quintet (1922) and the fine Nonet (1931) for flute, oboe, clarinet, harp and strings. The String Quartet No.2 (1924) is exceptionally austere, while the String Quartet No.3 (1936) successfully combines some of the darker, brooding Baxian emotions, including a ghostly marching dance at the core of the troubled second movement with moments of pastoral contemplation in the opening movement, a classical serenity in the third, and an almost Bartókian dance in the last. The Sonata for Harp and Viola (1928) brings together two of Bax's favourite instruments, with writing of considerable technical virtuosity.

At the heart of Bax's piano music are four sonatas, the first three epic in scale. The Romantically passionate one-movement Piano Sonata No.1 (1910, finale 1920) was largely written in the Ukraine, and its descriptive qualities, full of rippling pianism, are clearly inspired by the Russian landscape (it ends with the pealing of bells), its form modelled on Liszt. The more rugged Piano Sonata No.2 (1919), also in one movement, is a conflict between the powers of evil and a hero, respectively displayed in the menacing opening and the `brazen and glittering' moderato eroica that follows, though its subsequent rather austere ruminations hardly reflect such a programme. The Piano Sonata No.3 (1926) continues the epic mood in the first of three movements, but the Piano Sonata No.4 (1932) inhabits a different emotional and musical world, with clear-cut textures, a more formal classical three-movement structure, a compelling second movement with echoes of Impressionism built on a mesmerizing pedal point, and an harmonically gritty finale that sometimes glitters, sometimes follows a rhythmic harshness, but ends in a rather abrupt tone of triumph. Many of Bax's smaller piano pieces are reflections of nature; of the more important works Mountain Mood (1915, in variation form) and the tone-poem Winter Waters (1915) stand out.

His finest vocal work is the magnificent motet Mater ora Filium (1921) for unaccompanied double choir, recreating Renaissance polyphony in an entirely modern idiom, its counterpoint so brilliant and complex that it was considered virtually unsingable until the general Bax revival. The cantata Enchanted Summer (1910) for two sopranos, chorus and orchestra, setting Act II of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, is also very fine, a combination of a rich and luxurious English pastoralism and pre-Raphaelite vision, with a sumptuous mosaic of orchestral textures and ethereal floating choral writing, especially for the sections with women's voices, which look forward to the choral writing of Holst. Of his songs, A Lyke-Wake (1908) for tenor and orchestra makes an interesting and worthy comparison with Britten's more celebrated setting in his Serenade, while songs such as Far in a Western Brookland (1918), to words by Housman, display a more lyrical side of his idiom, and his sensitivity to words.

Bax's idiom, with its Romantic emotional complexity, turbulence and luxuriance, will not appeal to everyone, and his achievement is still regularly deprecated by those incapable of responding to such a style. His lesser works are best forgotten, but the considerable body of very fine music reflects a very particular sensibility of the Celtic Romantic struggling to express both his internal conflicts and a vision that retained an imaginative wonder at the world in which that struggle took place. His music regularly walks a knife-edge between high impact and disappointing failure, and a work that appears uninteresting in a poor performance can be arresting in a fine one. Bax was knighted in 1937, and was appointed Master of the King's Musick in 1941.


works include:

- 7 symphonies; sinfonietta

- cello concerto; violin concerto; Symphonic Variations and Winter Legends for piano and orch.; Phantasy for viola and orch.; concerto for flute, harp, oboe and strings; concerto for bassoon, harp and string sextet

- The Garden of Fand, In the Faëry Hills, November Woods; Overture, Elegy and Rondo; Overture to a Picaresque Comedy, Spring Fire, The Tale the Pine Trees Knew, Tintagel

- 2 cello sonatas; cello sonatina; clarinet sonata; Four Pieces for flute and piano; Fantasy Sonata for harp and viola; viola sonata; Legend for viola and piano; 2 violin sonatas; piano trio; Elegiac Trio for flute, viola and harp; 3 string quartets; harp quintet; oboe quintet; piano quintet; Nonet (1931) for flute, oboe, clarinet, harp and strings and other chamber music

- 4 piano sonatas; Apple-Blossom Time, Burlesque, Lullaby, A Mountain Mood, The Princesses' Rose Garden, Toccata, What the Minstrel Told, Water Music, Winter Waters and other works for piano; The Devil that Tempted St.Anthony, Hardanger, Moy Mell and The Poisoned Fountain for 2 pianos

- many songs for voice and piano, many orchestrated; cantatas Enchanted Summer for 2 sopranos, chorus and orch. and Walsinghame for tenor, obbligato soprano, chorus and orch.; Mater ora Filium (1921) for unaccompanied double choir; many other choral works including Five Greek Folksongs, Magnificat, The Morning Watch and This Worlde's Joie

- film scores Malta G.C. and Oliver Twist


recommended works:

Mater ora Filium (1921) for unaccompanied double choir

Nonet (1931) for flute, oboe, clarinet, harp and strings

Northern Ballad No.3 (1933)

Overture to a Picaresque Comedy (1930)

Piano Quartet (1922)

Piano Sonata No.4 in G minor (1934)

Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra (1918)

Symphonies 1 to 7 (1921-1939)

tone poem The Garden of Fand (1916)

tone poem Tintagel (1917)

Viola Sonata (1921)

Violin Concerto (1937)

Winter Legends (1930) for piano and orchestra



A.Bax                                      Farewell My Youth, 1943

C.Scott-Sutherland     Arnold Bax, 1973


BERKELEY (Sir) Lennox                                                                                                         

born 12th May 1903   at Boar's Hill (nr.Oxford)

died 26th December 1989      at London


Sir Lennox Berkeley, knighted in 1974, occupies a strange place in English music. His output of around one hundred works was (and remains) critically admired, but failed to maintain any permanent place in the repertoire. Recordings of his music can be difficult to find, performances are relatively rare, and his achievement awaits the kind of general reassessment that has to be given to so many other English composers. One of the reasons for this may be that his clear and precise idiom looked to the charm and elegance of French music, following his studies with Nadia Boulanger on the advice of Ravel. A composer with more musical affinities to Poulenc and Stravinsky than to Vaughan Williams or Britten, he essentially stood outside the main thrust of English music (though he collaborated with Britten in the Mont Juic Suite of four Catalan dances in 1937).

Berkeley's idiom is essentially abstract and founded on classical forms, reflected in so many of his titles. It delights in polished craftsmanship, crystal-clear instrumental and orchestral colours, transparent textures, and in making the absolute precision with which events unfold appear effortless. His harmonies invariably have a tonal base, though he occasionally experimented with such devices as eight-note rows, and his melodies are usually self-effacing. The emphasis is on an intellectual enjoyment, the emotions are generally restrained, and charm is the prominent feature. On first hearing, a Berkeley work can sometimes sound bland, but he is a composer whose works deserve a second hearing, for on familiarity they usually reveal a quiet underlying strength, subtle emotional statements, and a sense of restrained joy in brighter passages.

These characteristics are exemplified in the two works most likely to be encountered, the Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano (1952) and Guitar Concerto (1975). The former, written for the same forces as Brahms's trio, has a Gallic lightness and airiness to the instrumental dialogue, with a rather solemn lento where the horn and violin try to lift the mood and the piano eventually succeeds, leading to a lovely, calm close. The final movement is a theme and ten variations, where the pleasure comes from the variety of the variations on an uninteresting theme, alternating between the jaunty (the mood of the first movement) and the more lyrical and slow (the mood of the second movement). The Guitar Concerto avoids all Spanish connotations, and concentrates on fastidious but effortless detail. The rather pastoral opening movement has beautifully woven textures following the opening horn calls, the slow movement is a gentle contemplation with delicate, overlapping textures, and in the bright and bouncy finale the guitar bounds off and against the orchestral textures. The concerto is not as immediately arresting as some, but so full of subtle delights that it is well worth knowing.

Berkeley wrote four symphonies (No.1, 1940, No.2, 1957, revised 1976, No.3, 1969, No.4 1976-1978) that concentrate on a sophisticated orchestral idiom rather than emotional impact, elegant in their construction, precise and effective in their orchestral colours. The third is in a single movement, divided into three sections, and uses the principle of continuous development from germinal material. The Serenade for Strings (1939) and the Divertimento (1943) for small orchestra, both in four movements, exemplify Berkeley's wit and sensibilities, and are primarily designed to entertain. Of other concertos, the attractive Violin Concerto (1961) uses a Classical-sized orchestra, with a central passacaglia, and deserves to be better known. Of his other chamber music, the String Trio (1944) is full of grace and an easy flow, and the Quintet for Wind and Piano (1975) expertly explores the available colours, with a theme-and-variations finale. The Viola Sonata (1945) adds an attractive work to a limited repertoire. Of his operas, the three chamber operas were written for Aldeburgh, and of these Ruth (1956), based on the biblical story, is reportedly the best. His three-act opera Nelson (1953-1954), concentrating on the relationship between Nelson and Emma Hamilton, caused a certain amount of interest, but has not been revived. His piano music is often short in duration, but usually precise and concentrated in content.

There is though, another side of Berkeley's idiom, expressed in religious music of spiritual intensity, including the fine Stabat Mater (1947) for six solo voices and twelve instruments. The impressive Four Poems of St.Teresa of Avila (1947) for contralto and strings has affinities with Britten, and is laid out as a small symphonic song-cycle, each poem corresponding to a different movement. The underlying passion of the cycle emerges in the restless harmonies of the opening song, the sombre third song, resonating low in string and vocal range, and especially in the interaction and opposition of vocal line and strings, with transparent textures. A similar intense ecstasy informs the purely secular song cycle Four Ronsard Sonnets (set 2) (1963) for tenor and orchestra, the four poems being addressed to Helen. The restrained precision of the orchestra in the first two songs gives the impression of a lover-protagonist who does not normally declare his emotions, but is here overwhelmed by love. The third song explodes, all restraint cast aside, with a passion and power that will astonish those who only know Berkeley's more playful music, and the final song opens with anguished harmonies and complex textures before thinning into a quiet conclusion, most, if not all, passion spent.

Berkeley taught at the Royal Academy from 1946 to 1968; among his pupils was John Tavener.


works include:

- 3 symphonies; sinfonietta

- flute concerto; piano concerto; concerto for piano and double string orch.; two-piano concerto; violin concerto; Dialogues for cello and chamber orch.; Sinfonia Concertante for oboe and orch.; Introduction and Allegro for 2 pianos and orch.; Five Pieces for violin and orch.

- Divertimento, Overture, Voices of the Night, A Winter's Tale for orch.; Partita for chamber orch.; Antiphon and Suite for string orch.; Serenade for Strings

- guitar sonatina; Theme and Variations for guitar; Nocturne for harp; Introduction and Allegro for double-bass and piano; Introduction and Allegro and Theme and Variations for solo violin; flute sonata; flute sonatina; viola sonata; 2 violin sonatas; violin sonatina; Elegy and Toccata for violin and piano; string quartet; In Memoriam Igor Stravinsky for string quartet; quartet for oboe and strings; Concerto for flute, violin, cello and harpsichord or piano; sextet for clarinet, horn and string quartet; Diversions for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and piano;

- piano sonata; Concert Studies, Prelude and Capriccio, Preludes, Scherzos, Impromptus; sonatina, Bagatelles and Three Pieces for two pianos

- Fantasy and Three Pieces for organ

- song cycles Another Spring, Chinese Songs, Five Songs, Five de la Mare Songs, Five Housman Songs, Five Poems of W.H.Auden; Four Poems of St.Teresa of Avila (1947) for contralto and strings; Four Ronsard Sonnets (set one for 2 tenors and piano, set 2 for tenor and orch.); oratorio Jonah; Dominus est terra for chorus and orch.; Signs in the Dark for chorus and strings; Three Latin Motets; Missa Brevis for chorus and organ; Mass for 5 voices; Stabat Mater for 6 soloists and 12 instruments

- ballet The Judgement of Paris

- operas Faldon Park and Nelson; chamber operas Castaway, A Dinner Engagement and Ruth


recommended works:

song cycle Four Poems of St.Teresa of Avila (1947) for contralto and strings

song cycle Four Ronsard Sonnets (Set 2) (1963) for tenor and orchestra

Guitar Concerto (1975)

Serenade for Strings (1939)

Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano (1952)



born 29th May 1948   at London


Michael Berkeley has emerged as a powerful mainstream voice in English music, who has gradually assimilated techniques and sounds developed by the avant-garde into a style originally rooted in tradition. This combination has found a ready audience; but as he has developed, his style has gradually moved away from those traditional roots into a more radical voice, and he seems to have carried that audience with him.

Like his father, Sir Lennox Berkeley, he was blessed with considerable technical facility, and his earlier, more conventional works suffer from a similar flaw: an emotional reticence that blanched the impact of the music, not mitigated by the delight in style and grace that characterize Sir Lennox's music. These earlier works included the Piano Trio (1981) and the clear-textured Clarinet Quintet (1983), full of neat little tricks, its ending a characteristic and lovely lullaby lament. The Chamber Symphony (1980) is the most radical of these earlier works, and a portent of his later music while at the same time laying bare his earlier influences. The idiom of Shostakovich briefly appears, especially in some of the melodic figures, as well as some of the rhythmic bounce of Stravinsky. Both are memorably combined in the second section, in a work that is a symphony in the Stravinskian sense of `sounding together', rather than in the traditional mould, with passages drawn from jazz and from Messiaen. Berkeley's technical skills are considerable, and he manages to forge this eclectic work into an effective whole.

The oratorio Or Shall We Die? (1982) for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra, the work that brought Berkeley wider attention, was written with the poet Ian McEwan (including quotations from Blake), a protest against the futility of a future nuclear holocaust and a call for a change in human thinking. A big, expressive, and often melodious work, it contains some very beautiful writing, distant echoes of the English visionary pastoral set in a more contemporary and uneasy harmonic context, with touches of the chorale as well as a dramatic stridency, whose power is spoiled by the quasi-pop music that ends the piece. In hindsight it seems a work particular to its times (or rather, to the late 1960s and early 1970s), but also one seminal to Berkeley's development, in which the immediacy of the subject let loose something in his musical psychology, with results that may have too much emotional multiplicity for comfort, but on which he could draw individually in subsequent works.

Many of these earlier works included an element that was essentially at odds with the prevailing mainstream style (such as the extraordinary piano effects, playing the strings, in the Piano Trio, or the pop-music at the end of Or Shall We Die?), which suggested that Berkeley, with his technical facility, was uneasy with his idiom and was searching for a more expressive and personal voice. The String Quartet No.2 (1983), in a single-movement arch form, favoured the expressive over the intellectual but remained self-effacing, and in Fierce Tears I (1984) for oboe and piano, one can hear the anger trying to break out in the falling cries of the oboe at the opening and close, which is otherwise safely encased in musical precision. For the Savage Messiah (1985) for piano, violin, viola, cello and contra-bassoon bursts out of this mould like Honegger's Pacific steam engine running out of control, with motoric ostinati, an attempt at lyricism from the cello, near-silence after the crash before starting again, ending with a tortured upward gazing series of cries before the final apotheosis. It was the first of Berkeley's works to lay bare a powerful individual character behind the music, and its main feature - a furious anger, almost palpably aimed at injustice, and a kind of personal frustration at not being able to do more - has remained a key element in his music to date.

In Songs of Awakening Love (1986) for soprano and small orchestra, setting poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti, Berkeley developed the lyrical side of his idiom. But gone is the easy, sweet melodiousness of some of the earlier music; in its place is a darker lyricism of much greater impact, supported by a more plastic rhythmic freedom (one of his major technical advances in his more recent works), ranging from the spare simplicity of the string opening to a teeming fertility from the small forces. The harmonic idiom, too, is almost completely divorced from traditional procedures, but always founded on a recognizable centre-point, and, like the modern Polish composers, using the combination of colour and what once might have been considered dissonant intervals to create effects of considerable beauty. But the work that signalled a new maturity was the magnificent Organ Concerto (1987, since revised), in which the recently-found harmonic and rhythm fluidity combines with the anger to create work of ferocious emotion and intensity, the organ and the careful instrumentation (favouring colours to match the organ) exploding together in a massive assault, breaking the last chains of stylistic politeness that still clung to his idiom. The anger descends into the dark string lyricism developed in Songs of Awakening Love, and emerges into a hushed beauty with a dense texture of woodwind and harp - it is as if, having gone through the catharsis, the wondering protagonist has emerged in a completely new and unimagined landscape. The concerto, in one continuous span, ends in a new awareness, a chorale-like expression of nobility and beauty, wrapped in an ethereal dissonance, and ending with the tolling of a bell.


Coronach (1988) for string orchestra reverts to a more formal attire, neo-classicism hovering on its margins. But Entertaining Master Punch (1990-1991) for chamber ensemble broke new ground, especially in the interaction of colours, textures, and repetitive ideas, influenced by gamelan music. Written in part as a preparation for the opera Baa Baa Black Sheep, especially in the exploration of texture, it has a sense of ritual, with a constant harmonic language and a strong linear thrust in which passages of near silence (but not stasis) mark division points, and from which individual colours or densities emerge vertically as if momentarily diverting from a central line. The linear flow and the dynamic use of silence were further extended in another piece connected with the opera, the one-movement Clarinet Concerto (1991). In this haunting, uneasy work the solo attempts to forge lyricism out of cold, steel coloured pain, the orchestra putting out long streamers to prevent it and, eventually, to aid in the attempt, the penultimate cries of anguish leading to a calm apotheosis. This marvellous work is technically complex (if not to the ear), its procedures, owing much to Berkeley's experience in the earlier works but here put to quite different ends, entirely original.

The opera Baa Baa Black Sheep (1993), chamber in scale but large in scope, is so far the culmination of this new phase. The inspired libretto by the Australian David Malouf is drawn from an autobiographical story by Kipling, which describes how he and his sister were sent to England from India, into a household where he was repeatedly beaten and abused. This experience led to the concept of the child among the animals in The Jungle Book, and the opera juxtaposes this actual scenario with elements of the Jungle Book, each character having an animal counterpart. The result not only addresses the darkness of abuse, but the release of fantasy. Berkeley's score draws heavily on the experience of the preparatory works, with gamelan (rather than any trace of Indian music) representing the East. It has aspects of the fairy-tale - the appalling woman who looks after the children is more of a caricature than a character - and the music, drawing on parody and chorus reminiscent of Britten, creates a powerful, sometimes savage linear thrust and fantastical atmospheres. Musically, it lacks the vocal idiomatic touches that might raise it above a powerful stage work, but as a first opera it suggests a very distinctive operatic voice is emerging. Certainly those who formed their opinion of Michael Berkeley's music from the widely-publicised earlier works are strongly advised to encounter the later.


works include:

- Chamber Symphony; symphony in one movement Uprising

- cello concerto; clarinet concerto; horn concerto; oboe concerto; organ concerto

- Daybreak and a Candle End, Flames, Gregorian Variations, Primavera and The Romance of the Rose for orch.; Fantasia Concertante and The Romance of the Rose for chamber orch.; The Vision of Piers the Ploughman for 2 horns, piano, percussion and strings; Coronach and Meditations for string orch.; Entertaining Mr.Punch for instrumental ensemble

- Iberian Notebook for solo cello; Funerals and Fandangos for solo violin; Études des fleurs for cello and piano; Fierce Tears I & II for oboe and piano; violin sonata; piano trio; string trio; 3 string quartets; Quartet Study for string quartet; clarinet quintet; Nocturne for flute, harp, violin, viola and cello; Music from Chaucer for brass quintet; and other chamber music

- Strange Meeting for piano

- organ sonata; Sonata in One Movement for guitar;

- Rain for tenor, violin and piano; Songs of Awakening Love for soprano and small orch.; Speaking Silence for baritone and piano; Wessex Graves for voice and harp; The Wild Winds for soprano and small orch.; oratorio Or Shall We Die?; Easter for chorus, organ and brass; Fanfare and National Anthem for chorus and orch.; The Red Macula for chorus and orch.; other choral works

- ballets Bastet and The Mayfly

- opera Baa Baa Black Sheep


recommended works:

opera Baa Baa Blacksheep (1993) (see text)

Chamber Symphony (1980)

For the Savage Messiah (1985) for piano, violin, viola, cello and contra-bassoon

Organ Concerto (1987)

Songs of Awakening Love (1986) for soprano and small orchestra


BIRTWISTLE (Sir) Harrison                                                                                                     

born 15th July 1934    at Accrington


Harrison Birtwistle is one of the true outsiders of modern music, a composer whose aesthetic is unique, and arose virtually fully formed, flowering in the middle 1960s into one of the most recondite but original musical thinkers. His mind is like that of some scholastic alchemist, delighting in the arcane, the ritualistic, searching out hidden symmetries, the possibilities of cyclical events or structures, finding mathematical balances not for the mathematics but for the symbolisms. Theatre underlies all his musical thinking, for the concert-hall or the stage. The delight in the potency, the potentialities of a word - the word as signifying a plethora of subconscious and conscious meanings - is another medieval conceit, most overt in the titles of the seventeen arches over which Orpheus must pass in The Mask of Orpheus. His music, with its strong sculptural qualities, especially in the use of blocks of sound, invests each event with an added dimension, as if it requires to be examined from every angle. Yet at the same time amid all this complexity there is a kind of naïveté that appears in the simplest of songs or chants, an ingenuousness, as if some Lancashire ploughman of the Middle Ages, steeped in oral stories passed down from the Greeks and interwoven with the folk-myths of his own time and place, had found himself transported with a massive intellect into the musical world of the late 20th century, and yet has never forgotten the pleasure - or symbolism - of setting the ploughshare to the soil, while delighting in the sounds of clockwork and the mechanical. There is, too, a touch of the child-like, but, more marked, a touch of the childish. He has never outgrown the small child's delight in charging around a house banging a tin-drum at full volume, and this effect is heard throughout his entire output, although it becomes more sophisticated. He seems to inhabit some nether-world that is an amalgam of the intellectual adult and the child at the intuitive, amoral stage - and that is precisely the amalgam of the orally transmitted folk-tale, with its irrationality, time-distortion, and sometimes violence, but underlying cohesion. It is this quality - combined with influence of the archetypal structures and juxtapositions of classical Greek theatre - that has found a ready response in audiences, be it to his concert music or stage works, once they have overcome the shock of the contemporary musical idiom.

Much of Birtwistle's output has been for unusual forces or instrumental combinations, designed to suit the particular work, but also to enhance that sense of transferring of the essence of the Greek or the medieval into a contemporary context; the bamboo flute and pipes, oboes, penny whistles and percussion of the music-theatre Bow Down is an extreme example. Brass, percussion and woodwind predominate in his sound-world, partly because they are all capable of sudden raucous attack. Consequently his works have not been as widely heard as they should; it is difficult for many ensembles to gather the appropriate forces, and his orchestral works are few.

His output before 1960 was very small, most influenced by Varèse, evident in the juxtaposed blocks of idea in Refrains and Choruses (1957) for wind quintet. His maturity came with Tragoedia (`Goat-Dance', 1965) for ensemble divided into three groups: wind quintet, string quartet, harp, with a cello and horns acting as individuals. Its structure draws on classical Greek verse forms and rhythms; it launches an aural assault at its opening, and then creates a series of blocks, all with an underlying sense of pulse, some of clockwork insistence, some almost mellifluous, and including a mocking dance that seems redolent of the particular smell of goats. The extrovert and compelling Verses for Ensembles (1969) uses only Birtwistle's favourite instrumental sounds, wind (including brass) and percussion, grouped into the ensembles of the title on the stage. The structure, using large-scale and detailed repetitions, suggests a static, ritualistic cast, within which blocks of events or incidents are laid over one another, meandering or eruptive, their differentiation sharpened by what Birtwistle has called `strata' of instrumental registers. Much of the block incident has the quality of dramatic conversation or vocal statement, heightened by the strong characterisation of the use of individual instruments: the effect is like walking in a gallery where a number of loud, separate but interlocking discourses are going on, sometimes repeating; but it is a gallery, and when one has left, those voices remain inside, bound by the walls, and, for all one knows, still continuing.

The culmination of Birtwistle's music of the 1960s was the opera Punch and Judy (1966-1967, discussed below); the music of Tragoedia is used in the opera. Much of his work of the 1970s was a prelude to, or a study for, the opera The Mask of Orpheus (1973-1983). The often harsh juxtaposition of blocks with striking, hard-edged colours was joined by more mellow, watercolour timbral effects, a less hard pulse and a more fluid, mobile construction where a central idea is gradually turned to show different facets. The more contemplative and mellow elements are immediately apparent in Nenia - The Death of Orpheus (1970) for soprano and instrumental ensemble; the title refers to a Roman funeral dirge. The instruments are grouped in uniform timbres, and often used to create homogeneous and delicate textures; the vocal range is very wide, from arioso to speech, as is the dramatic effect, creating what amounts to a monodrama. In Fields of Sorrow (1971) for two sopranos, chorus and ensemble, to a text by Ausonius from the Aeneid describing the souls of lost lovers wandering around the underworld, the sense of pulse is reduced to a minimum, with generally static swathes of choral near-chant as if participating in some rite, a simple melodic sense to the fore. The title of The Triumph of Time (1970-1972; material discarded and piece restarted 1971) for orchestra comes from a painting by Peter Breughel the Elder. It is a more direct expression of a running thread in Birtwistle's work: the contrast between the mechanical action of time and the perceived or imaginable variance of its workings, be it on a small scale within a work, represented by pulse or rhythm, or on a larger concerned with the span of life or the non-linearity of events. Its layers match that of the painting: Time followed by death and Fate in the foreground, in slow-moving funeral music, the everyday of ordinary life behind, with the two musically interconnected. Silbury Air (1976-1977) for large ensemble was the work that alerted a wider audience to Birtwistle, and remains an effective introduction to his music. Birtwistle has disclaimed any literal representation of the prehistoric mound in Wiltshire of the title, but the melodic patterns have a definite sense of the circular within the juxtaposition of sounds, some sculptural, some softer, which parallels the juxtaposition of the static, constructed object against the undulating landscape. Throughout a sense of pulse and repetition dominates on a monolithic base in an evocative work, eventually dying away to drum interjections like some winding-down clockwork toy and reinforcing the circular motion by recalling the opening repeated note. Carmen Arcadiae Mechanicae Perpetuum (The Perpetual Song of Mechanical Arcady, 1978) concentrates on the mechanics of the title, six different types of musical machinery creating a conglomerate of clockworks, divided by still moments of held notes. But there is a sense of melodic motion here, albeit built from brief snatches, that softens the purely mechanical edge.

However, Birtwistle had by no means abandoned the power of sharp percussive interjection. The title of For O, for O, the Hobby-Horse is Forgot (1976), a `ceremony' for six percussionists, comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Two players (King and Queen) take the lead; the other four are the Chorus, and the score indicates stage movement. Musically, the long ceremony surges forward, with continuous movement created by rolls or the equivalent of heartbeats, sliced into by whips and thuds. Sometimes the harshness endemic to Birtwistle's idiom can appear unremitting. In ....agm... (1979) for sixteen voices and three instrumental groups, the singers sing fragments of poems attributed to Sappho against a group of eleven upper register instruments, nine lower register and six other punctuation instruments (piano, three harps, three percussion). The title refers to a fragment of Sappho found on a papyrus (agma = fragment), but could also could mean net, and the work (in three parts) is indeed of a thick net of choral swathes or planes against raucous instruments, especially brass and percussion, and all the material is related to a central pitch (E) and pulse. The result, especially in the first part, is akin to putting one's head inside a metal case that is being systematically hit by a sledgehammer, and even in the more delicate second part, dominated by intertwining choral lines, the continuous short, sharp vocal shocks have the effect of chalk being scraped across a blackboard. But individual moments are highly effective, such as the gradual movement from a slow reiterated pulse and haunted, disembodied sounds to clattering percussion, instrumental interjections, and a break up of that pulse. Secret Theatre (1984) for large ensemble, its title drawn from Robert Graves, enacts an undisclosed ritual, played between two layers, a changing body of `Cantus' instrumentalists at the front of the stage, and a `Continuum' to the rear; the rite takes place in the musical and physical interaction of the two. Earth Dances (1986) for orchestra, grouped according to register rather than colour, uses up to six separate layers of material organized vertically or horizontally, and these strata sway into importance and then recede again in a flow that allows for evolution of textures and effect. For some ten minutes the work seems like a ghostly after-echo in contemporary garb of the second movement of Elgar's Symphony No.2, the drum roll-surges (drawn from the experience of For O, for O, the Hobby-Horse is Forgot) recalling the same layered effect, the slow melody the nobility of Elgar, in a poignant (if unintended) effect that seems to span the experience of modern English music. This, one of the most effective and approachable of all Birtwistle's works, is underpinned throughout by three basic motions: the long slow sway like some vast undulation of the earth, the sharp incision of mechanical clockwork, and a forward momentum between the two; these are matched by the strong differentiation of timbre associated with each momentum. The various strata and momentums are aurally immediately clear, there are long melodic threads (although the work is based on intervals rather than thematic melodies), and an enormous and yet detailed landscape is created to singular effect.

Birtwistle's first opera Punch and Judy (1967) set the general nature of his dramatic works. The libretto by Stephen Pruslin is freely based on the Punch and Judy story, with considerable violence; its tone is a combination of pantomime, Greek drama (with a chorus), and above all, fairy-tale or myth, in the unadulterated form where surface morality or consequential action or logic is replaced by an underground message through symbolism and an overall effect best analyzed in structuralist terms. The influence of the Bach passions is evident in the three chorales that punctuate the action; like many unadulterated fairy-tales, the tragic and comic elements are merged, though the work claims at its end to be a comedy. Birtwistle's setting is in the line of Weill's Threepenny Opera and more distantly Gay's Beggar's Opera, for in part it apes operatic conceptions from an earthy, popular angle, thus commenting on the nature of opera, and uses a similar progression of `numbers' (often in themselves melodically memorable). The idiom is thoroughly contemporary, but alloyed with effects that give a hint of the street-band rather than the opera orchestra, and the violence of the story is matched by the stridency of the music in a complex, multi-layered but scintillating work. The smaller-scale Down by the Greenwood Side (1969) for five singers and nine instrumentalists and Bow Down (1977) for five actors and four instrumentalists applied a similar formula, inspired by medieval strolling players and folk-myth themes, though with a strong component of Greek theatrical ritual. The very violent central action of Bow Down has been as much misunderstood as the violence in Punch and Judy by those whose only response to the world is a literal one, incapable of realising the psycho-symbolic.

The opera The Mask of Orpheus (1973-1983), to a libretto by Peter Zinovieff, provided the central core of Birtwistle's thinking for a decade. It successfully takes the ability of opera to present multi-layered ideas and events to their extreme, while still being founded on the combination of folk-story, myth, and Greek elements; the added element is the breakdown of linear time or an ordered sequence of events, leading to simultaneous presentation of distantly connected views or events. It examines the Orpheus myth from many different angles and points of view, using three dramatic layers: singers, puppets (with off-stage singing), and mime, the last including six points of dramatic stasis where the music is electronic. Many of its components are again `numbers', but here often overlapping; the orchestra provides another complete layer, an independent protagonist that structurally comes into consort with the vocal music only at the climax of the last act. Perhaps inevitably its complex stage events, relying heavily on allegory and symbolism, recall the ritualism of the operas and stage celebrations and masques of the age of Monteverdi; again, there is an implicit commentary on opera itself, with the final event the decay of the myth of Orpheus. Its theatrical complexities have proved too difficult for regular production.

Yan Tan Tethera (1984), with a libretto by Tony Harrison, reverted to the countryside elements and folk-tales, centred around a tale of two rival shepherds and including a number of (human) sheep; it again is strongly ritualistic, mesmerizingly interesting but less powerful than the two earlier large-scale works. Birtwistle called it a `mechanical pastoral', and as in so much of Birtwistle's musical thinking, `mechanical' could surely refer both to the physical sense and to Shakespeare's `mechanics'. The most recent of the large-scale operatic works again takes a medieval folk-myth as its basis, in a more linear treatment. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1989-1991, revised 1994), to a libretto by David Harsent, is based on the famous Middle English poem of the same title, telling of a knight at Arthur's court who takes up the challenge of the Green Man to strike him with an axe, and receive the same blow from the Green Man at the Green Chapel a year later. The expressive treatment includes a masque and ritual passages, ornate and declamatory vocal writing, and courtly dances. The Second Mrs. Kong (1994) continues the theme of time in the disparity between memory and the present; Kong (based on the celebrated film gorilla) and Pearl exist in two different worlds, which can meet and not merge. The libretto, by Russell Hoban, is full of allusions and symbolism: the characters range from Anubis and Vemeer to Hollywood Madams to Kong as Dead Kong. Specific references link the opera not only to specific myths but also to Birtwistle's previous works: Orpheus appears, but (recalling Gawain) as a severed head, while personifications of the abstract (Despair, Doubt) echo morality plays. The setting makes considerable use of modern technology (television screens, computers, film), which itself can call up other references (such as snatches of celebrated films, including King Kong). With its wide range of vocal styles, from the lyrical to Sprechstimme, The Second Mrs. Kong would seem to consolidate Birtwistle's position as the leading composer of Post-Modernist opera, combining an amalgam of past references, placed in a contemporary framework, with his deep understanding of the potency of myth.

Birtwistle taught at Cranbourne Chase School (1962-1965) and was appointed Musical Director of the National Theatre, London, in 1975. He was knighted in 1988.


works include:

- Endless Parade for trumpet, vibraphone and strings; Melencolia I for clarinet, harp and 2 string orch.; Nomos for 4 amplified wind instruments and orch.

- Chorales, Earth Dances, Silbury Air, Three Movements with Fanfares and The Triumph of Time for orch.; Medusa and Three Movements with Fanfares for chamber orch.; The World is Discovered for 12 instruments; Medusa, Some Petals from the Garland and Verses for Ensembles for instrumental ensemble; An Imaginary Landscape for brass, basses and percussion

- Linoi and Verses for clarinet and piano; Four Interludes from a Tragedy for clarinet and tape; Duets for Storab for 2 flutes; Pulse Sampler for oboe and claves; clarinet quintet; Refrains and Choruses for wind quintet; Tombeau - in memoriam Igor Stravinsky for flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet; Tragoedia for wind quartet, string quartet and harp

- Hector's Dawn and Preçis for piano

- An die Musik for soprano and ensemble; Deowa for soprano and clarinet; Entr'actes and Sappho Fragments for soprano and chamber ensemble; The Fields of Sorrow for 2 sopranos, chorus and instruments; Four Songs of Autumn for soprano and string quartet; Meridian for mezzo-soprano, chorus and ensemble; Monody for Corpus Christi for soprano and 3 instruments; Monodrama for soprano, electronic tape and 5 instruments; Nenia - the Death of Orpheus for soprano and chamber ensemble; La plage - Eight Arias of Remembrance for soprano, 3 clarinets, piano and marimba; Prologue for tenor and instruments; Ring a Dumb Carillon for soprano, clarinet and percussion; Songs by Myself for soprano and ensemble

- ...agm... for chorus; Carmen Paschale for chorus and organ; The Fields of Sorrow and Meridian for voices and ensemble; Narration: The description of the passing of the year for chorus; cantata for children The Mark of the Goat; On the Sheer Threshold of the Night for soloists and 12-part chorus and other vocal works

- ballet Pulse Fields

- The Visions of Francesco Petrarca for baritone, chamber ensemble, school orch. and mime

- music theatre Bow Down and Down by the Greenwood Side; operas The Mask of Orpheus, Punch and Judy, The Second Mrs. Kong, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Yan Tan Tethera

- electronic Chronometer


recommended works:

music-theatre Bow Down (1977)

Earth Dances (1986) for orchestra

For O, for O, the Hobby-Horse is Forgot (1976) for six percussionists

opera The Mask of Orpheus (1973-1983)

Nenia: the Death of Orpheus (1970) for soprano and five instruments

opera Punch and Judy (1966-1967)

opera Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1989-1991, revised 1994)

The Triumph of Time (1972) for orchestra

Verses for Ensembles (1969) for instrumental ensemble



M.Hall Harrison Birtwistle, 1984


BLISS (Sir) Arthur Edward Drummond                                                                                     

born 2nd August 1891            at London

died 27th March 1975            at London


Sir Arthur Bliss' music never quite seems to fulfil the reputation he held during his lifetime, although he continues to have strong advocates. At his best in passages of a martial anguish (doubtless the legacy of his experiences in the First World War), his well-constructed works, becoming more neo-Romantic through his career, often have striking individual moments but always seem to be reaching for a level of import and depth that is never achieved.

His earlier music was bold and experimental for the British context of its time, leaning towards a Stravinskian neo-classicism, but his best-known work, A Colour Symphony (1921-1922, revised 1932), signalled a change to a more conservative Romantic approach. The four movements (Purple, Red, Blue, Green) were inspired by the colour associations used in heraldry, each with an associated mood. It shows both Bliss' strengths and his weaknesses: a clarity of construction and orchestration, a rhythmic vigour, moments of forthright beauty in the slow movement and strength in the last, together with light-hearted elements. Overall it lacks a conviction of individuality or deep commitment, and is ultimately disappointing. The `Symphony for Orator, Chorus and Orchestra' Morning Heroes (1930), similarly ceremonial in feel, is a more arresting work, perhaps because its inspiration - the slaughter of the First World War, setting texts from the Iliad, Walt Whitman, Wilfred Owen, Robert Nichols and the Chinese poet Li T'ai-po - reflected Bliss' own experiences, including being wounded in 1916 and gassed in 1918. The oration is most effectively woven into the form, its import amplified by the music; the slow movement contrasts Li T'ai-po's poem of a wife whose husband is away at war with Whitman's of a soldier thinking of home. The Piano Concerto (1939) is a virtuoso piece appropriate to the festive occasion for which it was commissioned (the New York World Fair), while the late Cello Concerto (1970) is perhaps the most immediate of Bliss' works, well contained within the limitations of his idiom and using a classical-sized orchestra with the addition of harp and celesta. Rhapsodic in tone, its genial vigour regularly contemplates a sad melancholy, almost gets caught up in it, but always withdraws. Two of Bliss' ballets have had life beyond the stage. The staged chess-game of Checkmate (1937) is a metaphor for medieval power-games (including the seduction of the Red Knight by the Black Queen, and a concluding battle and checkmate, signalling the fall of a kingdom). The music uses elements of pre-classical dance forms and influences of plain-chant, but is suffused with Bliss' bright vigour. Adam Zero (1946) follows the seven ages of man, at whose end a new Adam is born. Bliss' chamber music is elegantly wrought, rather emotionally disengaged, occasionally rich and enjoyable, but not especially memorable. The finest is the Clarinet Quintet (1929), with sonorous string writing, confident contrapuntal writing, and rich, vigorous solo lines. Of his other vocal music, Pastoral `Lie strewn the White Flocks' (1928) for mezzo-soprano, chorus, flute, timpani and string orchestra, evokes the Mediterranean, Pan and the flute prominent, ending with dusk and the night. A Knot of Riddles (1963) for baritone and eleven instruments sets Anglo-Saxon riddles with nature imagery; the baritone sings the solution after each one.

Bliss lived in the United States from 1923 to 1925, was knighted in 1950, and was appointed Master of the Queen's Musick in 1953, in which capacity his idiom suited the ceremonial requirements. He was director of music at the BBC from 1942 to 1944.


works include:

- A Colour Symphony

- cello concerto; piano concerto; concerto for piano, tenor voice, strings and percussion (revised as two-piano concerto); violin concerto; Baraza for piano, orch. and male voices ad lib.; Processional for organ and orch.

- Discourse, Edinburgh Overture, Hymn to Apollo, Introduction and Allegro, Meditations on a Theme of John Blow, Mêlée fantasque, Metamorphic Variations, Prelude `Lancaster', Two Studies for orch.; suite from film, Things to Come for orch.; Conversations for chamber orch.; Music for Strings

- Two Pieces for clarinet and piano; viola sonata; piano quartet; 3 string quartets (2 numbered); clarinet quintet; Fanfare for Heroes for 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and cymbals

- piano sonata; 4 Masks, Miniature Scherzo and Triptych for piano

- song cycles including Angles of the Mind, Ballads of the Four Seasons and The Women of Yueh (with chamber orch.); Elegiac Sonnet for tenor, string quartet and piano; The Enchantress for contralto and orch.; A Knot of Riddles for baritone and 11 instruments; Madam Noy for soprano, flute, clarinet, bassoon, harp, viola, cell and double-bass; Rhapsody for mezzo-soprano, tenor and ensemble; Rout for soprano and chamber orchestra

- cantatas The Beatitudes, The Golden Cantata, Mary of Magdala and Shield of Faith; Morning Heroes for orator, chorus and orch.; A Song of Welcome for soprano, baritone, chorus and orch.; Two Ballads for women's chorus and small orch.; The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God for chorus and wind instruments

- ballets Adam Zero, Checkmate, The Lady of Shalott, Miracle in the Gorbals

- opera The Olympians, Tobias and the Angel

- film music, notably to Things to Come


recommended works:

Cello Concerto (1970)

Clarinet Quintet (1929)

Morning Heroes (1930) for orator, chorus and orchestra


BRIAN Havergal                                                                                                                         

born 29th January 1876          at Dresden (Staffs.)

died 28th November 1972      at Shoreham


In this Guide will be found a number of reclusive and eccentric composers for whom extravagant claims have been made by devotees that on closer inspection turn out to be chimeric. At first glance, Havergal Brian would seem to be such a composer. But between the ages of forty-three and fifty one he produced one of the world's artistic masterpieces, in vision, grandeur, and in the combination of complexity and luminosity worthy to stand alongside the great cathedrals of the age that inspired it. The Symphony No.1 `Gothic' (1919-1927, sometimes called the second symphony; an earlier symphony was discarded and this had led to confusion in the numbering) is arguably, more than any other late-Romantic work, the climax of the Romantic age, because it incorporates the power and optimistic vision of the late 19th century as well as its turmoil. Not for nothing was it called the Gothic, for its forces are truly gigantic, but more pertinently it is charged with the sheer energy that is palpable in Gothic architecture. Probably the largest symphony ever written, it uses four soloists, four large mixed choirs, a greatly extended orchestra, four separate brass bands, and organ. But these huge forces are neither inflated nor gratuitous; instead they are used for moments of almost unimaginable power to launch the symphony to the heavens, at other times reduced to near chamber textures, with the exception of the deep lower instruments (including a bass tuba) that provide massive foundations for the structure of the sound. Much of the orchestration is built around brass, against which woodwind often act as busy border colours. The harmonies are late-Romantic and heavily chromatic, but to these are added polyrhythms and a natural use of semitonal clashes (with almost cluster effects in the choral writing of the last movement). These, together with some of the passages that use percussion, suggest an element of Brian's musical vision that was moving beyond the confines of the late-Romantic. Above all, this gigantic symphony is truly symphonic, with a movement from D minor to E minor in the first of two parts, and from D major to E major in the second; material is developed, transformed, or reused in different contexts that give audible organic unity to such a large work, and the more one lives with it the more one realises the complexity and surety of those ties. Part I is divided into three movements, and is purely orchestral; the idiom is distantly related to that of Mahler. The first movement launches a journey of gripping excitement, thunderous turmoil and energy, and sudden withdrawals into a mystical atmosphere that explodes out again. The second movement, again of a vast soundscape, is more troubled, arriving at a Sibelian climax, sinking into motion in the shadows like the passing of great, warm-blooded dinosaurs, producing triumphant fanfares that dissolve into ruin and return to the opening material. The third scherzo movement contains one of the most phenomenal and unprecedented passages in all late-Romantic music. A huge percussive storm erupts, with an extraordinary movement of rhythmic pulse. Great swells punctuate it, rising from the depths of the enormous orchestra. Out of this emerge high tinkling sounds, the xylophone prominent, into a polyrhythmic melée of precise structure and effect, whose components come together into a huge ominous climax, eventually greeted by silence and the soft spiritual close that is immediately echoed in the opening of Part II. That, again in three movements and twice as long as the first, uses the large choral forces in a setting of the `Te Deum'. It is difficult to convey the sheer exaltation - and exultation - of this music, complex brass fanfares often re-energizing the momentum, the choral writing of polyphonic complexity and visionary feel, the energy never flagging. Not Handel at his most joyful, Berlioz at his most grand, Mahler at his most visionary, or Messiaen at his most ecstatic, has approached this effect of overwhelming praise, for which the huge forces are entirely justified. The fifth movement, which traverses the tremendous horror of the Judgement and an ending of monumental power and uses only four words in the choral writing, includes a central section that is the unearthly passage of the scherzo transformed almost (but not quite) out of recognition, as if reforged in the choral ecstasy that had preceded it. The choral sound often has a medieval cast, and some of the spacious movement of Eastern Orthodox music, but also complex polytonal effects. It is entirely characteristic of this massive work that it should end quietly, shorn of almost all its forces, on an unaccompanied chorale-like choral line. This symphony is an experience quite unlike anything else in music; it has only received three public performances: a semi-amateur one in 1961, a performance under Boult in 1966, and another under Ole Schmidt in 1980. Unfortunately, the only commercially available recording (made outside Britain) is a travesty, and readers are warned not to judge this work on its evidence, as sadly must have happened: beside the Schmidt performance it seems like a skeleton stripped of all its flesh and muscle (and most of the lower instruments that are so crucial to the overall sound). It is a disgrace to British music that, at the time of writing, this masterpiece has not received a major British recording.

The course of British music, and certainly of Havergal Brian's career, might have been very different had this symphony been performed in the 1920s, though its advanced elements might have been misunderstood. The rest of Brian's composing life is equally remarkable: although he never again (on the still too scant evidence) produced a work of such unadulterated genius, he went on to write another 31 symphonies of a very high quality, of which 21 were composed after he had reached the age of 80, and they are by no means works of dotage. Symphonic argument forms the core of Brian's thinking, and he gradually developed more and more concise encapsulations of symphonic development, while retaining the large orchestral forces for a flexibility of effect. Thus by the very short later symphonies, Brian had reached the unusual situation of a composer using a traditional medium rooted in tonality who had arrived at the compression and emphasis on the detail of the individual moment that had taken place in more experimental forms. The harmonic organization can become complex in the more compressed works, and the emotional changes swift, creating tough but never academic works that gain in stature on increased acquaintance. Overall, he explores the darker side of the human experience, sometimes using march elements, but regularly juxtaposed with moment of tranquillity, sometimes with solo violin lines; the vital energy apparent in the Gothic Symphony is maintained even to the works written in his 90s. Brass, often with fanfare effects, continue to play prominent roles in the orchestration, and the percussion section is elevated far beyond the role of added colour or effect. Symphony No.2 (1930-1931), Symphony No.3 (1931-1932), and Symphony No.4 `Das Siegeslied' (Psalm of Victory, 1932-1933) form a group of large-scale symphonies. The scherzo of the third, with its sixteen horns grouped in fours joined by two pianos and three timpani, has been highly praised. The fourth is choral, a setting of Psalm 68, and has been described as a masterpiece by those fortunate enough to encounter it. The Symphony No.5 `Wine of Summer' (1937) is for middle-voice and orchestra, setting a poem of Lord Alfred Douglas. The single-movement Symphony No.6 `Sinfonia tragica' (1947-1948) is so arresting its neglect is unfortunate. It was inspired by J.M. Synge's Deirdre of the Sorrows (the harp giving a brief Celtic touch at the opening) and uses traditional harmonies, but its open textures, its use of silence, its sudden turns from delicate chamber writing to large effects, and its eclectic imagery creates an entirely modern effect, and its symphonic argument is clear. The eighth, ninth and tenth symphonies form another group. The four-movement Symphony No.7 (1948) is quite different in character, the flow more linear, with strong martial overtones; but just when one expects the work to settle down on fairly conventional lines, a switch of orchestral effect or an abrupt change of tone shatters any complacency. It illustrates another aspect of Brian's idiom that takes getting used to: the individual movements are not easy to characterize in mood (as are those by, say, Vaughan Williams or Prokofiev). Rather there is a conglomeration of moods within a movement, and a gradual shift of overall emotion through the symphony (here from self-confidence to an angry uncertainty and the diffidence of wisdom), to which the individual movements contribute. Bells of various kinds sound through the symphony, and each movement ends with the ringing of an individual percussion instrument left naked to decay. The magical overlapping ostinati of the beginning of the third movement create another striking and original effect, like swallows darting around Gothic columns, airy and full of lightness. The next three symphonies form another group. The Symphony No.8 (1949) is in a single movement for a large orchestra including piano, and with the euphonium and bass tuba prominent; here the overall mood is one of mourning, the conflict of the symphony unresolved at the end. Unlike the eighth, the tragic Symphony No.9 (1951) for large orchestra with organ, uses sonata form in the outer of three movements. The Symphony No.10 (1953-1954) combines the moods of the predecessors in a single movement, from desolation to a funeral-march in a heroic-tragic cast. From this period the symphonies become increasingly preoccupied with concision, though they retain his idiomatic and emotional hallmarks; in effect they are almost variations on a symphonic problem, with common emotional content (nos.12 to 32 were all written in his 80s or 90s) but differing symphonic contexts and solutions. In the sixteen-minute Symphony No.16 (1960), for example, the initially daunting kaleidoscope of events becomes much clearer when one is familiar with the six sections into which the one-movement is divided, and the symphony emerges as a tough, rugged work with a touch of pastoralism and a marvellous sense of assertion at the end, a gathering of the symphonic skirts. The less intense Symphony No.21 (1963) reverts to four movements, but the two-movement Symphony No.22 `Symphonia brevis' (1964-1965) lasts just nine minutes, and still manages to include the characteristic swell to climax in the second movement, ending in melancholy before a final luminosity, and a turbulent first movement culminating in an Elgarian nobilmente, so that the short length by no means precludes large statements. He maintained his symphonic incision to the last works, written in his 90s. The thirteen-minute one-movement Symphony No.31 (1967-1968), in four distinct sections, has a feeling of playfulness, lucid orchestral textures, and yet rapid injections of gritty power.

It is still difficult to arrive at an accurate assessment of Brian's works other than the symphonies. The `comedy overture' Tinker's Wedding (1948) for orchestra is Brian in a lighter mood, inspired by Synge. The piano music includes the Double Fugue in E major where the contrapuntal framework provides opportunities for excursions into contrasting emotions that deviate from the linear logic, while some of the earlier small pieces have Satiesque qualities. One would like to know how his structural instincts and surety of choral writing translate to the opera stage, in The Tigers (1917-1920, revised 1925-1932), a satire on the military (the title refers to a military unit), Agamemnon (1957), or especially two operas that invite comparisons with well-known treatments, Turandot (1950-1951) and Faust (1955-1956).

Havergal Brian was one of those rarities, an experimenter within established traditional forms, from the gigantic to the concentrated; deservedly his music is now being rescued from obscurity. He was assistant editor of Musical Opinion from 1918 to 1939.


works include:

- 32 numbered symphonies (No.1 Gothic, No.5 Wine of Summer. No.6 Sinfonia Tragica, No.22 Symphonia Brevis); Fantastic Symphony (withdrawn and broken into individual pieces)

- cello concerto; concerto for orch.

- Burlesque, Doctor Merryheart, Elegy, 4 English Suites (No.2 lost), The Jolly Miller, In Memoriam, Legend - Ave atque vale, The Tinker's Wedding and For Valour, for orch.

- Legend for violin and piano

- song cycle Three Herrick Songs; Carmilhan for contralto, chorus and orch.; Psalm 68 for soprano, double chorus and orch.; cantata Prometheus Unbound; The Vision of Cleopatra for soloists, chorus and orch.;

- operas Agamemnon, The Cenci, Faust and Turandot


recommended works:

Symphony No.1 Gothic (1919-1927)

Symphony No.4 Das Siegeslied (1932-1933) (see text)

Symphony No.6 Sinfonia tragica (1947-1948)

Symphony No.7 (1948)

Symphony No.16 (1960)

Symphony No.22 Symphonia brevis (1964-1965)



M.MacDonald The Symphonies of Havergal Brian (3 vols.), 1975-1984


BRIDGE Frank                                                                                                                           

born 26th February 1879                    at Brighton

died 10th January 1941                      at Eastbourne


Frank Bridge is best remembered as the teacher of, and mentor to, Benjamin Britten, which has unfortunately overshadowed his own striking achievement as an innovative and introverted composer essentially standing apart from the inter-war development of English music. His concentration on rarefied chamber works has contributed to that limited appreciation: he himself was a viola player of note, with the Joachim String Quartet and then the English String Quartet. His development from a late-Romantic idiom, flowing but delicate, controlled by precision of intellect, to an harmonic idiom similar to that of Berg was an entirely natural one, an object-lesson to those who think the 20th-century harmonic revolution necessitated abrupt changes of style. This later harmonic palette was far too advanced for the conservative English audiences of his time, and this circumstance has contributed to his relative neglect. Emotionally, his music is dark, sometimes troubled, an attempt to reconcile the traumatic horror of the First World War to his pacifist temperament, though his few orchestral works are palpably more outgoing, the public rather than the private side of the composer.

Bridge's early works are influenced by Brahms and Fauré, with a warm Romantic richness, and include the String Quartet No.1 (1906) and the Phantasie piano trio (1907), built in an arch shape, and touched with an English melancholy devoid of anguish. This period also includes two superb orchestral works. The Dance Rhapsody (1908) deceives with its quasi-ceremonial opening, for it immediately launches into a buoyant surging brilliance with the infectious delight of Enescu's Romanian Rhapsodies, which surely must have influenced this work. It moves into broader planes, but there is a whiff of the ocean in the major theme of the opening and in atmospheric moments, and it was that which was invoked in his finest orchestral work, the suite The Sea (1910-1911), cast in four movements. Although there is the occasional nod in the direction of Impressionism, this picture of the sea is born of the undercurrents and the interplay of the energy of water and air, rather than the experience of the boat on the surface that is found in Debussy's La mer.

The events of the First World War, palpable in a setting of Francis Thompson's poem What shall I your true love tell (1919), with its bare vocal lines, permeated Bridge's music not so much in a rapid change of style as in a change of emotional content. Lament (1915) for two violas (also orchestrated for strings) was clearly an immediate response, anguished and dark, commemorating a little girl drowned in the sinking of the Lusitania. Less graphic, the rhapsodic and flowing Cello Sonata (1917) has an Edwardian richness in its two movements, the second combining slow movement and finale, but there is a sense of loss and lamentation in the cello writing, made more poignant by the attempts of the piano to provide a more optimistic, ecstatic context. The short opera The Christmas Rose (1919, orchestrated in 1929) seems to have been an attempt to find rebirth from the horror. It uses a deceptively simple story of the daughter and son of three shepherds, left behind when the shepherds, on hearing the angels, go to the manger to give gifts to the Christ-child,. The children determine to follow, but having no gifts are about to leave without seeing the child, when in the snow roses sprout and bloom, and the children recognize that they have their gifts. As an opera, the dramatic structure is too diffuse for impact; as a psychological document it is more noteworthy. Its introduction is almost entirely within the pastoral tradition, but this breaks down into a tougher idiom, echoing the collapse of pre-war English ideals, with metaphors such as the ravaging of the sheep by the wolves a reminder of the slaughter. This new mood is expressed in Holst-like choral (for the angels) and vocal writing, and that final image of hope through the innocence of children. If treated as such (rather than as a stage work), this opera repays those interested in the period, and its central concept was, of course, to emerge as the basic theme of much of Britten's work. At the same time, the suite of three pieces titled The Hour Glass (1920) for piano show no traces of the trauma of the war: the idiom is more Impressionist, with something of the delicacy of Ravel in the opening piece, `Dusk', and with Debussy palpable in the powerful `The Midnight Tide'.

Bridge's final foray into nature painting was the fine Enter Spring (1927) for orchestra, which combined the English tradition with an awareness of the new ideas emerging on the continent. With the Piano Sonata (1921-1924), written in memory of a friend killed in the war, Bridge had started to infiltrate his rhapsodic flow with more dissonant harmonies, that by the powerful, dark String Quartet No.3 (1926) led to the abandonment of a specified key in a combination of passionate emotion and technical refinement that has affinities with Berg. The unearthly Rhapsody (1928) for string trio would be entirely atonal were it not for the regular return to a tonal lodestone, yet this is an entirely natural progression from his earlier work, the piano writing removed, so to speak, from the Cello Sonata, and the harmonies of the cello line extended and rarefied beyond the tonal tradition. Indeed, in the Rhapsody the idiom regularly and convincingly slips into rhapsodic moments (the rest is much more taut than the title would suggest), so that we are all the more aware of both the emotional development forged by the events between 1914 and 1918, and the continuity of the underlying character.

By the Rhapsody Bridge had developed from the technically very adept and emotionally passionate but not overtly individual pre-war composer, to one at the forefront of contemporary European writing, though at the time this was hardly realized. The large-scale and widely admired Piano Trio No.2 (1929) seems a retreat from implications of the Rhapsody, in spite of its use of bitonality. The piano writing of the opening has Impressionist echoes, if not setting, eventually emerging as a sparse stillness, but in spite of the elusive darting effects and trenchant harmonies, the legacy of the richer Edwardian flow is here more obvious. There then followed two major works with orchestra. Oration `concerto elegiaco' (1930) for cello and orchestra is a funeral oration for the fallen in the First World War, juxtaposing a personal, introverted idiom, notably in the opening and in the beautiful ending of repose in the epilogue, with a more extrovert public pronouncement. This extroversion occurs in the march that emerges from the opening, in the central march that manages to interpolate a funeral march into a pastoral idiom, and in the grotesque nightmarish march, ending in bugle calls, that descends into fragmentation and thus to the epilogue. The striking large-scale Phantasm (1931) for piano and orchestra, like the Oration a long single movement with closely integrated episodes, explored the realm of dream and nightmare. Its opening episode and much of the later material seem like a cross between early Expressionist Schoenberg and the texturally detailed richness of Szymanowski; a central turbulent episode, more direct, elicits a nightmare with feverish echoes of the waltz dreams of confusion, and this strange work ends unfulfilled yet fortified. The direction of the Rhapsody was realised in the marvellous String Quartet No.4 (1937), a work of Classical lucidity and clarity of construction, with complex polyphony in the opening movement, combined with an assured immersion in the atonal harmonic idiom. The spare delicacy has more affinities with Webern than with Berg, and the rhapsodic elements have evolved into touches of the dance; indeed the central movement is marked `quasi minuetto'. It is difficult not to conclude that in the Oration he was publicly fulfilling his need for commemoration and in the Phantasm was working out the turbulence of his subconscious; these necessities complete, he could arrive at a personal resolution through the development of an advanced personal language in the String Quartet No.4, a conclusion reinforced by the (for Bridge) optimistic ending of the quartet. Indeed, the overture Rebus (1940) for orchestra, with a more traditional harmonic cast is brighter, expansive, sometimes almost playful, using a theme that gradually expands and then gets distorted (the working title was `rumour'; the current title refers to a pictorial device signifying a name). Bridge's songs (there are over fifty) often show the lighter side of his idiom; most date from earlier in his career, and two of the more popular, the Tennyson setting Go not, happy day (1916) and the Mary Coleridge setting Love went a-riding (1914) have florid, cascading piano writing supporting a long flowing vocal line, suitable for encore pieces.

Bridge was active as a conductor as well as violist; he took no teaching post, and Britten was a private pupil.


works include:

- Oration `concerto elegiaco' for cello and orch.; Phantasm for piano and orch.; Berceuse for violin and orch.

- Dance Rhapsody, Enter Spring, Isabella, The Open Air, overture Rebus, The Sea, The Story of My Heart and Summer for orch.; Vignettes de danse for small orch.; Lament and Three Idylls for string orch.

- cello sonata; Nine Miniatures for cello and piano; violin sonata; Norse Legend for violin and piano; piano trio; Phantasie Trio; Rhapsody for 2 violins and viola; 4 string quartets; Novelleten, Phantasie Quartet and Phantasm for string quartet; Divertimento for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon; piano quintet; string sextet

- opera The Christmas Rose


recommended works:

Cello Sonata (1917)

Enter Spring (1927) for orchestra

Dance Rhapsody (1908) for orchestra

Oration `Concerto elegiaco' (1930) for cello and orchestra

Phantasm (1931) for piano and orchestra

Piano Sonata (1921-1924)

Piano Trio No.2 (1929)

Rhapsody (1928) for string trio

String Quartet No.3 (1926)

String Quartet No.4 (1937)



A.Payne          Frank Bridge, 1984


BRITTEN (Edward) Benjamin (Baron Britten of Aldeburgh)                                                  

born 22nd November 1913     at Lowestoft

died 4th December 1976        at Aldeburgh


Of all the major 20th-century composers, Benjamin Britten was among those least motivated solely by purely musical considerations, and the most concerned to illuminate and amplify those aspects of the human condition that have most often been expressed in literature. His inspiration is above all the written word and its associations, particularly the landscape, the populace, and the traditional heritage of his native Suffolk. His major works therefore revolve around the human voice (though not exclusively), and with Berg, Janáček and Strauss he is the most convincing opera composer of our century. A second and important strand was the close association both with writers (notably W.H.Auden, William Plomer, and Myfanwy Piper) and with the performers of his works (especially his companion, the singer Peter Pears, and the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich). Consequently, much of his music was written with specific performers in mind, creating the sense of personal intimacy and rapport between music and performer that is another feature of his music.

Musically, Britten was a conservative composer. Since his objective was the expression of emotional conflicts, technical innovation was secondary, and his idiom is largely diatonic and lyrical, his favoured structures the suite or the theme and variations; his operas are built on essentially traditional forms. Melodic line is an important factor in his idiom, emerging in a variety of styles, though often characterized by an upward leap. His idiom is also eclectic, in that he synthesized influences from and aspects of various composers, notably Mahler, Shostakovich (especially in the use of parody, in bass phrases, and in some orchestral colours), Grainger (in the return to nature) and, in the later works, Schoenberg. Within that framework, his ability to extend tradition with personal hallmarks (such as the use of bitonality and the juxtaposition of semitones), and the adaptation of one tradition to another (such as the use of theme and variation structure in opera or the reworking of Japanese nōh techniques in the Church parables) created a voice that is entirely individual, and usually immediately recognizable as Britten's.

One single human theme is an undercurrent to almost all Britten's work: the corruption of innocence, be it an expression of that innocence (for example, the cantata A Boy was Born); its betrayal (the opera The Turn of the Screw); the resulting torments of middle age (the opera Peter Grimes); the sense of loss and mourning (the orchestral Sinfonia da Requiem); the desire for its return (the opera Death in Venice); a combination of all of these, either literally (the song cycle Winter Words) or symbolically (the vocal Spring Symphony); or its reduction to the complicated interaction of the opposites of good and evil (the opera Billy Budd). It is perhaps pertinent that Britten was a homosexual, and for most of his life lived in an age where such an orientation was still illegal and taboo. Although his treatment of the theme of innocence far transcends any considerations of gender, his particular understanding makes him perhaps the only composer whose homosexuality, in the face of such stigma, led him to expressive insight, and not just the expression of internal conflict that is found in the music of such other homosexual composers as Tchaikovsky.

It was Britten's technique to pare away superficial emotional and musical complications to present the primary emotion or theme of the textual moment. Musically this is achieved by often bare textures that have a chamber-like intimacy, or by the almost personification of individual instruments to support the moment (for example, the horn in the Serenade, the fanfares in the War Requiem, or the flute in Billy Budd). His orchestration highlights individual instruments, contrasted by massed surges in which strings predominate, and similar techniques are found in his choral writing. Harmonic devices support the tendency to characterization, such as the semitone expressing darkness and turmoil, often expressed in two keys a semitone apart, the triad representing the ethereal and the innocence of beauty, or the use of the key of A major expressing Apollonian beauty. Combined with a love for such intellectual devices as the canon, and with the distancing effects of the high vocal lines he preferred, this can seem a rather dry, cognitive outlook - hence the criticism that Britten has pity for his characters, but not compassion.

This superficial distancing was necessary, so that Britten could concentrate on the particular human theme (his stage works, for example, are largely devoid of secondary stories or sub-texts). Consequently, most of his works are serious in intent; even the more light-hearted children's pieces, such as Let's Make an Opera or the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, have a didactic purpose. His genius lies in the other layers of emotional content that Britten almost invariably adds. His choice of poetry or text - of very high literary standards - concentrates on those that contain complex metaphysical or symbolic allusions, often with a relatively black-and-white surface message or story. Britten powerfully expresses both layers in his music: the intellectual tackles the surface, the emotional the hidden intent, so that it revolves around two apparently opposed poles, brought together by the medium of music. Those who have little sympathy for the allusionary or the symbolic generally admire his music, but are not moved by it. Those who do respond find Britten's idiom has extraordinary impact, and when these deeper layers have a very wide relevance - such as the musical symbol of the sea as the unconscious in Peter Grimes, or the combination of innocence and Christian symbolism in A Ceremony of Carols - the relevant works have achieved very wide popularity.

An important device gradually developed through Britten's output is the layering of different sound worlds within a single unit, adding spatial as well as emotional perspectives. It can be seen in such simple examples as the use of the solo harp, set apart from the voices, in A Ceremony of Carols, as well as in larger designs, such as the evocation of the sea, exemplified in the four Sea Interludes of the opera Peter Grimes, the change of focus from the interior of Captain Vere's monologues to the ship-board world in Billy Budd, or the contrast between Aschenbach's piano-accompanied recitatives and the orchestral responses to Venice and the other characters in Death in Venice. The culmination is in the War Requiem, where three layers are carefully delineated, coming together in the final moments: the foreground of the pity-of-war poems of Wilfred Owen assigned to the soloists and chamber orchestra; the middle layer of the Latin Requiem text for chorus and orchestra; and the ethereal distance of a boys' choir accompanied by a chamber organ. The musical intent appears to be for clarity of expression; the emotional intent to define and present different emotions simultaneously in the composer's constant search to untangle and delineate the complex web of different and often opposing emotional states that is the human personality.

Britten's musical maturity dates from the works of the 1940s, notably the lovely little canticle Hymn to St. Cecilia op.27 (1942), the patron saint of music whose saint's day was Britten's birthday, and the opera Peter Grimes (1944-1945) which rocketed English opera into a serious art form after an interval of 200 years. Two major motivations were his return from his stay in the U.S.A. (1939-1942) and the start of his collaboration with Peter Pears. His music before this period includes over 30 film scores for the General Post Office (of which his collaboration with W.H.Auden in Night Mail is a masterpiece), the diverting Sinfonietta op.1 (1932) for orchestra, the popular Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (his teacher) op. 10 (1937) for string orchestra, the virtuoso Piano Concerto (1938, revised 1945) and works of political intent, notably the song cycle Ballad of Heroes (1939), written in response to the Spanish civil war. While there are musical elements that herald later developments, the theme of innocence betrayed (although present from his youthful works onwards) is largely suppressed, the separation of the intellectual and the emotion less overt; but there is a surety and a range of fervour and expression in these earlier works that have often appealed to those who do not respond to his later idiom, and which has caused speculation on the other avenues of development Britten might have taken.

Outstanding among these earlier works, and deserving of wider recognition, are the chamber works, (the String Quartet in D, 1931, revised 1974, the String Quartet No.1, 1941, the String Quartet No.2, 1945, and the Phantasy Quartet for oboe and strings, 1932), the song-cycle Our Hunting Fathers (1936), and the Violin Concerto (1939, revised 1958). The W.H.Auden text of Our Hunting Fathers revolves around the relationship between hunting and animals, and inspired strikingly original music of assertively wide range and expressive effect, though with momentary echoes of some of the eclecticism of Mahler (anticipating the much later idiom of Del Tredici), the gritty orchestral exhortation of Vaughan Williams's Job or the angularity of Walton. The much undervalued Violin Concerto (1939) is one of the finest and most beautiful of 20th-century concertos. The very difficult solo writing regularly lies very high; in the first movement the roles of lyrical solo and nervous, repetitive ideas in the orchestra are swapped in the middle, to magical effect, and then reversed again. The central movement is a furious and passionate scherzo, coming close to Shostakovich in feel, the cadenza picking up the nervous motto from the first movement. The finale, a passacaglia, ends with a beautiful visionary, peaceful close. In this concerto Britten takes the ecstatic element of the English pastoral tradition, sets it in the context of a much tougher, more agitated, structurally dissonant idiom, and forges a concerto in which bliss and sadness are melted together. The internal theme of innocence lost is absent; this is an outward struggle. It promised the possibility of a new aesthetic and harmonic direction that Britten was never to explore, although the music of the preparations for the battle in Billy Budd is directly heralded in the first movement, and a chordal progression in the opera in the last. From the same period comes one of the least known of Britten's stage works, but one of his most instantly appealing. Paul Bunyan (1940-1941, revised 1974) is part operetta, part America musical, and closest to the Brechtian operas of Weill, while reflecting the contemporary American genre of the socially aware `high-school opera'. Its text by W.H.Auden, drawing on the combination of surrealism, humour and seriousness of the poet's earlier plays, celebrates the American frontier as an allegory of the pioneer in all fields; the music ranges from operatic arias to cowboy songs.

In the operas the theme of innocence and betrayal, as already outlined, is paramount, and text and libretto take a primacy rare in opera. Britten's concentration is on individual character, to the extent that all his operas were written with specific performers in mind (the television opera Owen Wingrave was actually cast before it was written), creating detailed characterization even in minor roles, and allowing a sense of intimacy however broad the subject. Location is an important factor, selected for more than mere atmosphere by reinforcing the human concerns through symbolism. Peter Grimes (1944-1945), still his most popular opera, is centred on the tragic story of the fisherman Grimes, a loner who cannot overcome his frustrations and anger, which is indirectly responsible for the deaths of the boys who one by one assist him. But of the two protagonists who dominate the story, one is collective and one is abstract. The Borough - the community who oppose Grimes - draw on traditional populist elements (folk-like choruses including echoes of shanties and church music) that are a feature of Britten's work. Second, the sea is always present, in broad and often huge sea-scape music, notably in the orchestral interludes, four of which are often encountered in the concert as the Four Sea Interludes. Dramatically, the work draws on conventional dramatic elements, and includes scenes at a courthouse and a pub, and a storm.

Peter Grimes is a grand opera, a form which Britten turned to again in Billy Budd (discussed below) and in Gloriana (1953). This Coronation work is a character study of Queen Elizabeth I, exploring the contrast between the pomp and pageantry of her court and the personal conflict of her relationship with Essex, with its denial of sexuality. It was a failure in the Coronation year, but subsequent revivals have shown its musical strength, especially in its ensembles and the dances combining on-stage and pit orchestras, and again drawing on Britten's sense of archaic tradition. These are sometimes heard on their own. Meanwhile, Britten had turned to chamber opera, partly from practical necessity, partly from a musical preference, and from this grew the English Opera Group for whom most of the subsequent operas were written. The first two chamber operas present dramatic problems. The Rape of Lucretia (1946) is based on a Latin story of trust and love betrayed, spare in style and texture and with elements of Greek drama. The overlay of Christian message (expressed by two singers as chorus) sits ill with the early Roman setting. Albert Herring (1947) is a humorous counterpart to Peter Grimes, a comedy of rural English manners in which the youth of the title has the choice between following the repressive mores of his elders or a personal fulfilment expressed by his friends. His innocence is lost, but need not be corrupted. The opera continues to appeal to audiences who do not wish to delve deeper than the attractive and entertaining surface, and this is probably Britten's most popular opera; the satire on the very English class system has found a ready response in widely different cultures. But it is also full of many disturbing dramatic anomalies and hidden emotional tensions, inherent in both libretto and music. These are largely unresolved, and for those responsive to them the comic framework of Albert Herring can appear an uncomfortable vehicle for such deeper resonances, and the opera emerges as a flawed and unsatisfying experience.

With The Turn of the Screw op.54 (1954) Britten found a subject better suited to both his concerns and his chamber-opera conceptions. The libretto by Myfanwy Piper on the celebrated ghost-story by Henry James combines innocence betrayed in the destruction of the two children, and ambiguity in that it is possible to interpret the ghosts and the events - in other words, the entire opera - as some projection of the neuroses of the character who plays the children's governess. Britten's music brings out the layer of the supernatural and the breakdown of mental states; as such this is a drama of the psyche. The tension is heightened by the use of high tessitura and by the prominent piano, and the tight and the taut structure is cast in a theme (a 12-tone row representing the governess' neurosis) and a series of variations in which the different expressions of the theme have the permutations of the development of psychological states. The technique, if inspired by Schoenberg, is not strictly dodecaphonic: as in subsequent works employing rows there remains a sense of a tonal base, and the contrasts of keys continue to play an important symbolic role.

A Midsummer's Night Dream (1960) is based on Shakespeare's words, with a counter-tenor in the part of Oberon. It introduced into his operas a theme already present in the song-cycles, that of dreams and the night, the area of the subconscious and therefore in touch with the innocence otherwise lost. There are three layers: the Athenians with an urban sophistication; the rustic, humorous but earthy; and the fairy-world of innocence. There are parallel musical layers: children singing against tuned percussion and harp, chordal ideas based on all twelve tones, Puck speaking rather than singing, and represented musically by a trumpet and drum, Oberon associated with the celesta. Britten looks back to the operas of his English operatic predecessor, Purcell (1659-1695), while the rustics parody styles ranging from Italian opera to the music hall. Act II is constructed around four chords allocated to different orchestral groups. This is Britten's most delightful and successful comedy.

Owen Wingrave (1970) was especially written for television, to another story by Henry James again adapted by Myfanwy Piper. With its cross-cutting and cinematic techniques it was perhaps the first opera to embrace the technical possibilities of the medium, and as such has failed to transfer successfully to the opera stage. Its subject is pacifism, one of Britten's most deeply held principles, and the opposition in the strange story is between the pacifist Owen and the military traditions of his family, with a supernatural element representing psychological forces. Again, 12-tone elements (with eight different rows) are used, and structurally the aria and ensemble predominate. With its uncompromising message, it seems destined to remain one of Britten's less performed works, in spite of the impact of the music.

Meanwhile in the 1960s Britten developed an aspect that had been latent in earlier works: the element of ritualistic and liturgical theatre for church settings developed from the traditions of Christian mystery plays. In transferring this tradition to a modern aesthetic, Britten was influenced both by the formal theatre of Japanese nōh plays, and by the textures and patterns of Balinese gamelan music, which Britten had discovered in the 1940s and first employed in the extrovert ballet The Prince of the Pagodas (1956). The result were the three 'Parables for Church Performance', Curlew River (1964), The Burning Fiery Furnace (1966) and The Prodigal Son (1968) representing respectively hope, faith, and charity. These music-theatre works share features: a simple story amplified by elements of ritual, slow-moving symbolic action and music, and the use of plainchant and procession to introduce and conclude. Bells are prominent, as is the use of heterophony (two independent lines of music presented simultaneously). The atmosphere of these works draws us into an age when man was closer to nature and the impact of ritual, and they need to be experienced in the particular setting, lighting and acoustics of a church to achieve their full, considerable impact.

His final opera, Death in Venice (1973), based on Thomas Mann's famous novella, is an extraordinary work, a kind of rarefied distillation of Britten's emotional and musical preoccupations (including untouched innocence, the corruption represented by disease, the sea of the Venetian setting, parody, and the musical layers). Here they are seen through an elderly man's eyes, combined with a tragic attempt at rejuvenation and the eventual redemption of death (a kind of sleep) within the sight of innocence. The thematic development parallels Aschenbach's gradual psychological change, and the Venetian characters have aspects of archetypes (as have the ballets through which the boy and his family express themselves and which are associated with gamelan-like percussion). The work has something of the visionary quality of a composer approaching old age, and surely a strong autobiographical element - here the intimacy of deep personal knowledge and experience translated through the allegory of the story. With its implied opposition of Apollo and Dionysus, Death in Venice invokes (like the city of its setting) the metaphysical; as such it has a rarefied, if fascinating, appeal.

But Britten's operatic masterpiece is perhaps Billy Budd (1951, revised 1961), though it has from the point of view of opera companies one major flaw: an all male cast. Based on Herman Melville's short novella, to a libretto by E.M.Forster and Eric Crozier and set on a British naval ship in 1797, the deceptively simple story of the opposition of good and evil has immediate impact. But closer acquaintance reveals layer after layer of allusion, symbol, and spiritual dimension, inherent in Melville's original story, but perfectly integrated into the libretto. It emerges as an exceptionally complex work, from the presentation of the Iago-like Claggart and the innocent Billy Budd as but two aspects of the same force, through the problems of moral choices imposed by human society on a natural order, to the ultimate parable of the theme of action and redemption, with the ship as the symbol of the world. Much of this is perceived subliminally, a perfect medium for a musical setting, and to this Britten responded with music of disarming simplicity that itself gradually reveals layers of emotional intent, from the detail of instrumental colour and the use of recurrent themes, the duality of a semitone (B flat major/B minor), the expression of humanity through adapted sea-shanties, to broad sea-scape chords that take on the aspect of the spiritual. It is one of the few operas where the addition of music actually improves and illuminates the impact of a literary masterpiece.

Of his works for soloists, chorus and orchestra, Spring Symphony op.44 (1949) for soloists, chorus, boys' chorus and orchestra is more an extended song-cycle than a symphony, and its subject is the chill of winter leavened by the promise of spring. Its trumpet fanfares set against solo voice look forward to the War Requiem, while much of the choral writing anticipates that of Billy Budd, though the use of boys whistling is typical of Britten's sense of unusual colour effects, as are the rattling percussion and distant, conch-like call of the opening of the finale. It is perhaps a work to turn to after acquaintance with the better-known scores, fascinating for its moments of ethereal chill and vivacious expectancy, and for its pre-echo of later works. The War Requiem (1962) for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus, boys' chorus, chamber ensemble and orchestra, is very large in scale and liturgical in form, following the Requiem Mass but interspersed with Wilfred Owen's poems. Its subject is `the pity of War', its textures thin, with almost hollow colours that contrast with the individual instrumental commentaries of the chamber ensemble which accompany the Owen poems. It has an undeniable and harrowing impact, and has sometimes been called Britten's masterpiece; but it is also a cold and almost calculated work. Perhaps because of the subject matter, it misses the element of personal intimacy that informs so much of Britten's best music. Compassion indeed almost turns to pity, and it is the haunting individual moments (particularly the apotheosis of the setting of 'Strange Meeting') that remain in the memory, rather than the overall effect.

Britten's song-cycles stand in the same relationship to his operas as Shostakovich's string quartets do to his symphonies: interior expressions of those same human concerns that are given more extrovert treatment in the larger works. Again, there is a concentration on the importance of the written word, with melodic lines supporting the clarity of expression. The mature song-cycles with orchestra have a common thread of the theme of night and dreams. Les Illuminations (1939) for high voice and string orchestra sets the complex imagery of the French poet Rimbaud. The vocal line and the strings act with a spontaneous independence, and it is the lithe dancing feel of the string colours, with their fanfare opening, that remains so memorable. The shimmering expectancy, sometimes striding forward, sometimes still, but always with a sense of nostalgia reinforced by the high vocal writing and the haunting use of the horn, has made the Serenade op.31 (1943) for tenor, horn and strings the best known of the song-cycles.

Of the song-cycles for high voice and piano, The Holy Sonnets of John Donne (1945) is perhaps Britten's most spiritual work, intense, deeply interior, and written in reaction to giving a concert in one of the Nazi death-camps with Yehudi Menhuin. Sparse accompaniments alternate with pianistic fervour, against long vocal lines with often unexpected phrasing; the central `Since she whom I loved' transmutes love to a metaphysical plane, and is one of the most beautiful of all English songs. The Seven Songs of Michelangelo op.20 (1940) portray various aspects of love, the piano at one point emulating the guitar. The example of Schubert stands behind Winter Words op.52 (1953) to poems by Thomas Hardy, the most characteristic of all Britten's song-cycles. Imbued with a kind of ruggedness, the central Britten themes abound: the innocence of young boys, the ballad, the tradition of liturgical music, oppositions of character, death. The marvellous final song `A Time There Was', with its tragic cry ('how long, how long') can stand as a summation of the concept of innocence lost. The five Canticles (No.I My Beloved is Mine op.40, 1947, No.II Abraham and Isaac, op.51, 1952, No.III Still Falls the Rain op.55, 1954, No.IV Journey of the Magi op.86, 1971, No.V The Death of St.Narcissus op.89, 1974) are each settings of a single extended poem, ranging from a mystery play to T.S.Eliot, and written with specific performers in mind, personal, austere, and effective, with No.II almost a miniature dramatic cantata.

An important area of his output are the cello works written for Rostropovich. The Cello Symphony op.68 (1962-1963) integrates the soloist into the orchestra, although the cello part was written for the particular sound of the Russian soloist, and is commensurately virtuoso. The orchestral textures tone down middle ranges (the area of the cello) but emphasize such extremes as the bassoon and the tuba. Unmotivated by any extra-musical associations, the idiom is chromatic and dense, with the largest sonata first movement Britten wrote, again using 12-note elements, and a restraint of pure lyricism until the bright light of the coda. Of the three Suites for solo cello (No.1 op.72, No.2 op.80, No.3 op.87), the third includes the use of Russian folk-songs, and all show an assimilation of the idiom of Shostakovich, with the latter's motto DSCH quoted in the last. The three mature string quartets (No.1 op.25, 1941, No.2 op.36, 1945, No.3 op.94, 1975) demonstrate Britten's concern with the intricacies of form, including sonata form, the chaconne and the passacaglia, and the String Quartet No.3 'La Serenissima' is closely related to Death In Venice, using ideas from the opera. Britten's sole work for the viola (he was himself a violist), Lachrymae op.48 (for viola and piano, 1950, version for viola and strings, op.48a, 1976), is unjustly neglected. With a wide range of austere expression, it is based on a song by John Dowland (1563-1626), and reflects on various aspects of the song in variation form before presenting it whole at the end.

Britten's output is striking for the consistency of seriousness and quality. He is one of those rare composers whose lesser-known works almost always reward those seeking them out. With his contemporary and friend Shostakovich, he is the composer of the 20th century most motivated by the expression of the psychology of the human condition, and its tragic and traumatic manifestations. As with the Russian composer, this seems to have been fuelled by his own tensions and position as an artist, and in these terms his operas and song-cycles provide a counterpart to the symphonies and string quartets of Shostakovich. He was a staunch supporter of the recording studio, and one of the best interpreters of his own music, recording a large number of his own works with the performers for which they were written - a unique legacy. He was also active as a pianist (in chamber music and as accompanist) and as conductor of a wide range of repertoire, with recordings ranging from Schubert songs (with Peter Pears) to Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius. He also made many arrangements of folk-songs, and realizations of the music of Purcell. With Pears and others he founded the famous annual Aldeburgh Festival (1948), set in his home village in Sussex, and the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies. He was created a companion of Honour in 1953, and raised to the peerage as Baron Britten of Aldeburgh in 1976.


works include:

- Cello Symphony; Simple Symphony for strings; Spring Symphony for soloists, chorus and orch.; Sinfonia da Requiem; sinfonietta

- piano concerto; violin concerto; Diversions for piano (left hand) and orch.

- Suite on English Folk Tunes and other works for orch.; Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge for string orch.

- 3 suites for solo cello; Suite for Harp; Lachrymae for viola and piano (orchestrated for viola and strings); Phantasy Quartet for oboe and strings; 4 string quartets (3 numbered)

- song-cycles Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Les Illuminations (with string orch.), Our Hunting Fathers (with orch.), Sechs Hölderlin-Fragmente, Serenade (with horn and strings); Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, Songs from the Chinese (with guitar) and Winter Words; Nocturne for tenor, 7 obbligato instruments and strings; cabaret songs

- Cantata Academica; Cantata Misericordium; cantata Saint Nicholas; five Canticles for voice(s) and piano (Nos.I, II, IV), horn and piano (No.3) and harp (No.V); War Requiem for soloists, chorus, boys' chorus, chamber orch. and orch.; A Boy was Born for unaccompanied mixed choir and boys' voices; A Ceremony of Carols for women's or boys' voices and harp; Hymn to St.Cecilia and many other vocal and choral works

- ballet The Prince of the Pagodas

- operas Albert Herring, Billy Budd, The Burning Fiery Furnace, Curlew River, Death in Venice, Gloriana, Noye's Fludde, Owen Wingrave, Peter Grimes, The Prodigal Son, The Rape of Lucretia and The Turn of the Screw; operetta Paul Bunyan

- incidental music; music for films


recommended works:

opera Billy Budd op.50 (1950-1951)

A Ceremony of Carols op.28 (1942) for treble voices and harp                                

Cello Symphony op.68 (1962-1963)

church parable Curlew River op.71 (1964)

opera Death in Venice op.88 (1971-1973)

song cycle Holy Sonnets of John Donne op.35 (1945)

song cycle Les Illuminations op.18 (1939) for high voice and strings

Hymn to St.Cecilia op.27 (1942) for chorus

Lachrymae for viola and piano op.48 (1950)

opera A Midsummer Night's Dream op.64 (1959-1960)

song cycle Our Hunting Fathers op.8 (1936) for high voice and orchestra

operetta Paul Bunyan

opera Peter Grimes op.33 (1945)

song cycle Serenade op.31 (1943) for tenor, horn and strings

Sinfonia da Requiem op.20 (1940) for orchestra

song cycle Songs and Proverbs of William Blake op.74 (1965)

String Quartet No.2 in C op.36 (1945)

String Quartet No.3 op.94 (1975)

opera The Turn of the Screw op.54 (1954)

Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge op.10 (1937) for string orchestra    

Violin Concerto op.15 (1939)

War Requiem op.66 (1961)

song cycle Winter Words op.53 (1953)



H.Carpenter    Benjamin Britten: A Biography, 1992

C.Headington Britten, 1981

I.Holst             Britten, 1966, revised 1980

M.Kennedy     Britten, 1981

C.Palmer (ed.) The Britten Companion, 1984

E.W.White      Benjamin Britten: His Life and Operas, 1970, revised 1983


DAVIES Peter Maxwell                                                                                                              

born 8th September 1934        at Manchester


Internationally regarded as the leading (if the least emulated) British composer of his generation, Peter Maxwell Davies has shown a totally individual consistency of intent, concern and style that has gradually evolved from infuriating the establishment to dismaying the admirers of the new. His music, encompassing all forms, ranges from the arcane and highly complex to the most happily straightforward, but almost always with an unmistakable voice and underlying seriousness of purpose.

His works show a number of consistent features within this wide range of styles. First, he is steeped in the symbolism and psychology (rather than the religious dogma) of Christianity, which for him seems to serve as the expression of, or the metaphor for, a collective unconscious that underlies all human action, including the creation of music. A feature of this symbolism has been his use of archetypes (the King, the Fiddler, the Jester) in vocal or dramatic works. Second, he is fascinated by the interaction and indivisibility of thesis and antithesis, be it in human character or in musical structure, and this is linked to the Christian heritage in particular by an exploration of the evil that is the obverse of good, and especially of the betrayal that links the two. Third, he has used pre-classical music of various periods and types, as well as number symbolism, as a regular launching board for his own music (often with an element of parody). The music is linked to Christianity by allusions to religious works, and to thesis and antithesis both by the contrast of the old and the new and by the choice of subject matter in works with words. Finally, since his discovery of the Orkney Islands in Scotland (in particular the island of Hoy) in 1970 and his subsequent move there, his output has been steeped with Orcadian tradition and a sense of community and local purpose, and he has succeeded in combining these with the Christian themes, the themes of betrayal and opposites, and the utilisation of old forms and musical ideas.

Stylistically, Maxwell Davies has shown consistent individuality. His structures, while latterly including recognised forms (such as the symphony) have regularly been built on arcane, and particularly medieval ideas. These have included proportion (time signatures changing according to ancient proportional rules), number symbolism (such as the use of nine, as in nine movements, or 14, representing the Stations of the Cross), but most pertinently the use of the 'magic square'. In this construction the elements of the square are typically pitch and/or duration, and the square can be read across, up-and-down, or diagonally, and includes symmetry. Maxwell Davies uses these lines to create a sequence of rows (in an exact music parallel to the novelist Italo Calvino's use of the Tarot pack in The Castle of Crossed Destinies). Most of these effects are sensed by the listener rather than recognised, but they do create a strong sense of structure. Harmonically, the atonal (and often dissonant) palette is tempered by a sense of direction towards a tonal point (often aided by the repetition of a tonal centre created by the symmetry or palindromic effect of the 'magic squares'), which then rarely act as a resolution, but more as a launching point for new directions, reinforced by the inconclusive endings of many of his works, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. In his extensive music for children and amateurs his harmonic concepts are much more conventional, and his more sophisticated works have recently followed suit. The extensive recall of old music is usually filtered through this harmonic language, creating distortions that often amount to parody or pastiche. This sense of unbalance is reinforced by the gestural exaggerations, and by contrasts of expression, though again these have mellowed in recent works and have been absent in much of the simpler music. The instrumentation favours bright, incisive colours, with extremes of register, though bells have been an important colour element, reaching their culmination in the sonorous Turris Campanarum Sonantium (1971) for one percussionist and tape, and then evolving to the softer colours of tuned percussion.

His composition has so far fallen into three main periods. After the initial discovery of the European post-Webern movement, in conjunction with Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, the pianist John Ogden and the trumpeter Elgar Howarth (collectively and briefly known as the 'Manchester Group'), and in study with Petrassi and Sessions, he eventually found his personal idiom with a group of works based on the reforging of material from Monteverdi's Vespers 1610 (the String Quartet, 1961, the Leopardi Fragments for soprano, contralto and instrumental ensemble, 1962, and the rather boring Sinfonia, 1962). They were followed by a series of works centred around the opera Taverner (1962-1970), and including elements of the Tudor master's music, as well as having in common a chord of significance in the opera. The opera itself, based on a (probably erroneous) version of Taverner's life with a theme of betrayal (Taverner moves from musician of the Catholic Church to its persecutor, with a parallel desiccation of his own art), uses a declamatory vocal style and a contrast between the orchestra (Taverner's thoughts and reactions) and ancient instruments (other characters and events). In parallel with this opera appeared Three Fantasies on an In Nomine of John Taverner (1962, 1964, and 1963-1964), the first for orchestra, the second a single-movement symphony, with a sense of irony and distortion in the otherwise grand statement, and the third with rather strident writing for wind quintet, harp, and string quartet.

With the founding (with Birtwistle) of the chamber ensemble the Pierrot Players in 1967, and its evolution in 1970 into the Fires of London (without Birtwistle), Maxwell Davies's writing entered a new phase, the scale and instrumentation of many works being determined to this day by the forces of the Fires of London. The themes of Christianity, betrayal and distortion of medieval music continued in Antechrist (1967) for piccolo, bass clarinet, violin, cello, and three percussionists, but new elements of parody, particularly the foxtrot of thirties dance bands, were added to the scheme. The large-scale orchestral work St.Thomas Wake (1969) exemplifies many of Davies' concerns and traits of this period, and because of its populist elements is one of the most effective ways to approach his idiom. It is built in three layers: a pavane by John Bull (1562-1628), the purity of ancient music here associated with the harp; a thirties band that plays with an element of nostalgia a series of foxtrots based on that pavane; and a modern orchestra, distant and alien in feel but often (with a number of unusual instruments) powerful in its range of colours and blocks of uncompromising effect. With such a structure, it becomes a moving montage of three time periods.

But it was the music theatre pieces written for the Pierrot Players and then the Fires of London that have most attracted attention. The unstaged Revelation and Fall (1966) for soprano and sixteen players had used savage contrasts between a more subdued vocal writing and primal outbursts (using a loudhailer). Missa Super l'Homme Armé (1968, revised 1971) included antithesis by the use of a figure in robes of the opposite sex, had the theme of spiritual betrayal, and the pastiche includes Victorian songs, foxtrots, barnyard noises, pop music, and machinery. It employs harsh extremes and has a ninefold structure. The extraordinary Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969) showed that the format of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, whose scale, approach, and broad aims it shares, was not an isolated event. The highly expressive instrumental ensemble (in cages, representing the bullfinches the mad king is trying to teach music) react to a soloist who must use the very extremes of vocal expression to portray the mad King, on texts by Robert Stow after George III. Quotations from Handel and other music of the period are woven into the fabric, and the sense not only of the protagonist's madness, but also the narrow division between the audience's state of mind and that of the King make this one of the most compelling pieces ever written for music-theatre. The idiom was further refined (with the instrumental group more obviously supporting the soloist) in the sympathetic study of a deranged woman, Miss Donnithorne's Maggot (1974), for mezzo-soprano and instrumental group. The Vesalii Icones (1969) for ensemble, cello and dancer brought together the foxtrot and the betrayal of Christ. This avenue has been further explored in the music-theatre pieces Blind Man's Bluff (1972) and Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame (1978), using instrumentalists as actors. The larger-scale opera The Lighthouse (1979) has maintained a peripheral place in the modern repertoire. In the same period appeared one of his most beautiful works, and one of the easiest to approach, A Mirror of Whitening Light (1976-1977) for fourteen instruments.

With his move to the Orkneys, a further element has been added to his music. On an obvious level there have been a series of lighter and approachable works (including many for children) that have had a strong Scottish flavour (notably the highly colourful An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise, 1985, for orchestra, which is the equivalent of a Sibelius or Nielsen tome-poem) or entertaining arrangements of pre-classical music. But a number of haunting and sometimes tragic song-cycles, especially to the words of the Hebridean poet George Mackay Brown, have specifically reflected the influence of Orkney life and the colour and light of the sea and the Islands, with a more direct lyrical flow, while still employing Maxwell Davies' idioms and harmonic designs. Thus From Stone to Thorne (1971) for soprano, bass clarinet, harpsichord, guitar and percussion, creates a relationship between the Stations of the Cross and the agricultural seasons. The vocal line, unlike many of his other vocal works, allows the soloist a number of notes on one syllable, with softer instrumental colours. The Hymn to St. Magnus (1972) for mezzo-soprano and orchestra combines the violence of martyrdom and the violence of the sea, founded on the famous 12th-century Orcadian hymn, while the dour, brooding and syllabic Dark Angels (1973) effectively combines the guitar with the soprano. The parable opera The Martyrdom of St.Magnus (1976) with instrumentation of sextet, guitar and brass trio, shows a return to the themes of betrayal and savagery and again uses the foxtrot as the music of evil. Into the Labyrinth (1983) for tenor and chamber orchestra sets poetry of MacKay Brown, and exactly mirrors the clear, mono-chromatic light of the north, with distant echoes of Sibelius in the ending. The overall effect is of a natural simplicity, with a flowing, lyrical vocal line and spartan, well-defined orchestral textures. The Sinfonietta Accademica (1983) for chamber orchestra, in spite of its title, again reflects the sights and sounds of the Orkney landscape, interwoven with plainsong chant. It opens with a drunken reel, and has moments of humour throughout, though its general tone is a rather bleak seriousness, like an early winter northern landscape.

At the same time, Maxwell Davies has continued to expand his larger scale forms, attempting, as in the specifically Orcadian works, to evolve a simpler and "stronger" language that can still cope with complex forms. The Symphony No.1 (1978 from material begun in 1973) is a complex, difficult and sometimes ghostly work, dominated by the colours of the large tuned percussion section, and including the use of the plainsong 'Ave Maris Stella'. The influence of Sibelius, only implicit in this work, is more obvious in both the Symphony No.2 (1980) - the extent of harmonic evolution is indicated by its designation with a key, B - and the Symphony No.3 (1985), with their more direct orchestral sound and the influence of the sea. Two more symphonies have followed; the Symphony No.5 (1994) is, at 25 minutes, the shortest to date. Another more direct work is the full scale, two-hour ballet Salome (1978), full of stunning and often very graphic orchestral effects, from the delicate to the use of raucous noise makers. It is especially rewarding in its still long Dance Suite form (1979). The sometimes droll but rather nebulous Sinfonia Concertante (1982) is a distant reflection of the classical period, with a wind quintet and timpani as the concertante instruments. The Violin Concerto (1985) is in a big Romantic style, only lightly tempered by Davies's usual harmonic language. The influence of the Scottish dance weaves in and out, and the end of the cadenza is especially beautiful, although throughout the large scale sits rather uneasily with his idiom. A major chamber work of the period is the powerful and tense Image, Reflection, Shadow (1982) for chamber ensemble, whose instrumentation includes a cimbalom.

Among his most recent works has been the 90-minute opera The Resurrection (1988), for seven singers, five dancers, and an orchestra that includes a pop group, a Salvation Army band, and pre-recorded tape. Maxwell Davies had been planning this work, examining American popular culture and the concept of instant material gratification, for 25 years. Its range is eclectic, including 24 television commercials, eight pop songs, and various transmutations of plainsong, while drawing on Dürer's Apocalypse woodcuts and Jung's alchemic illustrations. The central plot is of a `Hero' who is abused by family and school, is transformed by Four Surgeons, and is resurrected as a huge monster figure; the attack is on the commercialism of American popular culture.

His works for children and for schools were originally inspired by a period of teaching at Cirencester Grammar School (1959-1962), and his continuing achievements in this field have been widely admired. They include The Shepherd's Calendar (1965) for voices and a large instrumental ensemble, piano music, songs for young children, and two operas for children: The Two Fiddlers (1978) who travel the path of wisdom to combat philistinism, and Cinderella (1978-1979) for younger children.

Maxwell Davies has been Associate Composer/Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra since 1985, and in 1977 he founded the highly successful St.Magnus Festival in Kirkwall, the Orkneys.


works include:

- 5 symphonies; Sinfonia; Sinfonietta accademica; Sinfonia concertante

- trumpet concerto; violin concerto

- Five Klee Pictures, Prolation, St.Thomas' Wake, Three Taverner Fantasies, and World's Blis for orch.

- St.Michael for 17 wind; A Mirror of Whitening Light for 14 instruments; Antechrist, Ave maris stella, The Bairns of Burgh, Fantasia on a Ground and Two Pavans, Fantasia on One Note, Four Instrumental Motets, Kinloche his Fantassie; Image, Reflection, Shadow; Renaissance Scottish Dances, Runes from a Holy Island and Shakespeare Music for instrumental ensemble

- The Seven Brightness for clarinet; The Kestrel Paced Round the Sun and Solita for solo flute; Hymnos for clarinet and piano; Stedman Doubles for clarinet and percussion; trumpet sonata; string quartet; sextet Stedman Caters; Alma redemptoris for 6 wind; septet (from earlier sextet); In Nomine for 10 instruments

- piano sonata; Five Little Pieces, Five Pieces, Sub tuam protectionem, and Ut re mi for piano

- Three Voluntaries for organ

- Black Pentecost for mezzo-soprano, baritone and orch.; Into the Labyrinth for tenor and orch.; Revelation and Fall for voice and 16 instruments; Stone Litany for mezzo-soprano and orch.; Anakreontika, The Blind Fiddler, Fiddlers at the Wedding, From Stone to Thorne, Hymn to St.Magnus and Tenebrae super Gesualdo for voice and instrumental ensemble, various forces; Dark Angels for voice and guitar

- Ecce manus tradentis for soloists, chorus, wind, bells and harp; Veni Sancte Spiritus for choir and orch.; Westerlings for unaccompanied choir

- music theatre pieces Blind Man's Bluff, Eight Songs for a Mad King, Le jongleur de Notre Dame, The Medium, Miss Donnithorne's Maggot, Missa super L'homme armé, The No.11 Bus and Vesalii Icones

- ballet Salome (also ballet suite)

- children's operas Cinderella, The Two Fiddlers; operas The Lighthouse, The Martyrdom of St.Magnus, Resurrection and Taverner

- films scores including The Devils and The Boy Friend


recommended works:

Dark Angels (1974) for soprano and guitar

music-theatre Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969)

A Mirror of Whitening Light (1976-1977) for 14 instruments

music-theatre Miss Donnithorne's Maggot (1974)

sextet Image, Reflection, Shadow (1982)

Into the Labyrinth (1983) for tenor and orchestra

An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise (1985) for orchestra

St. Thomas Wake (1969) for orchestra

Turris Campanarum Sonantium (1971) for percussionist



P. Griffiths      Peter Maxwell Davies, 1982


DELIUS Frederick Theodore Albert                                                                                           

born 29th January 1862          at Bradford

died 10th June 1934   at Grez-sur-Loing (France)


The music of Frederick Delius occupies a unique position in the English tradition. Often incorrectly called Impressionistic, it bears a similar relation to French Impressionism as does the music of Szymanowski: a rich tapestry of sensuous textures that have touches of Impressionism (although Delius developed his style independently of such potential French models as Debussy), but equally stretch back to a heady Germanic lushness. The Impressionist sense of time suspended, where the end of a work folds back on its beginning, is largely absent in Delius' work (as it is in Szymanowski's); the complex fluidity of Delius' rhythmic flow can create this Impressionistic effect, but it is more purposeful, the linear progression aiming at distinct goals. In addition, Delius adds an English sensibility to his idiom, and this element, often half-submerged in the surrounding textures, has affinities with English pastoralism. His musical temperament is a poetic response to nature, sometimes wistfully sad, sometimes ecstatic.

His music is far less popular now than it used to be, or perhaps deserves to be. Part of the reason is that unusual position; part his relatively narrow range of idiom and type of work; part may be ascribed to the fact that, from the age of 21 he lived abroad, first in Florida and elsewhere in the United States (1882-1886), and from 1888 to the end of his life in France. His American stay recurs as an influence in his music. The most enduring output is to be found in his orchestral tone-poems and a number of visionary choral works; to them may be added a number of characteristic but never wholly successful operas, and four concertos. These genres intermingle throughout his career: there is no period of particular concentration on one. His idiom was never suited to large-scale orchestral works, or the more traditional forms such as the symphony or the string quartet. His relatively small output was hampered from the age of sixty by the effects of syphilis, and his major works written after 1928 (and which include often extensive reworking of earlier material) were constructed with the help of a young amanuensis, Eric Fenby, a remarkable story in itself.

The first of his major orchestral works was the `nocturne for orchestra' Paris - The Song of a Great City (1899). It evokes Whistler rather than the Impressionists, a sultry Paris night, redolent of the lazy flow of the Seine, but also of the glitter and dazzle of a city still awake and enjoying itself. There are touches of Strauss, but the pattern of textures and the fluid rhythmic interplay are Delian. Appalachia (1898-1903) added a chorus to the orchestra, and is based on a theme that Delius heard on a Virginia tobacco plantation (`Oh honey, I am coming down the river in the morning'). In a Summer Garden (1908), Summer Night on the River (1911) and On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912) represented the application of Delius's idiom to a more obvious nature-painting, on a smaller scale and decidedly French in quality (though the last uses a Norwegian folk-song Delius probably learnt from Grieg), and have remained his most popular works. The earlier Brigg Fair (1907), using a large orchestra, is equally Delian, in spite of its English title. Eventyr (1917) seeks to evoke the spirit of Norwegian folk myths, peopled by goblins, sprites and elves, and although these characters do charge across (volubly, since a chorus - or the players - are employed to give a shout or two, and no more) the rich textured landscape that has touches of Northern tone-painting, here Delius' lack of focus and strong emotional contrasts works to his disadvantage.

Delius' concertos have sometimes been described as more rhapsodies than concertos, partly because of the single movement forms. The early and rather uncharacteristic Piano Concerto (1897, often revised) includes rather grand Romantic gestures in its arsenal, but indeed has a rhapsodic and continuous flow. The short Double Concerto (1915-1916) for violin, cello and orchestra, and the Violin Concerto (1916), however, have a complex and assured evolution of thematic ideas across the general sections into which the one-movement forms are divided, creating genuine, if unconventional, concerto-symphonic development, and the Violin Concerto is one of Delius' finer works. The Cello Concerto (1921) was Delius' favourite among the concertos (because of the melodic invention), but it is rhapsodic, too meandering to match the earlier string works.

Perhaps Delius' finest and most characteristic music uses voice and chorus. The reasons for its neglect are understandable: the mixture of sensuous and visionary ecstasy (to texts by Nietzsche, Whitman, and the most mystic and ecstatic passages of the Bible), a pantheistic and essentially Eastern philosophy, and Impressionistic tone colours (with the chorus often submerged in that tone-painting) has not appealed to the English choral tradition, and has been disparaged by critics, although the philosophy and the idiom have proved far more enduring than his detractors suggested, and lie well within the scope of current experience. The Requiem (1914-1916) for tenor, chorus and orchestra, is a much finer work than its general reputation would suggest, sensuous and ecstatic, rich in texture in its huge orchestra, with moments of more acerbic harmony than is usual in Delius. Its text (by Delius, drawing on the Bible), is pantheistic in feel, expressing the duality of life in death and death in life. It is the English equivalent of the sensuous sound of Szymanowski, and musically and spiritually is very far removed from the usual Requiem text, which probably explains its almost total neglect. It is also more tautly concise than the work usually acknowledged as Delius's masterpiece, the Mass of Life (1904-1905) for soloists, chorus and orchestra, whose flaw is its unevenness but which encapsulates Delius' musical vision and philosophy. Based on Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra, this long work in two parts displays Delius' soaring passion, his sense of the elemental mysteries of the hours of the day (such a feature of his music), from the woodwind trio that opens `Glowing Noonday' to twilight and `The Song of the Night', to the feeling of noble joy in the equation of night and death, as well as moments of intense drama, as in the opening invocation. Sea Drift (1903-1904) for baritone, chorus and orchestra is a setting of the central part of Walt Whitman's famous poem (from Leaves of Grass). Whitman's poetic style of densely packed imagery suited Delius' equally richly textured musical style, with its dense choral writing, and this idiom was further developed in one of his finest works, the neglected Songs of Sunset (1906-1908) for mezzo, baritone, chorus and orchestra. The eight poems by the 19th-century poet Ernest Dowson, set in a continuous flow, are again rich in sensuous imagery, framed by the theme of the dream, and there is marked convergence of forces into a single general texture, suffused in joyous sunset colours, even when touched by pale amber autumnal shades. The third song is almost entirely Impressionist, time suspended, woodwind figures adding detail, until the final bars of solo violin that break the spell. Whitman was again the inspiration for the fine Songs of Farewell (1930-1932) for chorus and orchestra. Delius wrote some 60 songs, influenced by Brahms and Grieg and mostly dating before 1902.

The best known of his operas is A Village Romeo and Juliet (1900-1901, revised 1910), to a libretto by Jelka Delius based on a story by the Swiss poet Gottfried Keller set in 19th-century Switzerland. It bears no relationship to Shakespeare's tale whatsoever, apart from the common theme of two fathers who quarrel and whose children fall in love and die. It is one of those operas that ought to work, but misfires; the simple plot, that on first sight would seem entirely suitable for Delius' idiom, in fact works against it. Where another composer might have seized on the archetypal symbolism (the blind fiddler, the boatman of death), Delius treats their emotions literally in a heady sensual richness (in part derived from Wagner) that becomes wearisome in its regularity. But it represented a development in Delius' handling of fine orchestral detail (with a huge orchestra used sparingly), and one purely orchestral passage has become celebrated in the concert hall as A Walk to the Paradise Gardens, nature-poetry of a slow summer stroll enveloped in love. Koanga (1895-1897) has a much more interesting, if bizarre, plot, set in the kind of Louisiana plantation known to Delius in his youth, and involving a captured African chieftain, sexual predation, incest, and destruction, all contained within the framework of a tale told on the verandah of the plantation house. Delius salvaged the best music of Margot-la-rouge (1902) for a vocal-orchestral work, Idyll (1930-1932) for soprano, baritone and orchestra. A text was drawn from Whitman to create a rich love duet, but apart from the very beautiful orchestral introduction the result is turgid until it takes life in the duets of the close. The opera itself, long thought lost, was resurrected by Fenby from a piano score made by Ravel.

Delius was undoubtedly a composer who limited himself to a narrow range of idiom, and reactions to his music are usually marked: it is reasonable to suggest that if one does not respond to a particular piece, one is unlikely to appreciate the rest, and vice-versa. His importance to British music is generally underestimated. He was one of the first composers of the English revival to raise English music to high standards, and this idiom opened up possibilities for other English composers.


works include:

- cello concerto; Double Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra; piano concerto; violin concerto; Caprice and Elegy for cello and orch.

- Brigg Fair, 2 Dance Rhapsodies, Eventyr, In a Summer Garden, fantastic Dance, Life's Dance, North Country Sketches, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, Paris, A Song before Sunrise, A Song of Summer and Summer Night on the River for orch.; Air and Dance for strings

- cello sonata; 2 violin sonatas; string quartet

- An Arabesk for baritone, chorus and orch.; Cynara for baritone and orch.; Mitternachtslied for baritone, men's voices and orch.; A Mass of Life for soloists, chorus and orch; Requiem for soprano, chorus and orch.; Sea Drift for baritone, chorus and orch.; Songs of Sunset for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus and orch.; Appalachia, A Song of the High Hills and Songs of Farewell for chorus and orch.; On Craig Dhu for chorus and piano; Two Songs to be Sung of a Summer Night on the Water for chorus; Seven Songs form the Norwegian and many other songs, some with orch.

- operas Koanga, Fennimore and Gerda, Irmelin, The Magic Fountain and A Village Romeo and Juliet

- incidental music Hassan


recommended works:

Double Concerto (1915-1916) for cello, violin and orchestra

A Mass of Life (1904-1905) for soloists, chorus and orchestra

Paris (Song of a Great City) (1899) for orchestra

Requiem (1914-1916) for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra

Sea Drift (1903-1904) for baritone, chorus and orch.

Songs of Sunset (1906-1908) for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra

opera A Village Romeo and Juliet (1900-1901) (see text)

Violin Concerto (1916)



E. Fenby          Delius as I knew him, 1936, 1981

ed. C. Redwood         A Delius Companion, 1976


ELGAR (Sir) Edward William                                                                                                   

born 2nd June 1857    at Broadheath (Worcester)

died 23rd February 1934        at Worcester


Elgar remains the figurehead of the revival of British music, the first English composer with an internationally appreciated, distinctively individual voice since Purcell (c.1659-1695). His reputation (justly) rests on a handful of works, and his output, which is mainly orchestral and choral, divides into three broad groups which all reflect aspects of his complex personality. The first are the masterpieces that have, slowly but surely, established his status as an international master: the Enigma Variations, the Introduction and Allegro for strings, the two symphonies, the two concertos, and the oratorio The

Dream of Gerontius. What distinguishes the power and pertinence of these works (with the exception of the Introduction and Allegro, and less obviously in the Enigma Variations) is that, amid the undoubted grandeur and expressions of joy, sometimes ecstasy, is an anguished psychological drama. It is not the personal angst of the Romanticism from which Elgar evolved; rather it is a deep sense of uncertainty, of insecurity, of loss or hopelessness, inextricably woven into the fabric. Such an aesthetic is particularly a 20th-century experience, and is why (like his contemporary Mahler) his music is finding an increasing international response, however much it may use the remnants of 19th-century orchestral means. This unusual combination was responsible for much of the misunderstanding of Elgar's work. His reputation was coloured by distaste for his salon or ceremonial music, a failure of differentiation still unthinkingly found in some musical circles today. That such an aesthetic was capable of musical evolution into more modern techniques was subsequently shown by Walton, who in many respects continues the Elgarian tradition.

The second group are works that, while often of great beauty, nobility, or interest, do not carry such a personal message. Some, like the oratorios The Apostles and The Kingdom, are bound up in the complex but dying choral tradition of the previous epoch; others, like the tone-poem Falstaff, have particularly English cultural associations; in others, such as the five Pomp and Circumstance Marches or the shorter pieces for strings, the scale of form is more miniature. The third group belongs to a different aesthetic, the residue of Victorian English music values, a response to the Edwardian fervour (but rarely, in spite of his reputation, jingoism) with the fey cloying sentimentality of the day. This aesthetic is alien to modern tastes; readers exploring his lesser-known music should not expect the same quality as the more celebrated scores. Nor is this division necessarily chronological: the salon ordinariness of the suite from The Starlight Express op.78 (1915), for example, postdates both the symphonies and the violin concerto.

His idiom is Romantic, drawing on the broad sweep of Brahms and the shifting harmonic example of Wagner, alloyed by a Gallic clarity which has elements in common with the music of the French composer Jules Massenet (1842-1912). Although often referred to as quintessentially English, such a description is very misleading (and confusing, for abroad it is his ceremonial works that are associated with the `English'). For his music belongs to the general European context of the time and the Austro-Germanic tradition in particular. He has little in common with the succeeding generation of English nationalists (and was not affected by the folk-music renaissance). His legacy to them was the inspiration of his pioneering career as a professional composer rather than his musical idiom.

His ability to express the nobility of the human condition (with his favourite marking `nobilmente') is unmatched. His orchestration is among the most assured of any in any age, often mixing tone-colours in rapid succession but always with clarity, and building climaxes by the development of colour (especially brass comment) as well as thematic ideas. Smaller changes of mood are usually initiated by the momentary comment of a new colour, such as the harp, and timpani are prominent. Strong bass lines, often emphasized in the orchestral colours, impart a sense of solid foundation and purposeful momentum. The sense of insecurity, of loss, is regularly achieved by yearning strings in broad falling ideas, backed by muted, punctuating orchestral colours, and by rapidly shifting keys. Thematic ideas, often profuse, build from shorter phrases, adding to a feel of a rich orchestral palette, and structural unity is regularly reinforced by returning themes, either with a cyclical intent or in the form of motto-themes. A prevalent rhythmic feel is of being slightly restlessly on the move, often varied by a characteristic use of triplets, but creating a very natural, almost evolutionary sense of progression from one episode of emotional mood to another.

Almost entirely self-taught (and thus partly divorced from the stifling Victorian English music education), a trio of works brought him recognition when he was already in his forties. The song cycle Sea Pictures op.37 (1897-1899) for contralto and large orchestra with organ obbligato is in the English vocal tradition revitalized by Stanford, but its melodiousness (if not its indifferent verse) has assured it a permanent place in the repertoire. The Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma) op.36 (1898, invariably known as the Enigma Variations) for orchestra is Elgar's first masterpiece and remains perhaps his best known large-scale work. In spite of a hidden counter-theme that has never been successfully identified and the portraits of friends (and himself) in the thirteen variations and finale, the music's impact is abstract, with a wide range of mood developed from the grandeur of the theme in masterful orchestral colours (including hushed timpani played with coins). Three sides of Elgar's idiom are present: the broad, impressive sweep, the distant sense of interior tragedy, and a delight in bustling vigour.

The visionary power of The Dream of Gerontius op.38 (1898-1900) for soloists, chorus and orchestra has triumphed in spite of Cardinal Newman's unusual text, describing the passage of the soul of a dying man into the eventual presence of God, which many have found difficult to accept. Its dramatic intensity and structure is almost operatic in fervour, heightened by the use of a semi-chorus as well as a chorus, and was a new departure for the English choral tradition. Repeated motifs bind the work together, and the massive orchestra, with its stunning climax in the introduction eventually answered in the vision of God at the end, is almost a protagonist in itself. The mood varies from grandeur to haunted resignation and serene acceptance, and the part of Gerontius requires as much expression of character as any operatic role.

The Introduction and Allegro op.47 (1901-1905) for string quartet and string orchestra, is a vigorous and sometimes lyrical abstract evocation recalling the composer's love of his Gloucestershire landscape, with a tune for viola inspired by a song Elgar heard in Wales. It is also a study in rich and bold string textures, the string quartet at times taking an almost concertante role, with the powerful contrapuntal writing that is such a feature of Elgar's idiom. But perhaps the best of Elgar is found in the two symphonies, both extensive and very wide-ranging in mood, with something of the breadth of Bruckner, especially in the slow movements. In the Symphony No.1 op.55 (1907-1908), the more sunlit of the two, the pulse is constantly varied, with a sense of small-scale ebb and flow (sometimes within a phrase) merging into larger emotional changes. This is achieved by a profusion of smaller themes in addition to the main ideas (including a motto theme), and by the constant flow of orchestral colours, often assigning different elements of an idea to different instruments or instrumental blocks and creating an effect of rapidly changing light and shade. The scherzo, full of powerful energy, is more direct, and the emotional weight is reserved for an adagio that is orchestrally broadened by divided strings. The marvellously assertive ending exemplifies another Elgarian touch, surging snatches of orchestral phrases set against the broad main idea creating a feeling of excitement and nobility. The Symphony No.2 op.63 (1903-1911, but whose ideas were brought together in only seven weeks, 1911) is both a more difficult work and an achievement of greater spiritual weight, suffused with a sense of disillusionment. All the complexities of Elgar's personality emerge, from the combination of nobility and restless uncertainty in the opening, the mixture of yearning and fear in the rondo, to the quiet resignation of the ending, all passion spent. The heart of the work is the Larghetto, sometimes misleadingly referred to as a funeral march, for it is much more a lament in which warm affection and still unresigned disillusionment are merged to be seen as but two sides of the same emotion. That characteristic surging effect here reaches its culmination, with unforgettable impact.

The relative obscurity of the Violin Concerto op.61 (1909-1910) is largely due to the difficult nature, both technically and emotionally, of the solo part, and the limited number of soloists prepared to tackle it. Although full of virtuoso requirements, the almost continuous solo line, predominantly lyrical though in constant fluctuation, is discursive and sometimes almost philosophical, and requires unremitting emotional as well as musical interplay between the soloist and orchestra. The Cello Concerto op.85 (1919, arranged as a Viola Concerto by Lionel Tertis with the composer's approval, 1933) is Elgar's swan song (the handful of subsequent works are minor in design and intent). Its emergence in the last three decades as a standard work of the concerto repertoire has been responsible as much as anything else for the revival of the recognition of Elgar's genius. With a four-movement form (linked in pairs), the orchestra is much more restrained than in Elgar's previous works, and the cello dominates. The mood is that of a rich sunset shot through with sadness but with passages of bright gold, and the solo line is song-like almost throughout; in the slow movement it is continuous except for one bar, heartfeelingly sad but never sentimental.

Much of Elgar's music was inspired by people he knew, and in the symphonic poem Falstaff op.68 (1913, from earlier sketches), he brought his powers of portraiture, from the boisterous to the tender, from the subtle to the extrovert, to bear on the Shakespearean character. As fine, and perhaps more immediate, is the vivid orchestral portrait of London in the concert overture Cockaigne (In London Town) op.40 (1901), a tone-poem in its own right. The five Pomp and Circumstance Marches op.39 (1901-1930) need little introduction, as the first has become a alternative English national anthem. It has rather overshadowed the infectious merits of the other four, as much full of joy as pomp; No.5 is especially satisfying. The concerto overture In the South (Alassio) op.50 (1903-1904) is another tone-poem, inspired by the Italian light and landscape, and by the tumult of ancient conflicts. To set alongside the Introduction and Allegro are two lovely, deeply emotional and introverted pieces, the Elegy for Strings op.58 (1909) and Sospiri op.70 (1914) for strings, harp and organ. The Serenade for Strings op.20 (1892) is equally attractive, the first of three movements slightly ruminative, the second predominately still, broad, and lyrical. The two Wand of Youth Suites opp.1a and 1b (1907 and 1908) are sometimes heard; they are diverting reworkings of childhood compositions.

The huge oratorios, The Apostles op.49 (1903) and The Kingdom op.51 (1901-1906), two parts of a projected trilogy, present considerable problems. Both are Wagnerian in inspiration (The Apostles has 80 leitmotifs, The Kingdom 78), and there are some inspirational moments (some of the choral writing, the `By the Wayside' section of The Apostles, the `Beautiful Gate' scene of The Kingdom). However, with the exception of Judas, the strong characterization of Gerontius is absent, the overall impression too dense, too swollen, and these works are rarely performed. Apart from some early salon pieces, his three chamber works (the Violin Sonata in E minor op.82, 1918, the String Quartet op.83, 1918, and the Piano Quintet op.84, 1918-1919) were all written in the same period as the Cello Concerto. Those already convinced by Elgar's idiom will respond to the leaner textures; others may feel the strengths of the works, particularly the seriousness of the quintet and the element of the pastoral in the quartet, do not mitigate the uneven inspiration or the absence of the depth of expression Elgar found in the colours of his orchestration. Of his transcriptions of the works of other composers, his orchestration of J.S.Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in C minor (Elgar op.86, 1921) and of Parry's famous song Jerusalem are outstanding, while his version of the English national anthem (God Save the King) is the most impressive yet penned.

So long dismissed by so many as a relic of the Edwardian period, a repository of the sentiments of a dying imperial culture, Elgar has emerged as composer who, while at times reflecting his era in an immediately recognizable and individual language that belongs to the culmination of the Romantic tradition, expressed conflicts of emotions and personality which our age both recognizes and responds to. He taught for a short and stormy period at Birmingham University (1906-1908), and held various conducting posts. He became a member of the Order of Merit (a distinguished royal honour) in 1911, Master of the King's Musick in 1924, was knighted in 1928, made a baronet in 1931, and received further royal honours in 1933. He was one of the first composers to take a keen professional interest in the new medium of gramophone recordings, so that his distinguished interpretations of many of his major works survive. His scientific interests were reflected in the patent he filed for a 'sulphuretted hydrogen machine', the Elgar S.H. Apparatus.


works include:

- 2 symphonies

- cello concerto; violin concerto

- tone-poem Falstaff; Enigma Variations, Five Pomp and Circumstance Marches and Polonia for orch.; concert overtures Cockaigne, Froissart, In the South and many other shorter orchestral works

- 2 Wand of Youth suites; Sospiri for strings, harp and organ; Introduction and Allegro for string quartet and string orch.; Elegy for Strings and Serenade for Strings; Severn Suite for brass band (also orchestral version)

- violin sonata; string quartet; piano quintet and other chamber works; piano music including Salut d'Amour (also orchestral version)

- 2 organ sonatas (No.2 arranged by I.Atkins from Severn Suite)

- song cycles Sea Pictures and Three Songs with Orchestra and other songs

- oratorios The Apostles, The Kingdom, The Dream of Gerontius; cantatas including Caractacus, King Olaf and The Music Makers; hymns

- ballet The Sanguine Fan; incidental music


recommended works:

Cello Concerto op.85 (1919)

oratorio Dream of Gerontius op.38 (1899-1900)

Elegy for Strings op.58 (1909)

Enigma Variations op.36 (1899) for orchestra

tone-poem Falstaff op.68 (1913)

Introduction and Allegro (1904-1905) for strings

Pomp and Circumstance Marches 1-5 op.39 (1901-1930) for orchestra

song cycle Sea Pictures op.37 (1899)

Sospiri op.70 (1914) for strings, harp and organ

Symphony No.1 in A ♭ op.55 (1908)

Symphony No.2 in E♭ op.63 (1910)

Violin Concerto op.61 (1910)



M.Kennedy     Portrait of Elgar, 1968

J.N.Moore       Edward Elgar: A Creative Life, 1984

P.M. Young    Elgar O.M., 1955



born 16th January 1943          at Coventry


Brian Ferneyhough has the reputation of being one of the most intractable of post-Webern composers, taking serialism to its limits. He has become the leader of the British `New Complexity' movement, though one who has lived outside Britain since the early 1970s. The length (over 40 minutes) and dense details of the Sonatas for String Quartet (1967-1975), in twenty-four short movements, established this reputation, its intense idiom, bound by internal repetitions and recognizable figures within the sections, being relieved by cadenza-like passages for the viola, the two violins and the cello.

In reality, this bogey-dragon turns out to have a benign breath, rather than an sulphurous fire, though his writings on his own works add to the daunting reputation. For Ferneyhough has a kind of Rococo imagination creating larger-scale works which teem with decoration and detail that give them a complex fecundity, but which are themselves following carefully organized patterns. The basic conception is serial, with the independent organization of each element of the music, but a serialization that is extended to such parameters as those decorations and to instrumental or vocal effects and details. The longer spans are created from the mass of this detail, changing their interactions and contours, with internal connections between the short sections that many Ferneyhough works employ. These constructions can be extremely complex (and difficult to perform), requiring close attention to understand; but, such is the sense of logic underlying the idiom, these shapes can emerge for the sympathetic listener without the necessity to grasp all their workings. The resultant idiom is very expressive and often forthright, creating an unusual sound world that has considerable impact.

As good a place as any to displace preconceptions about Ferneyhough's music is the String Quartet No.2 (1980). It is an ascetically sensuous work, with darting detail of movement over denser textures in a combination of independent and convergent lines, direct and expressive. There is an unusual atmosphere in this quartet that appears in many Ferneyhough works: the short, darting phrases and the chattering effects seem like live creatures - perhaps birds, flitting purposefully here and there, their paths crossing, reaching some undefined boundary, and swinging back again. A tendency in Ferneyhough's output has been to maintain a concept through a series or group of works. Central to the 1970s were the Time and Motion Studies, No.1 for bass clarinet (1971-1977), No.2 for cello, delay tape, modulation and amplification (1973-1976), No.3 for sixteen voices, percussion and tape (1974). The central series of the 1980s was the cycle Carceri d'invenzione (1981-1986), the title, inspired by Piranesi etchings, meaning both `dungeons of invention' and `imaginary dungeons', continuing the concept of the boundary so audibly palpable in the String Quartet No.2. The pieces are wide-ranging in format, but have a common element in the sound of the flute family, moving from the piccolo to the bass flute as the series progresses. The core of the series are three works: Carceri d'invenzione I (1982) for chamber orchestra, one of the more dense of Ferneyhough's works in which the patterns turn in on themselves with a feeling of claustrophobia, what amounts to a flute concerto in Carceri d'invenzione IIa (1984) for flute and chamber orchestra, and Carceri d'invenzione III (1986) for eighteen winds and three percussion. Around these are ranged works for smaller forces. The series opens with Superscriptio (1981), a high, fast, darting piccolo solo, and ends with Mnemosyne (1986) for bass flute and tape, a wistful, tranquil and very beautiful work with the fluttering and humming of the bass flute set against held notes on the tape that set up non-dissonant resonances that will present listening problems to no-one. Intermedio alla ciaccona (1986) for violin deliberately adds a hard, ugly edge to the sound, but the most substantial of these works is Études Transcendentales (1982-1985) for soprano and ensemble including harpsichord. This song-cycle sets nine short and pithy poems by Ernst Meister and Alrun Moll contemplating transience, each with a different instrumental combination. The combination of logic and dynamic expression is formidable, cast with great clarity; the strict control of material leads to an almost improvisatory freedom (the oboe writing of the opening song having almost a pastoral cast), the constant leaps of the phrase writing form regular aural patterns, and the vocal writing is dramatic and expressive, with hum and trill effects. The whole of the song-cycle moves from a pure clarity to the more dense.

Ferneyhough's other works have a consistency of idiom but a wide range of means, from the two-minute caprice of Adagissima (1983) for string quartet, through the vocal effects and lyrical and rhapsodic elements of Transit (1972-1974, revised 1975) for six amplified voices and chamber orchestra drawing on metaphysical-philosophical sources (Heraclitus, Paracelsus, Trismegistus), to the eighth-tones of La chûte d'Icare (1988) for clarinet and seven instruments, its gradual disintegration matching the title. The String Quartet No.3 (1987) organizes twenty-three types of texture, and the String Quartet No.4 (1990), with soprano solo, takes its inspiration from Schoenberg's second, for the same forces.

Ferneyhough taught at Freiburg (1973-1986) and at Darmstadt since 1976.


works include:

- Firecycle Beta and La Terre est un homme for orch.; Carceri d'invenzione I for chamber orch.; Epicycle for strings

- Allgebrah for oboe and strings; Carceri d'invenzione IIa for flute and chamber orch.; La chûte d'Icare for clarinet and 7 players

- Time and Motion Study I for bass clarinet; Cassandra's Dream Song and Unity Capsule for solo flute; Superscriptio for solo piccolo; Intermedio alla ciaccona for solo violin; Time and Motion Study II for cello and electronics; Four Miniatures for flute and piano; Mnemosyne for bass flute and tape; Coloratura for oboe and piano; 4 string quartets (No.4 with soprano); Adagissima for string quartet; Sonatas for String Quartet; sonatina for 3 clarinets and bassoon; Prometheus for wind sextet; Funérailles for string septet and harp

- Epigrams, Lemma-Icon-Epigram and Three Pieces for piano; sonata for 2 pianos; Sieben Sterne for organ with 2 assistants; Kurze Schatten for guitar

- Études Transcendentales for soprano and small ensemble; Missa Brevis for 12 voices; Time and Motion Study III for 16 voices, percussion and tape; Transit for 6 voices an chamber orch.;


recommended works:

song-cycle Études Transcendentales (1982-1985) for soprano and small ensemble

Mnemosyne (1986) for bass flute and tape

String Quartet No.2 (1980)


FINZI Gerald                                                                                                                               

born 14th June 1901   at London

died 27th September 1956      at Oxford


Gerald Finzi was the most thoughtful of the composers that formed the core of the English musical renaissance, and his fastidious craftsmanship is reflected in his small number of works. His music idiom emerged from the examples and pastoral writing of Vaughan Williams and Finzi's older contemporaries, but the influence of Bach is also apparent, directly in such works as the Grand Fantasia and Toccata (1954) for piano and orchestra, more subtly in some of the construction and figuration of other works. The chief temperamental trait is an introverted awareness of the transience of life (as well as of the disappearing English countryside), reflected in his choice of poetry to set and also in the fragile beauty and underlying sadness of some of his other works.

Finzi's most celebrated work also encapsulates his music and emotional idiom. The Dies Natalis (begun mid-1920s, completed 1938-1939) for high voice and strings sets texts of lesser-known 17th-century mystical cleric Thomas Traherne that see the world with innocent wonder through the eyes of a new-born child. The awareness of transience is immediate in the darker hues of the otherwise pastoral string `Intrada'. At the centre of the work, the second part of `Rapture' is expressed as a dance, flanked by two mystically contemplative sections where the high vocal writing adds to the tone of metaphysical ecstasy. The final `salutation' is in the form of a chorale prelude, concluding a work of compelling but restrained beauty. Wordsworth's Ode on Intimations of Immortality has a very similar basis to the metaphysics of Traherne, and Finzi's other major vocal work with orchestra, Intimations of Immortality (1936-1950), sets it for tenor, chorus and orchestra. Farewell to Arms for tenor and strings is in the form of an introduction (1940) setting Ralph Knevet and using recitative elements, and aria (1926-1928) setting the late 16th-century poet George Peerle and with a vocal line that has the long flow and shape of 17th-century models. Finzi responded strongly to the poetry of Thomas Hardy, who had many similar concerns: the fleeting nature of life, the futility of war, the sense of the beauty of nature in which humankind was an element, not the dominant force, and the power of memory to re-energize the past. Five of his song cycles are Hardy settings (A Young Man's Exhortation, 1926-1929, Earth and Air and Rain, 1928-1949, Before and After Summer, 1938-1939, Till Earth Outwears, 1927-1956, and I said to love, 1928-1956). Hardy's language is often complex and knotty, and Finzi's settings unravel its more thorny aspects in a most natural way. Finzi's settings are highly crafted, often delicate, sometimes in the form of dramatic ballads with forthright characterization or story-lines. His Shakespeare settings in the song cycle Let Us Garlands Ring (1942) are sensitive and individual, with lively characterization in the piano, from the rocking effects in `Come away, come away, death' to the interplay and bird calls and final joyful chords of `It was a lover and his lass'.

Although Finzi is best known for his choral works and his songs, his concertos have become increasingly admired since his death. The very opening of the Clarinet Concerto (1948-1949) for clarinet and strings suggests Stravinsky, but with the entry of the soloist it settles into a mellifluous flow, whose contours have been aptly compared to those of the rolling English downs landscape. The solo writing consistently aims at warmer tones, especially in the almost shyly sensuous meditation of the slow movement which swells into mystical passion. The shallower finale has an easy-going bounce. The Cello Concerto (1955) takes Finzi into unexpectedly grand and bold orchestral regions and thicker textures, while retaining the inflections of vocal lines in the cello writing. Less distinctive than the clarinet concerto, it is nonetheless worth the occasional hearing. The Eclogue (1956) for piano and strings, originally intended as the movement of a piano concerto, is a lovely meditation with Bachian touches underneath the pastoral atmosphere; music for watching a warm summer's dusk, especially as it gradually evolves to a more subdued, gloaming hue. Finzi's limited output of chamber music is less interesting than his vocal music or the concertos.

Finzi taught at the Royal Academy from 1930 to 1933. He rescued various varieties of English apple from extinction in his personal orchard.


works include:

- cello concerto; clarinet concerto; Grand Fantasia and Toccata for piano and orch.; Introit for violin and orch.; Eclogue for piano and string orch.

- The Fall of Leaf (orchestration completed by Howard Ferguson), suite Love's Labour Lost, Severn Rhapsody for orch.;

- Elegy for violin and piano

- Farewell to Arms for tenor and strings; Two Sonnets by John Milton for tenor and small orch.; Hardy song cycles Before and After Summer; Earth and Air and Rain; I said to love, Till Earth Outwears and A Young Man's Exhortation; song cycles Let us Garlands Bring and To a Poet; other songs

- cantata Dies Natalis; Intimations of Immortality for tenor, chorus and orch.; In terra pax for chorus and orch.; Seven Part-Songs for chorus and other choral works

- Five Bagatelles for clarinet and piano; Prelude and Fugue for string trio; Interlude for oboe and string quartet


recommended works:

Clarinet Concerto (1948-1949) for clarinet and strings

cantata Dies Natalis (1939) for high voice and strings

Eclogue (1956) for piano and orchestra

song-cycle Let Us Garlands Bring (1942)

song-cycles of Hardy poems (see text)


GERHARD, Roberto - see under SPAIN


GURNEY Ivor Bertie                                                                                                                 

born 28th August 1890           at Gloucester

died 26th December 1937      at Dartford


Although his life was marred by the effects of mustard-gas in World War One in 1917, which partly led to many years in a mental institution before his premature death, Gurney remains one of the finest song-writers in the revival of the English song; his other works are few in number, but include A Gloucestershire Rhapsody for orchestra and five string quartets. The majority of his 87 published songs were written between 1919 and 1922, though he composed some 200 more, in various states of completion. Most of his settings are of contemporary English poets, spontaneous in feel, with a sense of privacy and personal utterance in which the music is closely moulded to the words, the flowing linear piano writing an integral part of the word setting rather than an accompaniment (listening with the printed words is almost essential for full appreciation of his idiom). His melodic gift has a natural sense of improvisation, little affected by the contemporary interest in English folk-song, and is often tinged with the echoes of an anguished yearning, or (as in All Night under the Moon, 1918) with a delicate lyricism. The harmonies are late-Romantic in idiom. He is particularly responsive to poetry with an element of story-telling, as in his settings of W.B.Yeats (such as The Folly of being Comforted, 1917, or The Cloths of Heaven, 1919 or 1920). But his finest achievements are the two cycles to poems by Housman, Ludlow and Teme (1919) and especially The Western Playland (1908-1920), both for voice and piano quintet. The Western Playland is at times lyrical, at times dramatic, with an element of anger and anguish, the interpretation of the poetry sometimes so unusual in comparison with the many other settings of the same poems as to cast a new light on them. The accompanying textures are complex, with a sense of the motivation of nervous, yearning energy. Such consort between words and music partly reflects Gurney's other artistic field: he was himself a fine poet (though he rarely set his own words), his publications including Severn and Somme (1917) and War's Embers (1918).


works include:

- Gloucester Rhapsody for orch.

- 5 violin sonatas; The Apple Orchard and Scherzo for violin and piano; 5 string quartets

- 5 Preludes and Five Western Watercolours for piano

- song cycles Ludlow and Teme and The Western Playland; nearly 300 songs, many



recommended works:

song cycle The Western Playland (1908-1920) for voice and piano quintet

song cycle Ludlow and Teme (1919) for voice and piano quintet



I.Gurney          Poems

M.Hurd                       The Ordeal of Ivor Gurney, 1978


HARTY (Sir) Hamilton - see under `Eire'


HARVEY Jonathan Dean

born 3rd May 1939     at Sutton Coldfield


Jonathan Harvey's music has had surprisingly little general exposure, but his name is well-known among those who follow contemporary music. Much of his output is for religious purposes, and his non-religious music is almost invariably coloured by a spiritual impulse and the desire to express the visionary in terms of modern music, with the inspirations of Christian mysticism and Eastern philosophies. Influenced by Stockhausen (on whom he has written a book) and by Eastern musics, he has evolved a personal style which has increasingly used electronics (sometimes manipulated in real time), usually in combination with other instruments, on a foundation of carefully detailed structures derived from serial principles.

His most widely disseminated work has been Mortuos plango, vivos voco (1980), composed at the IRCAM studios in Paris. One of the most atmospheric of all electronic pieces, it uses the sounds of the tolling of a Winchester Cathedral bell and the treble singing of the composer's son to the text of the inscription on the bell, from which the title is taken. These form the basis of computer-manipulated sounds; both also sound unadulterated in the resultant tape. The slow moving layers and strands of sound, unimaginable by any other means, are of a spiritual purity that is exceptionally beautiful, often hauntingly so. It will usually be encountered in recording, but in concert-hall performance the effect is even more formidable, with the electronic sounds all around the audience, and the great tolling of the huge bell as if it were suspended above the audience's heads. Ritual Tape (1980), in contrast, was created entirely from computer-generated sounds, though these were made to emulate chant and various Eastern instruments. Unfortunately the results sound too similar for comfort to the much earlier and more arresting work of the Swede Ralph Lunsden (using analogue and concrete sounds).

The series Inner Light pays homage to the Christian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, an abiding influence on Harvey, who has attempted musical equivalents to Steiner's conception of expansion of the human consciousness within itself to the final goal of fusion with the Deity. Inner Light I (1973) is for six instruments and tape; Inner Light II (1977) expands the forces into five solo voices and a chamber ensemble with synthesizer and tape. Inner Light III (1975) arrives at full orchestra with a quadraphonic tape, the electronic sounds sometimes mimicking the orchestra, sometimes extending the sound beyond instrumental capabilities, and surrounding the audience. The tape maintains the continuity, against big effects or short flurries of ideas from the orchestra. Cast in three main sections, this substantial piece ends with the orchestra frequency in the Alpha brainwave range, associated with meditative states; the orchestra dies away, leaving the tape. The success of the meditative effect is questionable, especially as the inner light is often turbulent, but this does not detract from a complex but striking work. Bhakti (1982) for instrumental ensemble and quadraphonic tape combines serial organization, the thematic material based on a 12-note row, with freer ideas influenced by Eastern musics. The device of the expansion or mirroring of vertical material above and below a central point is also found in other works, such as the String Quartet No.2 (1988). Song Offerings (1985) for soprano and chamber ensemble (setting Tagore) and From Silence (1988) for soprano, violin, viola, three synthesizers and three electronic technicians show two sides of Harvey's idiom. Both have flowing, Expressionist vocal lines, and in both the instrumental accompaniment is dramatic and with descriptive elements. The distant ancestor of the former is Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, and with the purely acoustic accompaniment the idiom is flowing, linear, and often with delicate effects. The electronics in the latter create different planes and depths of sound, and in spite of the mystical texts, the instrumental writing (like that of Inner Light III) is often violent and fragmented against the electronics. The silence refers to a state of repose rather than physical fact, apart from the opening (a cymbal appearing slowly out of silence) and the ending. The largest of his works for church use was an opera in twelve scenes, Passion and Resurrection (1981), designed for performance in a church, using the organ and a small orchestra. His more recent works include a Cello Concerto (1990) and an opera of a journey into the afterlife, Inquest of Love (1991-1992), combining of Love Christian and Buddhist spirituality.

Harvey has taught at Southampton University (1964-1977) and at Sussex University since 1977.


works include:

- symphony (originally Three Pieces for Orchestra)

- cello concerto; Lightness and Weight for tuba and orch.

- Benedictus, Chaconne on `Iam dulcis amica', Inner Light III, Madonna of Winter and Spring (with synthesizers and electronics), Persephone Dream, Timepieces (with 2 conductors) and Whom Ye Adore for orch.; Bhakti (with tape), Easter Orisons and Gong Ring for chamber orch.; Tendril for wind, strings and piano; the Valley of Aosta for large ensemble with synthesizer

- Curve with Plateaux for solo cello; Dialogue for cello and piano; Studies for 2 clarinets; Be(com)ing and Transformations of `Love Bade Me Welcome' for clarinet and piano; Natajara for flute and piano; Flight-Elegy and Variations for violin and piano; piano trio; 2 string quartets; Modernsky Music for 2 oboes, bassoon and harpsichord; Quantumplation for piano sextet; Inner Light I for septet including percussion and tape; Concelebration and Smiling Immortal for chamber ensemble; Round the Star and Back for piano and suitable instruments; Album for various wind combinations

- Four Images After Yeats for piano; Laus Deo and Toccata (with tape) for organ

- Angel Eros for high voice and string quartet; Correspondences for mezzo-soprano and piano; Four Songs of Yeats for bass and piano; From Silence for soprano and ensemble including 3 synthesizers and 3 electronic technicians; In memoriam for soprano, flute, clarinet, violin and cello; Nachtlied for soprano, piano and tape; Song Offerings for soprano and ensemble; Spirit Music for soprano, 3 clarinets and piano

- 7 numbered Cantatas (No.II Three Lovescapes, No.IV Ludus amoris, No.V Black Sonnet, No.VII On Vision); Iam dulcis amica for soloists or chorus; Inner Light II for 2 sopranos, alto, tenor, bass, ensemble including tape; other choral works, mostly liturgical

- operas inquest of Love and Passion and Resurrection

- electronic Mortuos plango, vivos voco, Ritual Melodies and Time-points


recommended works:

Cello Concerto (1990)

Inner Light III (1975) for orchestra

electronic Mortuos plango, vivos voco (1980)

Song Offerings (1985) for soprano and chamber ensemble


HODDINOTT Alun                                                                                                                    

born 11th August 1929           at Bargoed

died 12th March 2008              at Swansea


The Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott has been the most accomplished of the Principality's composers to date. He first came to prominence with the slightly neo-classical Clarinet Concerto op.1 (1950), a lithe and lively work with characteristically sinuous solo lines, and was later incorrectly branded as a serial composer by the more conservative critics. Although he has used serial techniques, the bulk of his work combines serial elements (such as use and transformation of rows as basic material) with an harmonic idiom that is often chromatic, and which usually centres around a tonal base. In this he was out of step with the main developments of the 1960s, but with the rejection of serialism by so many composers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, his idiom can now be seen as a mainstream development. He continued to extend traditional forms, particularly the symphony and the sonata, but often employed novel structural means, such as the continuous development of source material through short sections. His very large and very uneven output has hampered wider appreciation, but the best of his music, so often influenced by extra-musical influences, is strongly atmospheric and forceful, and shows two main strands. The first is a very individual dark, solemn vein (the title `Nocturne' appears regularly) that has a strong sense of mysticism reflecting his Celtic heritage, and which is reinforced by rich orchestration, often with points of brightness (especially percussion) dotting the large dark-hued landscape. The second is a sense of dance, with lively and varied time-signatures, which can threaten to note-spin in the lesser works.

The Clarinet Concerto No.2 reflects his later style. It has an ominous mystery in the orchestral opening of the slow movement, using the tolling of a bell and delicate tuned percussion, out of which arises a legato solo line. The overall imagery is atmospheric, even in the faster passages of the ending. Given the paucity of clarinet concertos, both his concertos are useful additions to the repertoire. The Triple Concerto op.124 (1986) for piano trio and orchestra, in one continuous movement in three parts, derives all its material from the opening ideas, and is a work of rather nervous intensity and thick textures.

Of his symphonic works, the Symphony No.5 op.81 (1973) is in two movements, the first having passacaglia elements, the second being a series of variations, or six 'panels' on an arch structure using some of the material form the first movement. The Symphony No.6 op.116 (originally subtitled Odyssy) is in a single unfolding movement with seven sections, typically lively in its orchestral colours and in its sinuous dance-like rhythms, tonally centred but with serial elements. Its symphonic argument based on the gradual evolution of the initial set-idea to its final transformation and ecstatic ending. Some of his most effective scores are for orchestra, where he could indulge in his delight of a Celtic mysticism and rich orchestral colours in a freer framework, and whose textures broadened in the 1970s. The vivid The Sun, the Great Luminary of the Universe (1970), whose title comes from a passage by James Joyce describing the end of the world, draws on a Lutheran chorale and the plainchant of the `Dies Irae', heard at the climax. Densely textured, it combines moments of hushed luminosity with a tense sense of expectation that reaches a climax, deliberately held back to launch a scurrying apocalypse and a hushed sense of the end of time. It was followed by the equally atmospheric Lanterne des Morts op.105 No.2 (1981). The first of two sets of Welsh Dances (1958 and 1979), based on original rather than traditional tunes, and the Investiture Dances (1969), all entertaining diversions in a light idiom, have achieved some popularity. His major output between 1974 and 1981 was opera; of the five written in this period (three with the librettist Myfanwy Piper), the most successful was the entertaining and evocative children's opera What the Old Man does is Always Right (1977). The most ambitious was The Trumpet-Major, based on Thomas Hardy's novel, but its grand opera pretensions seem dated. His wistful, sometimes mournful ecstasy is also captured in such works as the song cycle A Contemplation upon Flowers op.90 (1976) for soprano and orchestra, part of a large vocal output. His chamber music, usually well-wrought and often amiable in its sinuous solo lines, is less individual, missing the element of orchestral colour; here the serial elements are sometimes more to the fore.

Hoddinott taught at Cardiff University (1967-1987) and was founder and artistic director of the Cardiff Festival (1967-1989), which introduced many contemporary and new works to Wales.


works include:

- 6 symphonies (No.6 Odyssy); 3 sinfoniettas; sinfonia for strings

- 14 concertos; 2 Concerto Grosso; Nocturnes and Cadenzas and Scena for cello and orch.

- Investiture Dances, Night Music, Star Child, The Sun, the Great Luminary of the Universe, Variants, two sets of Welsh Dances and many other works for orch.

- Noctis Equi for cello; harp sonata; 4 violin sonatas; 3 string quartets, Scena for string quartet and other chamber music

- 9 piano sonatas and other works for piano; organ music

- cantata Dives and Lazarus; Sinfonia Fidei for soprano, tenor, chorus and orchestra and many other vocal works; song cycles Lines from Marlowe's 'Faust', Songs of Exile

- operas The Beach of Falesa, The Magician, The Rajah's Diamond, The Trumpet Major and What the Old Man Does is Always Right


recommended works:

Lanterne des Morts op.105 No.2 (1981) for orchestra

Symphony No.6 op.116 (1984)

The Sun the Great Luminary of the Universe (1970) for orchestra



B.Deane          Alun Hoddinott, 1977


HOLST Gustav(us) Theodore (von)                                                                                            

born 21st September 1874      at Cheltenham

died 25th May 1934   at London


Gustav Holst's achievement is entirely overshadowed by the justified success of one exceptionally popular work, the orchestral suite The Planets op.32 (1914-1916). Scored for a huge orchestra, late-Romantic in idiom though with a touch of a more modern dissonance, it is inspired less by astrology than by the Classical or spiritual associations with the heavenly bodies. Brilliantly orchestrated, full of emotional passion, part of its appeal is the clear musical delineation of each of its movements, from the violence and anger of Mars to the Elgarian nobility of Jupiter. At the same time it is a synthesis of many contemporary influences, moulded into an individual whole and in which nothing seems out of place, with an ethereal use of a wordless women's chorus in the closing Neptune. Its precursor had been the orchestral Beni Mora, op.21 No.1 (1910), with its heady oriental atmosphere and evocative Russian echoes. Yet as an example of Holst's music The Planets is totally uncharacteristic. Most of his output is introvert in tone and scale, sometimes visionary or spiritual (especially influenced by Sanskrit literature) in intent, and finely calibrated in effect, with the addition of the influence of English folk-music. His emphasis on the precision of rhythm is contrasted with a counter sense of restrained introversion. Unusually, he wrote no chamber music apart from some early works and one later minor piece.

Of his other orchestral music, Egdon Heath (1927) is a picture of a bleak landscape inspired by Thomas Hardy, while the fine, rhapsodic Lyric Movement (1933) for viola and small orchestra marries the English Pastoral tradition with introspection, and given the scarcity of works for viola and orchestra, deserves to be more wdiely known. The St.Paul's Suite (1913) is a joyous set of dances for string orchestra (including a version of the folk-song Greensleeves), while the Brook Green Suite (1933) for strings is neo-classical in inspiration, rather unexpectedly give the shape of classical phrashing to folk-song-like melodies. Two late orchestral works, the contrapuntal Fugal Concerto (1923) for flute, oboe and strings, and the Double Concerto (1929) for two violins and orchestra are rarely heard. The work that comes nearest to The Planets in scale and intent is the uneven Choral Symphony op.41 (1924) based on poems by Keats. Often close to the idiom of Holst's friend Vaughan Williams (especially in the folk-song inspiration of the second section) it has moments of exceptional beauty, as well as some of the playfulness observable in The Planets. The harmonies are spiced by bitonality, the reticent orchestra by clarity of colour; if the problems of combining symphonic structure with a series of poems are not fully solved, the beauties of this work are reward enough.

It is in his choral music that Holst's vision is best appreciated. The four groups of Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda op.26 (1908-1912) are based on different combinations (Group 1 for voices and orchestra, Group 2 for female voices and orchestra, Group 3 for female voices and harp, Group 4 for male voices and orchestra). The Ode to Death (1919) for chorus and orchestra, on verses by Walt Whitman, has a resigned beauty, and provides an interesting comparison to settings of the same words by Hindemith and Piston. The Hymn of Jesus (1917) and the Choral Fantasia (1930) are perhaps his finest choral works. The former, for chorus, organ and orchestra, is an ecstatic paean of praise, with constantly overlapping dancing waves of vocal writing for a chorus divided into two with the addition of a semi-chorus; with its moments of acerbic harmonies and bitonal writing, it was a new departure for English choral music. The latter, for soloists, chorus, organ and chamber orchestra, is a difficult work. Its wide range of idiom, from complex harmonies to the simplicity of plainchant, clearly comes from a very private source, as if one was looking in at the composer's spirituality.

Although the extravagant early opera Sita (1900-1906) was Wagnerian in intent and scope, his published operas are small in scale. At the Boar's Head (1924), drawn from Shakespeare's portraits of Falstaff, is inspired by country dance tunes, and with its unsatisfactory libretto is better heard than seen, while the humour of The Wandering Scholar (1929-1930) is musically rather heavy-handed. The ballet suite drawn from the otherwise forgotten The Perfect Fool (1918-1922) has retained its popularity, but it is the opera Savitri (1908, chorus revised 1917), based on a Sanskrit tale of a woodcutter's wife who prevents death from taking her husband, that is his finest achievement in the genre. This short (30-minute) work is breathtaking in its balance and simplicity. The two string quartets, bass, two flutes and English horn of the orchestra are reinforced by a wordless women's chorus. Its delicacy and power has something of the feel of Yeats' contemporary drama, and its ethereal feel (apart from one echo of Wagner) and its chamber scale were unique at the time, anticipating the much later developments of music-theatre.

Ultimately, Holst's music has something in common with the art of the miniaturist, narrow in emotional scope, strong in appeal to those who find themselves in sympathy but somewhat chill to those who do not. The smaller orchestral works are always engaging and beautifully balanced, but without the impact of The Planets. The best of the choral works require a spiritual affinity. For these reasons The Planets seems destined to remain the one work known to a wide public. Holst spent 1918 and 1919 organizing musical groups in the Balkans and Turkey at the behest of the YMCA; among his teaching posts he taught at St.Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith, London, from 1905 until his death, and among his students at Yale in 1932 was Elliott Carter.


works include:

- Choral Symphony; Beni Mora, Egdon Heath, A Fugal Overture, Hammersmith (orchestration of work for brass band), suite The Planets and other orch. works

- Double Concerto for two violins and orch.; A Fugal Concerto for flute, oboe and strings; Lyric Movement (1933) for viola and small orch.

- Brook Green Suite and St.Paul's Suite for string orch.

- Choral Hymns from the Rig Vega for various voice and instrument combinations; A Choral Fantasia, The Cloud Messanger, Hymn of Jesus, Ode to Death for various vocal combinations and orch., and many other choral works

- operas At the Boar's Head, The Perfect Fool, Savitri and The Wandering Scholar; earlier unpublished operas


recommended works:

A Choral Fantasia (1931) for soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra

Choral Symphony (1924)

Hymn of Jesus (1917) for chorus, organ and orchestra

The Planets (1914-1916) for orchestra

opera Savitri (1908)



I.Holst             Gustav Holst: a Biography, 1969 (2nd edition)

                        The Music of Gustav Holst, 1975 (3rd edition)

E.Rubbra         Gustav Holst, 1973 (revised)


HOWELLS Herbert Norman                                                                                                      

born 17th October 1892          at Lydney

died 23rd February 1983        at London


Herbert Howells is best known for his liturgical music for the Anglican church, still in widespread use. Its combination of the direct, the lyrical and the atmospheric, with a strong feel for church acoustics, often makes few concessions to choral technical abilities. Like many English composers of his generation, Howells was profoundly affected by his discovery of the English musical heritage of the 16th and 17th centuries. This influence becomes filtered through his own idiom, especially in the modal feel to his extensive harmonic palette, which ranges from unison choral writing to diatonic passages of counterpoint, often at the service of long melodies. The culmination of his vocal writing is the radiant and powerful Hymnus Paradisi (1938, but not heard until 1950) for soloists, chorus and orchestra, based on biblical and liturgical texts. Among his solo songs, King David (1918) has retained its popularity.

Less well known are his chamber works, mostly written during or immediately after the First World War. They include some of the most attractive English chamber music written, a response to the qualities of the English landscape. Eschewing drama or intellectual rigour, the feel is predominantly lyrical and rhapsodic, influenced by English folk-music (although usually using his own tunes in folk-style) and a strong sense of repose. Those who enjoy the English pastoral style will find an immediate response to his poetic sensibilities. In such works as the String Quartet No.3 `In Gloucestershire' (rewritten 1930 from earlier material) the influence of the landscape is inherent, the textures of the quartet typically blended rather than contrasted. Two of the most effective works combine strings with other colours: the lovely Piano Quartet (1916) and the joyous Rhapsodic Quintet (1917) for clarinet and string quartet. The Phantasy Quartet (1918) for string quartet continues the idiom. Equally lovely and intimate is the much later Oboe Sonata (1943). Howells' orchestral music, including two piano concertos (again mostly dating from his earlier years), is all but forgotten, but includes the Fantasia (1937) for cello and orchestra, which he later intended to turn into a cello concerto but never completed, affecting enough but lacking the intimacy of the chamber music or the spirituality of the vocal works. Howells had an extraordinarily long tenure (1920-1972) teaching at the Royal College of Music.


works include:

- cello concerto; 2 piano concertos; concerto for strings; Pastoral Rhapsody and other works for orchestra

- piano quartet; oboe sonata; 3 string quartets (No.1 Lady Audrey's Suite; No.2 Phantasy Quartet; No.3 In Gloucestershire); Rhapsodic Quintet for clarinet and string quartet

- piano and organ music

- cantatas Hymnus Paradisi and Stabat Mater; Requiem; The Coventry Mass, An English Mass, Missus Sabrinensis and many other vocal works, mostly liturgical


recommended works:

Phantasy Quartet (1918) for string quartet

cantata Hymnus Paradisi (1938)

Piano Quartet in A minor (1916)

Rhapsodic Quintet (1917) for piano and string quartet


IRELAND John                                                                                                                          

born 13th August 1879           at Bowdon (Cheshire)

died 12th July 1962    at Washington (England)


Ireland was a composer of meticulous craftsmanship who combined the heritage of Elgar with elements of the emerging English pastoral idiom, adding discrete touches of less radical continental developments; his style remained generally consistent throughout his career. His music is given added colour by his interest in the pagan and pan-nature atmosphere of the writings of Arthur Machen, with its suggestion of the shades of the past that inhabit the British landscape, and by his sensibility for the beauties of the Channel Islands (as in the orchestral Forgotten Rite, 1913, or Sarnia: an Island Sequence, 1941, for piano).

His most enduring works are probably his songs, but his output includes a number of orchestral scores. Best of these is the symphonic rhapsody Mai-Dun (1921), inspired by the huge ancient earth-works fort Maiden Hill, beloved of Thomas Hardy. The scene painting is big and vital, Elgarian in hue rather than pastoral. His other major large-scale work is the derivative Piano Concerto (1930); it has been the subject of exaggerated advocacy and excessive vilification, and deserves neither. It is a likeable but not particularly profound work, with some bravura writing for the soloist. Its bright first movement evolves into an almost improvisatory lyrical rhapsodizing; the slow movement, wandering from an Elgarian opening to a Rachmaninovian lyricism, aims at big passions and just misses. The finale includes a quotes form a string quartet by the pianist Helen Perkin, who inspired the concerto; its perkiness (sounding like Rodrigo) is a little wearisome, but is leavened by Impressionistic moments and the influence of Prokofiev, especially in the fine march.

Ireland's songs number over 100, and cover a wide range of mood, from the dark resonant harmonies of the Hardy setting Her Song (1925) to the English jolliness of I Have Twelve Oxen (1918). The general idiom remains consistent: an easy flow, a close correspondence between vocal line and piano writing except when the piano is decoratively descriptive (as in A Thanksgiving), and melodic ideas that are derived from the English folk-idiom. Sea Fever (1913) to the celebrated poem by Masefield is the best known of his songs, and its popularity brought Ireland to the attention of a wider public. Ireland's major choral work is These Things Shall Be (1937) for baritone, chorus and orchestra, setting an optimistic vision of a just world without war by John Addington Symonds, in four sections with orchestral interludes. The streak of sentimentality that occurs in the songs is less apparent in the piano music; the Piano Sonata (1920), the Piano Sonatina (1927), Sarnia: an Island Sequence (1941) and the three descriptive pieces of Decorations (1913) are but a few fine examples of one of the most accomplished and least-known sides of Ireland's music. The gentle Holy Boy (1912) for piano is sometimes heard in its version for string orchestra (1914), string quartet (1941) or as a sung carol for soprano and organ. The Piano Trio No.2 (1917) and the Fantasy Sonata (1943) for clarinet and piano are the most interesting of his chamber works.

Ireland was organist at St.Luke's Chelsea from 1904 to 1926, and an important teacher at the Royal College of Music (1923-1939); his pupils included Britten and Moeran.


works include:

- piano concerto; Legend for piano and orch.

- Epic March, The Forgotten Rite, London Overture and Mai Dun for orch.; Concertino Pastorale and Minuet and Elegy for strings

- cello sonata; Fantasy Sonata for clarinet and piano; 2 violin sonatas; 3 piano trios (No.1 Phantasy Trio); 3 string quartets

- piano sonata; piano sonatina; Ballade, Green Ways, The Holy Boy, Leaves from a Child's Sketchbook, Preludes, Sarnia, Summer Evening, Three London Pieces, Three Pastels and other works for piano

- song cycles Five Songs to Poems by Thomas Hardy, Five Songs to Sixteenth-century Poems, The Land of the Lost Continent, Songs Sacred and Profane and We'll to the Woods no more; many other songs including Sea Fever


recommended works:

Ireland's songs are recommended.

Mai Dun (1921)

Piano Concerto (1930) (see text)

Sarnia (1941) for piano



M.V.Searle      John Ireland (1979)


JONES Daniel Jenkyn                                                                                                                 

born 7th December 1912        at Pembroke

died 23rd April 1993  at Newton (near Swansea)


The music of Daniel Jones, with Grace Williams the first Welsh composer of real note, belongs to a mainstream cosmopolitan tradition, essentially tonal (though with recognizable tonal centres rather than key structures) and emotionally expressive, but with certain unusual stylistic features that mark it out as individual. Chief among these is his concept of 'complex metres', formulated in 1935, in which complex rhythmic patterns are created by irregular metres (e.g. 3+2+2) repeated in regular patterns. This creates a sense of unusual and subtle movement within recognisable patterns (subsequently mathematically developed from Jones' ideas by the German composer Boris Blacher, and, without reference to the Welsh or the German composers, now assimilated into the works of many composers). The rhythmic concentration infects all of Jones' music after that date, most obviously seen in the Sonata for Three Kettledrums (1947), one of the first and most successful works for solo timpani. A second feature is the exploration of unusual forms within generally traditional structural frameworks, inherent in his twelve symphonies, the first dating from 1948, which are the core of his achievement.

These are remarkable in that each one has a different tonal centre, one for each of the 12 notes, an idea intentionally embraced when about half the symphonies had been written. The basic structures are usually classical in form, but thematic development is generally organic, the basic material stated at the outset (often including a significant interval) and then extended or metamorphosed in all the subsequent movements. The Symphony No.4 `In Memory of Dylan Thomas' (1954, A♭), the first of his symphonies to attract wider attention, includes a typical stylistic trick in the final three bars of the symphony inverting the opening theme. Characteristic of his interest in unusual structures within traditional frameworks is the scherzo, whose central section is a theme and variations. It is a fluent and deeply felt work in three movements, dark in colour and texture, elegiac in tone. The best of these earlier symphonies, the Symphony No.6 (1964, D) consists of six sections paired into three movements, with an expansive feel, again dark in its colours, and an energetic flow. These symphonies appear approachable, but with their shifting changes of mood require close attention, and perhaps evoke respect rather than affection. In the five-movement structures of the Symphony No.7 (1971, F#) and the Symphony No.8 (1972, F) Jones seemed to be attempting to extend the range of his idiom, particularly in the handling of the orchestra, always inclined towards the monochromatic. The latter is more playful, its five movements having elements of the suite, and both can be seen as transitional works. For the later symphonies become tauter, more astringent, and are of considerable interest, the emotional development closely matched to the thematic and harmonic argument. The material for the cogent four-movement Symphony No.9 (1974, C) is contained in the opening, where the triumph implied by the tonal centre emerges from darkness but is tempered by a semitonal clash, and the movement broadens into an uneasy turbulence. The second, slow movement attempts to resolve this unease and fails; it takes the dancing bounce of the third to inject optimism, though it is still a struggle, and the finale, including the spirit of the march, provides resolution only at the very close. The Symphony No.10 (1981, B♭) is the most formidable of these symphonies, emotionally less reticent than its predecessor, surging with repressed anger and tension even in the dance movement with its characteristic irregular rhythms, the colours dark as if summoned up from the subterranean depths by the bell that tolls the opening and the close. Each movement has a brief moment of lighter lyricism, as if being pierced by a ray of sunlight. The work is concluded by a moment of extraordinary illumination as the very opening material returns and throws the whole of the symphony into a different cast. The less immediately arresting Symphony No.11 (1982, E♭), like the sixth, has a sound cast that might have come from a Scandinavian composer, with an underlying sadness as if the shadows were slowly lengthening over its fjords. The Symphony No.12 (1985, G) is valediction with a smile: in place of the customary dark introduction, the opening is airy, almost pastoral, the bounce of the scherzo nearly puts a thumb to the nose, and the final movement of this compact and self-assured work starts with a bugle call of farewell but ends happily. Jones in fact wrote one further symphony, In Memory of John Fussell (1992), but it is titled, rather than numbered.

He was also a prolific composer for the string quartet, preferring to date them in the title rather than assign them numbers; there are at least nine (the exact number is currently unclear: his own 1988 catalogue listed seven, plus his last posthumous quartet, but nine are known, and there were earlier, unacknowledged quartets). These are perhaps finer works than the symphonies, though they will appeal to a smaller audience. Although the general idiom is similar, Jones allowed himself a more experimental and more assertive development of traditional forms (such as a palindromic scherzo). They also concentrate on a tone generally absent in the symphonies, of a dark but passionate tragedy or yearning, often expressed in high solo writing against held chords or more subdued ideas from the other three instruments, best expressed in the String Quartet 1978, or in the attractive and well-argued String Quartet 1957. The String Quartet 1975 has a delightful `whispering' scherzo made of the stuff of dreams on muted strings. The String Trio No.1 (1970) is in a similar vein.

The sense of dance that figures prominently in the scherzos of the symphonies culminates in the marvellous Dance Fantasy (1976) for orchestra, which uses 'complex metres' but (according to the composer) can be danced to. Two other works deserve mention, and are perhaps the most immediately appealing introduction to Jones' work, for they give reign to a melodic lyricism generally restrained in the symphonies and string quartets. The Oboe Concerto (1982) is intentionally limited in its aims, but nonetheless delightful, while The Country Beyond the Stars (1958) for chorus and orchestra has a visionary beauty, and is much more effective than the rather stern oratorio St.Peter (1962).

Daniel Jones belongs to that generation of symphonic composers, like Rubbra or Vagn Holmboe, whose combination of cogent symphonic argument developed from traditional patterns and a restrained emotional exploration was overshadowed by other musical events. As the tradition of classical music in Wales develops, it seems almost certain that his significance will grow in stature; certainly his tenth symphony deserves a wide audience. He edited the collected edition of his friend Dylan Thomas' poems (1971), wrote the music for the famous radio play Under Milk Wood (1954), and his personal memoir of the friendship was commemorated in My Friend Dylan Thomas (1977). He worked at the famous Bletchley Park in the Second World War, decoding Japanese cyphers.


works include:

- 12 numbered symphonies; symphony In Memory of John Fussell; sinfonietta

- oboe concerto; violin concerto; Capriccio for flute, harp and strings

- Cloud Messenger, Comedy Overture, The Flute Player and Ieuenctid for orch.; miscellany (20 pieces) for small orch.

- cello sonata; 2 string trios; Sonata for Three Unaccompanied Kettledrums; at least 9 string quartets; sonata for 4 trombones; wind nonet

- Twenty-Four Bagatelles for piano

- The Ballad of the Standard Bearer for tenor and piano; oratorio St.Peter; The Country beyond the Stars for chorus and orch.; The Three Hermits for chorus and organ; Môr and Triptych for chorus and piano; The Witnesses for male voice choir and piano

- operas The Knife and Orestes


recommended works:

The Country Beyond the Stars (1958) for chorus and orchestra

Dance Fantasy (1976) for orchestra

Oboe Concerto (1982)

Sonata for Three Unaccompanied Kettledrums (1947)

String Quartet 1957 (1957)

String Quartet 1978 (1978)

Symphony No.4 In Memory of Dylan Thomas (1954)

Symphony No.6 (1964)

Symphony No.10 (1980)

Symphony No.12 (1985)



born 12th June, 1952  at Glasgow


Oliver Knussen burst in on British composition at a very young age, with a very self-assured idiom that until then had had little hold on British music: Expressionism. After a fluent Symphony No.1 (1967), touched with influences of Britten, and a Concerto for Orchestra (1967-1970) that included jazz elements, his Symphony No.2 (1970-1971, various revisions to 1983) for soprano and orchestra was quite unlike any earlier British composition. Combining the pattern of the four-movement symphony and the Mahlerian song-cycle, the immediate antecedent of the settings of Georg Trakl and Sylvia Plath was Berg's Altenberg Songs; however the surrealistic mood built around the moon and death, an atmosphere that dominates this period of Knussen's output, ultimately looks back to the Schoenberg of Ewartung and Pierrot Lunaire. Yet the lithe sinuousness of some of the orchestral writing (its textures and colours skilfully chosen) is from a different tradition, as is the movement from a 12-tone base to a more consonant harmonic idiom in the last movement, and the cinematographic cross-cutting techniques and superimposed layers owed something to Knussen's discovery of Carter.

Trumpets (1975) for soprano and three clarinets, continued this tone in a setting of another Trakl poem, with a sonata form compressed into four minutes, and sinuous expressionist polyphony from the clarinets. Ophelia Dances, Book 1 (1975) for nine instruments, developed from an abandoned movement of the third symphony, creates an atmosphere of almost obsessive order that is simultaneously given a slightly deranged cast. The dances are those of an introverted, wispish Ophelia living entirely in her own mental world, with only scattered connections to outside reality, such as snatches of the jaunty; the close moves to a portrait of still waters, with delicate effects from the celesta, ending with a final ripple. From this point Knussen developed his skills of pointed detail within larger effects. The Cantata (1977) for oboe and string trio tones down the expressionism in favour of an exploration of colours and timbres as a setting for a solo instrument, and the experience of these works culminated in the Symphony No.3 (1973-1979). This 15-minute work, originally conceived as an `Introduction and Masque' followed by a `Cortege', is a diptych of a tense, jagged section of bold contrasts and a slow passacaglia with a powerful central double climax, the whole preceded by a more fantastical introduction whose opening material is repeated at the end of the work to create a circular unity. Underneath this work lies the heritage of the more conventional symphony, in the shape, in the moments of melodic progression that break to the surface, in the large climaxes of the third section, succeeded by surrealistic fanfares. But this heritage is fractured into overlaps and fissures, like one of those frozen rivers where the ice has compressed into fantastical and irregular shapes. The introduction uses interjectory, half-disruptive, half-commentating percussion, surely drawn from the influence of Birtwistle; the powerful passacaglia has an eerie atmospheric flow, the surface writing busy but vainly immobile, the strength in the undercurrent, until a kind of dissolution or acceptance after the climaxes.

Knussen had considerable difficulty finding the final forms of these works, and after the spate of works in the 1970s his output has been very small, dominated by two short `fantasy' operas, using large operatic forces and resources, including a huge panoply of percussion instruments, that turned his surrealistic instinct from Expressionism to the fantastical, designed to appeal to both children and adults. Both are drawn from the well-known, largely visual children's books by Maurice Sendak, with librettos by the writer and composer. Where the Wild Things Are (1979-1983) has as its central character a boy who is first cousin to the wilful and angry child of Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges, who, after altercations with his mother, goes to a fantasy island where the wild monsters are; the work is an allegory of a child trying to tame the anarchic elements of his nature. Knussen's setting tones down some of the more fractured elements of his idiom, and uses ideas from Mussorgsky and Debussy as basic musical material (including the Coronation music from Boris Godunov at a climatic point), evolving a form of nine scenes; his ability for a musical hurly-burly is especially effective, but there is also lyrical writing. It does not displace Ravel's masterpiece as the finest of all such children-adult operas, but with the stage recreation of Sendak's drawings makes compelling theatre for adults and children alike; some commentators have pointed to the `difficulty' of the contemporary musical idiom, but children, less brainwashed into the dogma of traditional harmony, generally have no such problems, in contrast to those parents unused to modern music. However, divorced from the stage delights, the recording is more for adults, where the careful musical construction of the piece gains strength. Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1984-1990), along much the same lines, creates a double bill for the two fantasy operas. His more recent works have included the short Variations for piano (1989), the octet Songs without Voices (1991-1992), and settings of Rilke and Whitman.

Knussen is a very fine conductor of contemporary music, and was appointed artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival in 1983, and has headed contemporary music activities at Tanglewood since 1986.


works include:

- 3 symphonies

- Concerto for Orchestra; Flourish with Fireworks for orch.; Coursing for chamber orch.; Music for a Puppet Court (1972-1983) for 2 chamber orch.; Choral for wind, percussion and basses

- masks for flute with glass chimes ad. lib.; Autumnal for violin and piano; Elegiac Arabesques for cor anglais and clarinet; Cantata for oboe and string trio; Three Little Fantasies for wind quintet; Songs without Voices for octet; Processionals for wind quintet and string quartet; Ophelia Dances, Book 1 for 9 players

- Sonya's Lullaby and Variations for piano

- Four Late Poems and an Epigram of Rainer Maria Rilke for unaccompanied soprano; Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh for soprano and chamber ensemble; Océan de terre for soprano and chamber ensemble; Rosary Songs for soprano, clarinet, viola and piano; Trumpets for soprano and 3 clarinets; Whitman Settings for soprano and orch. (or piano); "Chiara" - Fragments for 2 female choruses

- operas Higglety Pigglety Pop! and Where the Wild Things Are


recommended works:

opera Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1984-1990

Ophelia Dances, Book 1 (1975) for nine players

Symphony No.2 (1970-1971)

Symphony No.3 (1973-1979)

opera Where the Wild Things Are (1979-1983)


LLOYD George Walter Selwyn

born 28th June 1913   at St. Ives

died 3rd July 1998                   at London


George Lloyd's music is perfect for those who wish to ignore that they are actually living at the end of the 20th century. His ultraconservative idiom to all intents and purposes harmonically predates Wagner, and concentrates on the form of the symphony. There do seem to be personal reasons for this style: Lloyd suffered a breakdown after being shell-shocked on the terrible Arctic convoy duty in 1942, and retired to become a carnation and mushroom farmer. His return to composition clearly had a therapeutic element. However, it does not express the traumas of that experience - to discover such personal anguish and tragedy readers should turn to the symphonies of Petterson. Lloyd's idiom is usually good-humoured and characterized by lyrical slow movements and colourful if conventional orchestration, and only very occasionally does a dissonant climax, or a more modern rhythm, appear.

Unfortunately, conservative critics, following their now-forgotten counterparts down the ages, have in recent years seized on his works (like those of Tubin) to mollify "an intelligent musical public, looking for contemporary works with which they can identify". Lloyd's works are contemporary only in date, and the response is less a question of identification than an avoidance of any kind of challenge. For those wishing to explore approachable symphonies with far more compelling content there are many alternatives to be found in this Guide.

For Lloyd's music, with the possible exception of the Symphony No.7 and occasional moments in other works, essentially belongs either to the realm of the tone-poem or to the world of light music. With that in mind, the Symphony No.2 (1933 revised 1982) has a energetic opening movement, typically buoyant and joyous, a cross between a storm and a picture of a hunt, a sentimental slow movement, a straightforward march for the scherzo, and a touch of polytonality (by juxtaposing two tunes) in the finale. Those expecting the long Symphony No.4 'Arctic' (1945-1946) to reflect Lloyd's war-time experiences on the convoys are likely to be disappointed, as it is pictorial rather than experiential. The slow movement is a beautiful and restrained picture of a peaceful northern landscape that could stand on its own, but its effect is nullified by the trite scherzo that follows. The opening of the finale could come straight out of Sibelius, but the development of the movement has none of that master's genius. The Symphony No.5 (1947) is another large-scale work, with a effective march in the opening movement, and a touch of Tchaikovsky in the dance-like patterns. The Symphony No.6 is much shorter than its immediate predecessors, in light-music vein after the opening idea that could have been written by Walton. The three movement Symphony No.7 reverts to a greater length (three movements lasting some 50 minutes), and was inspired by the Greek legend of Persepine. Its opening, with Straussian string figures against glockenspiel, has a magical atmosphere (the idea returns later in the work), and throughout there is a greater sense of passion, evidenced in the big climaxes, although these are offset by the areas of more trite idiom, such as the second of the opening ideas. However, for those exploring this composer's work, this may be the place to start. The Symphony No.9 (1969) is lighthearted, its three movements representing the dancing of a young girl, a reminiscing and grieving old woman, and the merry-go-round. The slow movement is the finest, again having moments of powerful affect. The Symphony No.10 'November Journeys', inspired by visits to English cathedrals, is for brass ensemble. The five-movement Symphony No.11 (1985) is perhaps the least interesting of the series.

Of his other works, his opera Iernin (1914) was produced when the composer was only 21. The Piano Concerto No.4 (1970, orchestrated 1983) is in an entirely Romantic virtuoso vein, indulging in a combination of sentimentality and syncopation.


works include:- 11 symphonies (No.4 Arctic, No.10 November Journeys for brass ensemble)

- 4 piano concertos

- An African Shrine, The Aggressive Fishes, Intercom Baby, The Lily-Leaf and the Grasshopper, The Road through Samarkand, St.Anthony and the Bogside Beggar, The Transformation of that Naked Ape and other works for piano

- operas Iernin, John Socman and The Serf


recommended work:

Symphony No.7


MATHIAS William                                                                                                                     

born 1st November 1934        at Whitland (Dyfed)

died 29th July 1992    at Bangor (Gwynedd)


Of the four main composers Wales has produced to date (the other three being Hoddinott, Daniel Jones, and Grace Williams), William Mathias is probably the best known but ultimately the least interesting, with the exception of his church music, partly because his prolific idiom was inclined to be derivative and sometimes dated, and partly because of his inclination towards superficiality rather than substance. In particular, his rather inflexible rhythmic invention failed to illuminate his other areas of technical command. His large output includes many concertos, three symphonies, and chamber and organ works; many of his works were for ceremonial or church use, and in these he excelled, producing attractive music with enough modern touches to sound contemporary, but within an idiom that would be widely appreciated.

His best music is choral, as he had a natural affinity for writing for the voice. This includes the deft This Worlde's Joie (1974) for chorus and orchestra, with a happy mixture of archaic hints and modern effects, of bawdy and serious elements, and Lux Aeterna (1982) for soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, children's chorus, chorus and orchestra. Lux Aeterna is a multi-layered, direct and appealing piece, with echoes of Britten and Tippett well assimilated. The choral writing, in particular, is full of ethereal effects and shimmering textures, with a division between straightforward tonal directness (though with archaic touches) and heavily chromatic passages. The impassioned solo writing is less inspired, but the orchestral texture is very atmospheric, and it is perhaps Mathias' best work. His large output of church music sometimes required choirs of high, if not exceptional, abilities; typical of these is the fine Rex Gloriæ (1981), four motets for unaccompanied chorus, where a lively sense of pleasure in singing is combined with some beautiful effects, the harmonies regularly sliding through a functional dissonance to provide momentum between resolution. Surprisingly, his mastery of vocal writing was not reflected in his opera The Servants (1980) to a unconvincing libretto by the novelist Iris Murdoch which attempted the manner of a grand 19th-century opera and an historical setting in an age which had little need for either. The music reflects those aspirations, with an uneasy balance between voice and orchestra.

Mathias came to attention with the assured Divertimento (1958) for string orchestra, its outer movement showing traces of French neo-classicism, the rocking slow movement developing into a forceful, sonorous passion. By the Prelude, Aria and Finale (1964) for strings, the sonorous dominates over the neo-classical, the elegant restraint tempered by a stronger sense of atmosphere. His chamber music is inclined to favour the Gallic charm, and while gratifying to play, can be rather an academic listening experience, exemplified by the perky Wind Quintet (1963). His music is more effective when propelled by a nervous and sonorous energy, as in the String Quartet No.1 (1968), in one continuous movement divided in four sections. The String Quartet No.2 (1981), inspired in part by medieval music, is more varied, with a folk-like second movement making effective use of pizzicato, but never goes beyond the restraints that good taste might dictate, and thus take flight. The Symphony No.3 (1991) is the most tautly constructed and interesting of the symphonies. Of his concertos, the fine Piano Concerto No.3 (1968) juxtaposes the turbulent against the poetic and mysterious in all its three movements. Of his many organ works the Partita (1962) is among the more notable, two dancing movements framing a heartfelt lento.

Mathias taught at the University of Wales, Bangor (1970-1988).


works include:

- 3 symphonies; sinfonietta;

- clarinet concerto; flute concerto; harp concerto; horn concerto; organ concerto; 3 piano concertos; concerto for orchestra; concerto for harpsichord, strings and percussion; Melos for flute, harp, strings and percussion

- Celtic Dances, Festival Overture, Helios, Holiday Overture, In Arcadia, Intrada, Laudi, Litanies, Requiescat, Vistas for orch.; Divertimento for string orch.; Prelude, Aria and Finale for strings

- Improvisations for solo harp; Capriccio for flute and piano; 2 violin sonatas; piano trio; Divertimento for flute, oboe and piano; Zodiac Trio for flute, viola and harp; concertino for flute, bassoon and piano; 2 string quartets; wind quintet

- piano sonata

- Antiphonies, Invocations, Jubilate, Partita, Toccata Giocosa and other works for organ

- Elegy for a Prince for baritone and orch.; The Fields of Praise for tenor and piano; A Vision of Time and Eternity for contralto and piano

- Lux Aeterna for soloists, chorus and orch.; Salvator Mundi for female choir, piano duet, percussion and strings; Psalm 150 for chorus, organ and orch.; Ceremony after a Fire Raid for chorus, piano and percussion; Three Medieval Lyrics for chorus and instruments; A Royal Garland and This Worlde's Joie for chorus and orch.; All Thy Works Shall Praise Thee, Alleluya Psallat, Ave Rex, Bless the Lord, Communion, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Lift Up Your Heads O Ye Gates, Magnificat, Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord, Nunc Dimittis, O Sing Unto the Lord, Shine for Your Light Has Come for chorus and organ; Carmen Paschale, The Law for the Lord, Missa Brevis, Nativity Carol and Rex Gloriæ for chorus; Gloria for male voices and organ; O Salutaris for male voice choir; other choral works

- opera The Servants


recommended works:

Lux Aeterna (1983) for soloist, chorus, organ and orchestra

String Quartet No.2 (1981)

Symphony No.3 (1991)

This World's Joie (1974) for chorus and orchestra


MACONCHY Elizabeth                                                                                                             

born 19th March 1907            at Broxbourne

died 11th November 1994      at Norwich


Although the music of Elizabeth Maconchy covers most genres, the heart of her output are her string quartets, expressive, often beautiful, always involving works that deserve to be better known. She has called the medium of the quartet `impassioned argument', and there is a strong sense of debate, often rhythmically forceful, regularly lyrical in the earlier works, stark in the later. The counterpoint is often rhythmic as well as harmonic; clear and usual concise motifs form the basis of the material, but the intellectual rigour is always used for expressive and emotional ends. Until the eighth quartet the harmonic idiom is traditional but heavily chromatic; from the eighth the language veers towards the atonal.

The early quartets are taut and economical. The String Quartet No.1 (1932-1933) is in four contrasted movements, but lasts only some fourteen minutes. In the more introspective String Quartet No.2 (1936) the movements are connected by related material, a practice retained in the later works. The four movement String Quartet No.3 (1938) is cast in a single compressed movement. The String Quartet No.5 (1948) uses rhythmic counterpoint, with the opening material returning transformed in the finale, and the overall mood is dark and impassioned. The opening passacaglia theme of the String Quartet No.6 (1950) provides the central idea in another sonorous, sombre work with an expressive slow movement. The String Quartet No.7 (1955-1956) is built in an arch, with a central slow movement flanked by two scherzi (the second entirely pizzicato) and two outer movements, all internally linked with germinal motifs and with the main material brought together at the end. All these quartets have something of direct emotional impact and general technical proceedures of Bartók, culminating in the searching emotional range of the very fine seventh quartet, which has more resolutions to the emotions than its predecessors. The String Quartet No.8 (1966) retains the driving Bartókian rhythms, and is built on a chord of two perfect fifths superimposed at an interval of a minor fifth. The sound world changed considerably in the interval of ten years, with a loss of a sense of tonality, the lyricism more acerbic, and with a slow movement in questioning, searching mood, written without bar-lines. The String Quartet No.9 (1968-1969) inhabits a spare, stark world, the inspiration for the slow movement influenced by the Soviet invasion of Prague. The very condensed and equally severe String Quartet No.10 (1971-1972) and the String Quartet No.11 (1977) both employ one-movement forms, the latter with more clearly defined sections, the starkness emerging into a kind of resolve. The four-movement String Quartet No.12 (1979) is equally short, but lifts out of the darker moods of its predecessors with some magical string effects and a dynamic, yearning lyricism. Written as a test piece, the String Quartet No.13 `Quartetto Corto' (1984) lasts seven-and-a-half minutes, condensing a fast-slow-fast structure into a single movement.

Of her other works, the vigorous Symphony (1953) for double string orchestra drives towards the final passacaglia with interplay between the divided groups, while the Serenata concertante (1962) for violin and orchestra is in a lighter vein, the solo part integrated into the whole, rather than in virtuoso opposition to the orchestra. In the long gap between the seventh and eight string quartets she mostly concentrated on vocal music and opera, including the trilogy of one-act operas The Sofa (1956-1957) to a libretto by Ursula Vaughan Williams, The Three Strangers (1958-1967), based on Hardy, and The Departure (1960-1961). The King and the Golden River (1974-1975), based on Ruskin, is one of a number of works written for children.

Elizabeth Maconchy's second daughter, Nicola LeFanu (born 1947) is also a composer.


works include:

- Little Symphony; symphony for double string orch.; sinfonietta

- concerto for bassoon and strings; clarinet concerto; Double Concerto for oboe, bassoon and strings; Dialogue for piano and orch.; concertino for piano and orch.; Serenata concertante for violin and orch.; Epyllion for cello and 15 strings; Variazioni concertante for wind and strings

- overture Proud Thames; The Land and Three Cloudscapes for orch.

- Variations on a Theme from Vaughan Williams' `Job' for solo cello; Three Pieces for harp; Contemplation for cello and piano; Music for double-bass and piano; Three Bagatelles for oboe and harpsichord; Duo for violin and cello; Romanza and Three Preludes for violin and piano; Piccola Musica for string trio; 13 string quartets (No.13 Quartetto Corto); sonatina for string quartet; Trittico for 2 oboes, bassoon and harpsichord; clarinet quintet

- A Country Town and The Yaffle: Mill Race for piano; Preludio, Fugato and Finale for piano, 4 hands; harpsichord sonatina; Notebook for harpsichord

- Ariadne for soprano and orch.; L'horloge for soprano, clarinet and piano; My Dark Heart for soprano and ensemble; Sun, Moon and Stars for soprano and piano; Three Settings of Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins for high voice and chamber orch.; Three Songs for tenor and harp

- cantata Samson and the Gates of Gaza; And Death Shall Have No Domain, Héloïse and Abelard and Siren's Song for chorus; Two Epitaphs for women's chorus and other choral works

- operas The Departure, The Jesse Tree, Johnny and the Mohawks, King of the Golden River, The Sofa, The Three Strangers


recommended works:

the string quartets (see text), especially

String Quartet No.7 (1955)

String Quartet No.8 (1967)

String Quartet No.12 (1979)

Symphony (1953) for double string orchestra


MOERAN Ernest John                                                                                                               

born 31st December 1894                   at Heston (Middlesex)

died 1st December 1950                     at Kenmare (Ireland)


Moeran's name is probably better known than his music, apart from the Symphony in G minor (1934-1937), which has maintained a peripheral place in the English repertoire. His works up to the success of the symphony were primarily chamber music and songs, in a folk-song style under the influence of Ireland and Delius, with a poetic sense of nature. He collected Norfolk folk songs in 1915 and 1921. His harmonic langauge is traditional, though with increasingly chromatic decoration until the symphony, when he started to simplify that decorative content; he later adapted his rhapsodic idiom to larger-scale forms. The chamber music is fluid and evocative, to be appreciated on the level of texture and warm colours rather than intellectual musical argument. For those who respond to the English pastoral, this is attractive music, especially the String Quartet (1921) and the String Trio (1931). Whythorne's Shadow (1931) for orchestra reflects an interest common to so many English composers of the time in the Elizabethan madrigal. His later works were mainly orchestral, including a Violin Concerto (1942) that contrasts exuberance with lyricism, and a lyrical Cello Concerto (1945). A series of orchestral pieces represents a late-flowering of the English folk-idiom in richly coloured rhapsodic orchestral garb, although usually the folk-like melodies are Moeran's own rather than traditional. The tone-painting of In the Mountain Country (1921) is the simplest and perhaps the most immediate of these. The First Rhapsody (1922) is a similar but more varied landscape evocation, ranging from a Delian warmth to anticipations of Vaughan Williams's Sinfonia Antartica. The Second Rhapsody (1923, revised for smaller orchestra 1941) is more obviously and directly indebted to folk-music, with a sense of Irish boisterousness. The pleasing if unmemorable Third Rhapsody (Rhapsody in F♯, 1943) is more a miniature grand concerto for piano and orchestra than a mood-evoking work, and has extraordinary modulations in the cadenza which are almost worth hearing in their own right. The Symphony in G itself combines a grandeur with the lyricism of his landscape painting, and structurally is built on developmental growth of germ themes, in the style of Sibelius. The other work most likely to be encountered besides the symphony is the Sinfonietta (1944), a virtuoso work which culminates his gradual movement towards contrapuntal writing. His best-known song cycle, Ludlow Town (1920) to poems of A.E.Housman, is rather florid in accompaniment, earnest in the vocal line.

Moeran's sense of melody and skill at orchestral colour will appeal to those already exploring the English pastoral tradition; otherwise, while pleasant listening, his relatively unremarkable invention and individuality make him a peripheral rather than a central figure.


works include:

- symphony; sinfonietta; cello concerto; violin concerto

- Third Rhapsody for piano and orch.

- In the Mountain Country, suite Farrago, Overture to a Masque, Lonely Waters, 2 Rhapsodies, Serenade and Whythorne's Shadow for orch.

- violin sonata; sonata for two violins; piano trio; string trio; Fantasy Quartet for oboe and strings; string quartet

- Three Piano Pieces, Theme and Variations and other works for piano

- song cycles Ludlow Town, Seven Poems of James Joyce, Four Shakespearean Songs, Six Songs of Seumas O'Sullivan and other songs; Nocturne for baritone, chorus and orch.; choral suite Phyllida and Corydon; Songs of Springtime for unaccompanied chorus


recommended works:

In the Mountain Country (1921) for orchestra

String Trio (1931)

String Quartet in A minor (1921)

Symphony in G minor (1937)



S.Wild             E.J.Moeran, 1973


NYMAN Michael                                                                                                                        

born     23rd March, 1944       at London


Michael Nyman has become the doyen of English Minimalists, and like the American minimalists Glass and Reich, formed an instrumental group to perform his music. His own brand of repetitive patterns undergoing slow metamorphosis has been more forceful than that of either the American composers, creating in its colours and in its movement towards unresolvable situations an obsessive, slightly neurotic quality; some of his earlier works had no concrete ending, simply stopping in mid-stream.

This ideally suited the equally obsessive and surrealistic idiom of the film-maker Peter Greenaway, and Nyman's music became very well-known through his film scores, the suites from which stand successfully on their own. The music for The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) overtly recreated Baroque models, with something of the driving basses of Vivaldi, but with a major difference in the replacement of Baroque harmonic progressions with a largely static harmonic base. The music drawn from Prospero's Books (1991) is essentially an extended song-cycle setting words from Shakespeare's The Tempest, with high vocal writing from delicate repetitive tapestries to agressive patterns, interspersed with instrumental sections with a pop-music flavour. His concert works are musically more substantive. Back Fools, Double Relishes and Springers (1981) for two violins initially pits a yearning phrase against dancing patterns, and gradually metamorphises the general shape in a mesmerizingly effective weave. Think Slow, Act Fast (1981-1982, the title coming from Buster Keaton) for ensemble is derived from a bass-line (and its chordal equivalent) originally conceived for an aborted new version of the `Ride of the Valkyries'. It is marvellously pungent, the infectious rollicking basic figure given bite by the scoring for saxophones, and offset by the quite different effect of the piano, the whole finally arriving at the warm and vibrant. Time's Up (1985) was written for a gamelan orchestra, and although it does not use traditional gamelan procedures, his idiom is well suited to such a body, designed for music with repetitive elements and slow, long-term changes. There is a spirit of warmth and delight in this short and effective work. Nyman's first opera was based on the case-history by Oliver Sachs of an Alzheimer patient, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (1986), using three characters (the man, his wife, and the psychiatrist) and an ensemble for strings, harp and piano. The libretto is effective, but Nyman's idiom proved too one-dimensional to delve underneath its implications. The vocal writing, often very high, is an unfortune combination of awkward notes on syllables awkward to sing, but the unusual dramatic content of this opera makes it worth the encounter.

The Piano Concerto (1993; the title includes the definate article) was reworked from the score to the film The Piano (1991-1992), splendid in the context of the film but over-sentimental as a concerto, a musical equivalent to purple prose, though passages such as the jazzy feel of the opening of the third movement are superficially attractive. Far more effective is MGV (1993) for instrumental ensemble and orchestra; the title stands for `Musique à grande vitesse', referring to the French high-speed train for whose inauguration the work was commissioned. Its opening has a marvellously infectious bounce in its interplay of rhythms and colours, managing to convey the excitement of a fast-moving train without being to obviously pictorial, apart from the train whistles. This opening manages to impell the rest of the piece, which is in five continuous sections, and though the inspiration falters in the subsequent material - there is simply not enough contrast or interesting variety - the excitement retuns at the end, and MGV is recommended for its sheer vitality.

Some of Nyman's most attractive and energetic music is found in his string quartets. The String Quartet No.1 (1985) draws material from the 17th-century John Bull's Walsingham Variations and from Schoenberg's String Quartet No.2. The String Quartet No.2 (1988) was written as both an independent string quartet and as the score for a solo South Indian dance. It has an excemptionally beautiful contemplative slow section, juxtaposed by compelling fast sections, and is one of Nyman's most attractive works. The String Quartet No.3 (1990) emerged from a choral work, Out of the Ruins.


works include:

- The Piano Concerto; Where the Bee Sucks for saxophone and ensemble

- MGV for instrumental ensemble and orch.; Time's Up for gamelan orch.; Think Slow, Act Fast for ensemble

- Back Fools, Double Relishes and Springers (1981) for two violins; 3 string quartets; And They Do for 8 instruments

- opera The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat; miniature opera Vital Statistics

- film scores


recommended works:

film score The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)

opera The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (1986) (see text)

MGV (1993) for instrumental ensemble and orchestra

String Quartet No.2 (1988)

Think Slow Act Fast (1981-1982) for ensemble

Time's Up (1985) for gamelan orchestra


PANUFNIK, Andrzej - see under `Poland'


RUBBRA Edmund                                                                                                                     

born 23rd May 1901   at Northampton

died 13th February 1986        at Gerrard's Cross


The considerable neglect of the music of Edmund Rubbra, like that of his contemporary the Dane Vagn Holmboe (with whom his music has much in common), remains a mystery, especially in a culture that has so successfully reassessed its heritage of 20th-century music. His idiom may not include an instantly memorable melodic style, or arresting idiomatic fingerprints, but it combines a musical imagination of eloquent craftsmanship with an ardent intensity, sometimes powerful and rugged, sometimes (especially in works with religious inspiration) austerely luminous.

His musical roots are an unusual combination. The heritage of the English pastoral tradition informs some of his melodic patterns and general textures, together with the influence of Holst's choral writing and some of the intricacy of Bax. An admiration of Ravel leads to some Impressionistic moments in his earlier works. Above all, Tudor polyphonic music is an abiding influence, and he applied many of the techniques of the music of this period to his own idiom, leading to a style of assured and powerful counterpoint. Temperamentally, there is a vigourous strength, usually dressed in darker orchestral colours, that has affinities with the Scandinavian composers, especially in the eleven symphonies that form the core of his output. The harmonies are tonal, though with modal inflections, but they are complicated and extended by the interplay of counterpoint and polytonality, and by such devices as delaying an expected harmonic change and then producing it with a sudden shift. The rhythmic energy is considerable, often motivic, and regularly built around the repetition of small figures; a favourite device is to hold these repetitions, with only small changes, while the surrounding material undergoes changes generated by the counterpoint, producing shifting points over a stiller, insistent, base.

Rubbra's immersion in the polyphonic heritage is exemplified by the early and lovely Dormi Jesu (1921) for a cappella choir. It sounds exactly as if it had been written in the 16th century, until in its middle the soprano line rises in the English pastoral melodic idiom, and for a fleeting moment one realises this is a 20th-century work. Such direct assimilation was later echoed in such works as the Improvisations on Virginal Pieces by Farnaby (1939) for orchestra, keeping to the spirit and much of the music of the originals in homogeneous colours. The most effective Violin Sonata No.2 (1932) displays all his roots, a slightly yearning English melodiousness in the violin writing, Ravelian Impressionistic ripples in the piano writing, and a touch of Bartókian folk inflection in the central lament, reinforced by the fast dance of the final movement. This general idiom was developed in the more assured String Quartet No.1 (1933, withdrawn, revised with a new finale 1946); this attractive and uncomplicated work makes an interesting introduction to Rubbra's music.

Both Rubbra's first two symphonies were criticized for their lack of variety in their orchestral colour, but this homogenous quality is endemic to Rubbra's idiom, allowing close polyphonic interplay and the unified development of counterpoint. Throughout the symphonies the emphasis is on the organic growth of material, often built from motivic cells or ideas, and on the organic growth of the counterpoint with considerable symphonic imagination; consequently there are not the strong thematic contrasts one might expect from more traditional development. This growth propels structure, rather than the evolution and contrast of keys. The emotions can appear restrained (through the lack of surface drama), but are no means dry: rather they operate over long spans, with the feel of philosophical or metaphysical contemplation (no doubt arising from Rubbra's abiding interest in a mystical Christianity and in Buddhism) often propelled by powerful undercurrents. Movements often build up slowly to great climaxes, falling away again, and this process has led to comparison with Bruckner, although the context is very different. The rugged strength is most obvious in the first two symphonies; the middle symphonies are less monochromatic, and the later symphonies are suffused with a spiritual quality. The development of material in the first movement of the Symphony No.1 (1935-1937) is built on the opening horn and trumpet theme, rather than by sonata principles, and elements of that basic theme emerge in the play of counterpoint. In spite of its uniform shades of dark colours, the Symphony No.2 (1937, revised 1950) has an elemental power and a fluent inevitability of the unfolding of events, the restraint of the opening idea (a chant-like theme on violins in unison) characteristic of the composer. The granite-hewn power of the movement gradually swells to tough climaxes, with an undercurrent of brusque, emphatic force; the second movement has a northern turbulence, the sombre third movement is almost a funeral march with a great central swell, and the finale is suitably lithe. The Symphony No.3 (1939) and the Symphony No.4 (1941) have been very highly regarded by those fortunate enough to have heard them, more varied orchestrally (the third uses a classical-sized orchestra with trombones), and the basic material of these symphonies would seem to support that opinion. The Symphony No.5 (1947-1948) is probably the best known. It is lighter in feel and more deft in orchestration than the second, and if more approachable, is not as arresting or as interesting until the impressive slow movement, noble, sometimes languorous, emerging into an Elgarian march, and fluently leading into the finale, which uses the main material of the previous movements, and ends with the orchestral evocation of bells before its characteristically quiet close. The tune on which the scherzo is based moves through all twelve keys in the course of the movement, although this was not a pre-determined effect. The Symphony No.6 (1954) has another beautiful slow movement, and is developed from an initial four-note idea. The last, slow, movement of the three-movement Symphony No.7 (1957) is in the form of a passacaglia and fugue. The element of spiritual intensity emerges in the more lyrical Symphony No.8 `Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin' (1968), and culminates in the visionary Symphony No.9 `Sinfonia Sacra' (1971-1972) for soloists, choir and orchestra on the theme of the Resurrection; its sections are played continuously, and it uses 17th-century tunes and Bachian chorales. The serene Symphony No.10 `Sinfonia da camera' (1974), in contrast, is the most condensed of the symphonies, lasting just over a quarter-of-an-hour and using chamber forces. It is the symphony closest to Sibelius in its sound and development of germinal material, in one continuous movement in sonata form that contains within it three sections corresponding to the three movements of a classical symphony. Of his other orchestral works, the lovely Tribute to Vaughan Williams (1942) deserves mention, especially the slow unfolding polyphony of its first half, its English pastoralism a clear tribute without actual quoting from Vaughan Williams' music.

Rubbra's long musical spans and closely argued counterpoint has been more of a disadvantage in the concertos, for the lack of display has hindered performance. The Piano Concerto in G (1955) was Rubbra's second (the first dates from 1931-1932; its last movement is a kind of Scottish jig), and has claims to be his finest work. Each of the movements, although internally varied, has the feel of overall purposeful sweep and linear flow, the piano exploring a metaphysical mystery with the orchestra. Its opening is magical, a visionary contemplation that gradually expands into a musical dawn in the orchestra, the piano decorating. Its mood gradually gets more assertive, the piano in concert with the orchestra, and arrives at a noble, almost ecstatic Brucknarian climax that dissolves into bright joyfulness, before a quiet ending of emotionally repose. The slow movement finds the piano quietly musing over a subdued orchestra with a slow but intense passion, eventually singing a liquid solo song tinged with sadness and emerging into almost exotic ideas and a huge swell of a climax. The finale crashes in with an urgently lyrical piano against thundering timpani, and then has a spiky instrumental flow, various instruments injecting their comments, as pungent as the last movement of Shostakovich's first piano concerto, before arriving at an orchestral noblimente, the timpani proudly underlining the mood, the piano adding a descant that emerges into an extended cadenza broken up by the timpani for a final joyous race to the abrupt end. The darker and more turbulent Violin Concerto (1959) is less effective, the soloist sounding rather like a lost soul in the first movement; the slow movement has a somewhat desolate beauty, but the attempt to lighten the mood in the last movement does not fully succeed and peters out. The Viola Concerto (1952) surrounds a lively central movement with two slow movements, while the serene Improvisation (1956) for violin and orchestra uses material from the Fantasia for violin and orchestra of 1934. Of his other chamber works, the ruminative Oboe Sonata (1958) is very effective, while the String Quartet No.2 (1950-1951) is one of his finest works. The construction, built on an initial four-note idea in the first movement, echoed in the close, is full of subtle devices, in the mirroring of motifs, in the shades of string colour, and especially in the rhythmic fluidity. The quartet has a flowing spontaneity about it, sombre and undemonstratively intense in the first movement, dancing to elliptical rhythms in the moto perpetuo second, a third that is the spirit of a slow madrigal transferred to the quartet medium, the finale ruminative until a transcendental touch at the close.

His choral works have an austere spirituality; the best known are probably the Missa Cantuariensis (1946), using a double choir unaccompanied except in the Credo, where it is joined by an organ for extra emphasis, and the more concise Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici (1948). A number of his vocal works were inspired by St.Teresa of Avila. His little-known songs cover an extraordinary range of texts, from ancient Greek through Irish medieval Christian texts and Icelandic ballads, to modern American poetry, besides settings of English poetry.

Rubbra pursued a career as a pianist (notably in the Rubbra-Greunberg-Pleeth Trio), and taught at Oxford University (1947-1968) and at the Guildhall School of Music from 1961.


works include:

- 11 symphonies (No.8 Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin; No.9 Sinfonia Sacra for soloists, chorus and orch.; No.10 Sinfonia de camera

- 2 piano concertos; viola concerto; violin concerto; Soliloquy for cello and orch.; Sinfonia concertante for piano and orch.; Fantasia and Improvisation for violin and orch.

- Festival Overture, Improvisations on Virginal Pieces by Farnaby and Resurgam for orch.

- Improvisation for solo cello; Transformations for harp; Duo for cor anglais and piano; oboe sonata; 2 violin sonatas; 2 piano trios; 4 string quartets; The Buddha for flute, oboe and string trio

- Eight Preludes and Four Studies for piano

- songs; cantatas Advent Cantata; Cantata da Camera, In honorem Mariae matris Dei,; Festival Te Deum for soprano, chorus and orch.; Inscape for chorus, strings and harp; Missa brevis for treble voices an organ; Missa Cantuariensis for double choir and organ; The Morning Watch for chorus and orch.; works for unaccompanied chorus including Mass in Honour of St.Teresa of Avila

- opera Bee-Bee-Bei


recommended works:

Piano Concerto (1955)

String Quartet No.2 (1950-1951)

Symphony No.2 (1937)

Symphony No.4 (1941) (see text)

Symphony No.5 (1947-1948)

Symphony No.6 (1954)

Symphony No.9 Sinfonia Sacra (197101972) for soloists, chorus and orchestra

Symphony No.10 Sinfonia de camera (1974)



ed. L.Foreman Edmund Rubbra: Composer, 1977


SIMPSON Robert Wilfred Levick

born 2nd March 1921 at Leamington


Sometimes a composer emerges who would seem to have all the prerequisites for impact and success: considerable technical facility, a probing mind capable of creating imaginative and interesting structures, a concentration on and development of a particular form. Yet the spark that would give life to the music, and not mere existence, is, for whatever reason, missing.

Robert Simpson is just such a composer. Heavily influenced by Scandinavian composers as well as by late Beethoven, he has concentrated on symphonies and string quartets that extend traditional harmonies and forms (especially building up material from germ themes or cells). His musical logic is impeccable, his grasp of the possibilities of unusual departures from traditional structures and forms enviable, and his music usually evinces a dark and rugged Northern cast. Time and time again an interesting procedure captures the intellect, a passage fires the imagination, but then peters out into a still-birth. A major cause is the lack of memorable material, of the details of content within a span or concept that is inherently interesting; a second, rhythms that always have the aura of predicability. In the symphonies this is compounded by dull metallic orchestral colours that, however succinct the orchestration, invariably have a sense of the blanched. It is not enough for a string quartet to merely have an impressive logic of construction, especially in the tradition that Simpson has followed; they must also have emotional impact, content of importance as well as the manner of their oratory, and in this the music of Simpson, for all its earnest build-ups into climaxes, is simply lacking.

That being said, his music may be of interest to those whose main concern is the unfolding of largely traditional patterns in new guises, and who do not wish to be challenged by the emotional content; and for those who have already explored the symphonies and string quartets of such composers as Rubbra or Holmboe there are always those moments that do fleetingly capture the attention. Of his symphonies, the Symphony No.1 (1951) and the Symphony No.2 (1955-1956), scored for a Classical orchestra, are both in three movements, played continuously in the former. The rugged contrapuntal writing and the use of progressive tonality and conflicting keys in the Symphony No.2 are characteristic of Simpson's writing; the still slow movement, cast in a palindrome except for the last few bars, has the feel of a star-scape. The Symphony No.3 (1962) is in two movements, the first in B♭ with a pull towards C, the second beginning in B♭ but ending in C. Although programmatically inspired, there seems little connection between the music and the implied programme (of a sleeper awaking and being infused with energy), but this is one of Simpson's more effective symphonies, the first movement having an insistent power, the second being more restrained, if loosing its way at times. The long (40 minute) Symphony No.4 (1970-1972, later revised) has a lovely mystical moment at the end of the first movement, and the extended climatic drive of the end of the symphony is wonderfully clear and sustained. The development of germinal cells in the one-movement Symphony No.6 (1976) was inspired by parallels with biology, its big and powerful build-ups full of northern gravity. The Symphony No.7 (1977), also in one movement, was designed for recording rather than the concert hall (though there does not seem to be any especial concession or technique). The adagio is the most effective of the three sections. The Symphony No.9 (1987) uses palindromic variations in the second half of a one-movement form, and pays tribute to Bruckner. The Symphony No.10 (1988) is fifty-five minutes of tedium in four movements, almost completely unmemorable.

The string quartets, largely inspired by the example of Beethoven, are in some ways more sympathetic listening, in part because of the lack of the regular monotony of those dark grey orchestral colours. The String Quartet No.1 (1951) is an attractive and assured two-movement work. The String Quartet No.2 (1953) compresses three sections into a single movement, while the String Quartet No.3 (1953-1954) employs an unbalanced two-movement form, with an adagio introducing a large-scale sonata-allegro. The String Quartet No.4 (1973), No.5 (1974) and No.6 (1975) are all inspired by Beethoven's Rasumovsky quartets, being a kind of commentary on and development of them. The String Quartet No.9 (1982) is in the form of thirty-two palindromic variations on a theme by Haydn that is itself palindromic. The String Quartet No.10 (1983) is in three movements, and is subtitled `For Peace'. The first of the two movements of the String Quartet No.12 (1987) has a stark, icy intensity; the second is a very extended scherzo.

Simpson was on the staff of the BBC from 1951 to 1980, and has written widely and most effectively on music, especially on the symphony.


works include:

- 11 symphonies

- piano concerto; violin concerto

- trio for clarinet, cello and piano; 12 string quartets; quartet for horn and piano trio; Variations and Fugue for recorder and string quartet; clarinet quintet; string quintet

- piano sonata; Variations and Finale on a Theme of Haydn for piano

- Media morte... for voices, brass and timpani


recommended work:

Symphony No.3 (1962)



R.Matthew-Walker     The Symphonies of Robert Simpson


STANFORD (Sir) Charles Villiers - see under EIRE


TAVENER John Kenneth                                                                                                          

born 28th January, 1944         at London


In the late 1960s the young John Tavener burst into prominence like a flash flood with the topical cantata The Whale. The waters then receded until he re-emerged in the 1990s as one of the leading and most popular of British composers. However, in the interim, unheard by a wider public, he was developing an individual and powerful idiom, given impetus by his conversion to the Russian Orthodox faith in 1977.

Almost all his music has a religious impetus, and most of it uses the voice. His earlier works emerged from the tail-end of the avant-garde, and had a powerful sense of drama, often explosive orchestral effects (favouring brass and percussion) and usually a constant ritualistic pulse, the vocal writing influenced by Eastern chants and the layered effects developed by the avant-garde, to create a distinctive ritualistic idiom. By the late 1970s, the more disruptive elements of his style were becoming smoothed out, and by Prayer for the World (1980) for sixteen solo voices and Ikon of Light (1983) for chorus and string trio he had developed a spare, almost minimal, ethereal polyphony drawn from his earlier experience with the layering of choral writing, and with the intent of creating a mystical contemplative religious atmosphere. This style is not dissimilar to that independently developed by rt, and by the 1990s had proved equally popular. Throughout, he has ignored traditional forms and structures; instead these have been founded on the ritualistic needs of the individual piece, or the demands of a given text, usually with a strong and effective sense of logic that often includes palindromic shapes (the second section of Ultimos Ritos, for example, is a double arch, ABCBAABCBA). Besides the more obvious influences of religious ritual and Russian orthodoxy, a Greek thread had also wound through his work, in settings of Sappho and Seferis and elsewhere, as if it provides a metaphorical meeting-place between the Western European and the Byzantine elements of the Russian Orthodox.

One psychological theme runs through this development of Tavener's idiom: the abnegation of the self. It haunts his earlier work, as if he his trying to find a context for self-effacement, in Jonah's burial in the belly of The Whale, in the children's chanted mockery of an adult sound-world in Celtic Requiem, in the contemplation of the Cross in Ultimos Ritos, in the crisis of faith of St.Thérèse of Lisieux in the short opera Thérèse (1973-1976), in the extinction of Antigone in The Immurement of Antigone. Akhmatova: Requiem pays tribute to a poetess who had been blotted out by a political system, but fought back. In these terms, his conversion to the Russian Orthodox faith, and his subsequent musical style, become a logical solution to this attempt: the atmosphere of highly ritualised distancing of the rites of the church, and the musical sounds of pure, rarefied contemplation dissolves the self into the mystical soul. His more recent works suggest a new phase in this attempt, and if it continues to be a major motivator in his music, it could be overall an examination of one particular aspect of human spirituality analogous to Britten's concern with the theme of lost innocence.

The Whale (1966) for speaker, mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra, used spoken words from the Encyclopedia Britannica, sung Biblical texts, shades of Ligeti-like choral writing, interjectory, declamatory and chant-like elements, and occasional echoes from the British choral tradition to create a raw, flawed, but compelling piece, touched with bells and echoes from pop music (it was recorded by the Beatles' recording label). But it was the little-known and more concise Celtic Requiem (1969) for soloists, chorus, children's voices and orchestra that indicated the presence of a major composer with dramatic powers and strong religious leanings. It mixes deliberately naïve elements not normally associated with a Requiem (children's nursery rhyme chants, recorders) with complex and sophisticated writing. Its ethereal, gossamer moments herald the better-known, later works, but it has its own entirely distinctive mould: the E♭ major chord that rises up at the opening, joined by the sound of shaken percussion and children's chants, and which explodes into layers of singular clarity, combining solo soprano voice, chants, and the children; the terrible groaning and crashing of whips after the `Kyrie'; the sudden cataclysmic interjection of the organ that turns into a hymn; and the return of the opening crescendo at the end. The different layers each carry their own momentum and pace, and the overall effect is of some great rite where the pagan spirit, contained in the children's nursery rhymes, is handing over to Christianity, but at the same time refusing to relinquish its influence. The Celtic Requiem was followed by one of Tavener's finest works, for the sheer magnetism of its logic, its emotional power, and its brilliance at bringing together unexpected elements in a very specific setting - that of a cathedral. Ultimos Ritos (Last Rites, 1972) for soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra, is even less well-known than the Celtic Requiem, and it drew on the experience of combining Bachian elements with the layered choral writing in Coplas (1970) for voices and tape, in one of the finest of British church pieces in the second half of the 20th century. It is a kind of abstract church drama, centred on the contemplation of the Cross, with the central movement (of five) using just the word `Jesu'. The atmosphere is strongly ritualist and generally slow-moving, making full use of the size and acoustic space afforded by a cathedral. The basic elements include fanfares, often complex and often very beautiful, cataclysmic and insistent orchestral effects, layered choral writing, chanting influenced by Eastern models, and a counter-movement, like some ancient processional, of the equivalent of medieval tabor and pipes. All this material is derived from J.S.Bach's `Crucifixus' from the Mass in B minor; completely disguised at first, it is barely discernable in the fanfares of the second section, but gets stronger until eventually it dominates the more modern elements at the end of the work, to stunning effect. Requiem for Father Malachy (1972) for chorus and ensemble, follows this general cast, but on a chamber-sale, using plain-song and chant, and musical glasses in the instrumental ensemble.

At the cusp between Tavener's earlier work and the later minimal style appeared one of his few non-religious, orchestral works, significantly titled Palintropos (Turning Back, 1977) for piano with an orchestra of brass, percussion, harp, celesta and strings. Each of its four sections, divided by `musical columns', attempts to repeat its opening, but never succeeds, and a pivotal note of C is sounded at the beginning and the end by double basses. The piano writing is in consort with the orchestra, emulating the sound of the cimbalom at times, at others woven into the general textures (brilliantly decorative in the opening). The tone alternates between mystical tapestries, sometimes still and contemplative and shadowed by the figure of Messiaen, and more assertive effects. The Immurement of Antigone (1978) for soprano and orchestra, a powerfully dramatic rendition of the death of Antigone that can be staged as well as used for purely concert performance, retains the ritualistic pulse effects (eventually becoming a funereal drum), but the block-like interjections and orchestral writing are toned down in favour of more linear effects, with long vocal lines that combine the angular with the flowing. As she becomes immured, the orchestral textures becoming increasingly dense, the vocal lines more edgy, and the orchestra reiterates repeated harrowing phrases until the immurement is complete, and just the sound of tinkling bells are heard, dying away. The climax of this second phase of Tavener's output was Akhmatova: Requiem (1970-1980) for soprano, bass, brass, percussion and strings. The soprano sings settings of Akhmatova (in Russian, and built around her experiences of trying to find news of her imprisoned son, eventually leading to thoughts of death and madness), the bass largely Russian Orthodox liturgical interpolations between the poems; the two soloists join for the penultimate contemplation of the Crucifixion. There is a strong Russian flavour throughout the work, in the opening soprano unaccompanied solo, in the liturgical sections, in the use of bells, and in the palpable influence of Shostakovich's later, darker vocal works. The result is something of an anomaly on Tavener's work, as if he had moved to combine his own experience with the modern Russian vocal-symphonic tradition, but it has a dour impact.

Tavener's more ethereal vocal style of the 1980s, heralded by the austere Liturgy of St.John Chrysostom (1977) for unaccompanied chorus, was turned almost into early Renaissance music in Funeral Ikon (1981) for unaccompanied chorus, a setting in English of the Greek funeral service for priests, and reached fruition in the large-scale, mystical Ikon of Light (1983) for chorus and string trio, setting a text by the 11th-century St.Simeon the New Theologian. Tavener's minimal setting matches the luminescence of the words, the choral writing largely derived from plainchant (with one major melodic idea, together with its inversion), but also including quasi-Renaissance polyphony and, near the opening and end, Ligeti-like cluster effects. The trio (representing the "soul yearning for God") often accompanies this with held basic notes, and intersperses its own harmonically simple contribution. In this long work time stands still, with little sense of rhythmic movement, designed to be approached in a state of contemplation or meditation. So strong has plainchant and the Renaissance sound become in Tavener's work that one expects the modal-based harmonies of the lovely little carol The Lamb (1982) for unaccompanied chorus, setting William Blake, to resolve into a final major chord (they never do).

This spare contemplative style reached a huge public with a work without voices, but still religiously inspired. The title of The Protecting Veil (1987) for cello and strings refers to a vision of the Virgin Mary in Constantinople in which she held out her veil to protect the Christians against the Saracens. It is cast in eight sections, played continuously and each referring to a different aspect of Mary's life. The cello sings an almost non-stop dolorous lament of great beauty; the harmony is based on the traditional triad (but not classical harmonic progression, remaining essentially static), the colours rich, the textures sonorous. It is ironic that when the accompanying strings do break the contemplation of this moving work late in the first section and again repeatedly in subsequent sections, the result is unmistakably the sound of Respighi, another composer influenced by plainchant, and whose music has so long been disparaged by critics. There is indeed a turning back.

A different kind of turning back occurs in the opera Mary of Egypt (1992). Designed to parallel the visual image of an icon triptych, in five short acts, it tells of Mary the prostitute who eventually gives herself to Christ through the example of the priest-monk Zossima. It has one almost fatal flaw. However sincere their religious inspiration, the words of the libretto by Mother Thekla of the Orthodox Normanby Monastery are quite possibly the most banal ever set into music in an opera. There is no characterization whatsoever, only icons of the good and the fallen, and virtually no psychological tension. In other words, the abnegation of the self that threads through Tavener's work seem completed in an opera with non-persons, and without a sense of archetype or psychological progression it becomes a tale without a moral, merely one of pure faith. The Middle Eastern and Indian ritualistic headiness, the sensuousness of the flute music associated with Mary, sounding at the opening like a Bengali shepherd song, and the allure of her vocal lines, combined with the massive interjections that are a return to the tortured anger of Ultimos Ritos, not to mention the unintentional sense of repressed masochistic sexuality that haunts the libretto, create a profound ambiguity between intent and realization. The mesmerizing and often profoundly beautiful score has an underlying emotional passion that can only obliquely be related to the context; perhaps Tavener is moving to a position analogous to Messiaen where the contemplation of the divine can be made musically from the stand-point of the emotional self, and not merely projected onto disassociated blocks or pure ethereal tones. However, The Apolcalypse (1994) for soloists, choir, chorus, and large ensemble including brass, recorders, percussion, string quartet and string orchestra returned to a huge scale, in nine `ikons' with a prologue and epilogue, dealing with the most graphic of visions of self-abnegation.

Tavener's output is considerable and uneven, dominated by works for voices or chorus on religious themes or for religious use, but also including such works as the chamber opera A Gentle Spirit (1976), based on Dostoevsky, and the delightful, simple little piano snippet In Memory of Two Cats (1986). His focus is necessarily narrow, but he has developed an entirely personal idiom to reflect that focus, and it is fitting that as one of the finest contemporary British composers his music is at last reaching a wider public.


works include:

- piano concerto; Chamber Concerto; Palintropos for piano and orch.; Eternal Memory and The Protecting Veil for cello and orch.; The Repentant Thief for clarinet and orch.

- Variations on `Three Blind Mice' for orch.; Grandma's Footsteps and Towards the Son: Ritual Procession for chamber orch.

- Greek Interlude for flute and piano; The Last Sleep of the Virgin for string quartet; Little Missenden Calm for wind quartet; In Memoriam Igor Stravinsky for 2 alto flutes organ and bells; Trisagion for brass quintet; Six Abbasid Songs for 4 flutes and percussion

- Palin for piano; Mandoodles for young pianist; Chant for guitar; Mandelion for organ

- The Immurement of Antigone and In Alium for soprano and orch.; Kyklike Kinesis for soprano, chorus, cello and orch.; Six Russian Folk Songs for soprano and instrumental ensemble; To a Child Dancing in the Woods for soprano, flute, harp and viola; Sappho: Lyrical Fragments for 2 sopranos and strings; Three Surrealist Songs for mezzo-soprano, tape and piano/bongos; A Gentle Spirit and Sixteen Haiku of Seferis for soprano, tenor and instrumental ensemble

- cantatas Cain and Abel and The Whale; Akhmatova: Requiem for soprano, baritone, brass, percussion and strings; The Apolocalypse for soloists, boy's chorus, chorus, ensemble, string quartet and string orch.; Celtic Requiem; Lament of the Mother of God; Resurrection for chorus and orch.; Canticle of the Mother of God for soprano and chorus; Lamentation, Lost Prayer and Exaltation and The Last Prayer of Mary Queen of Scots for soprano and handbells or piano; Responsorium in Memory of Annon Lee Silver for 2 sopranos, chorus and 2 flutes; Prayer for the World for 16 solo voices; Nomine Jesu for voices and orch.; Canciones españolas and Ma fin est mon commencement for voices and instrumental ensemble; Coplas for voices and tape; Requiem for Father Malachy for chorus and instrumental ensemble; Risen for chorus and orch.; Ikon of Light for chorus and string trio; Vigil Service for chorus, 4 violins and organ; Funeral Ikos, The Great Canon of the Ode to Saint Andrew of Crete, The Lamb, The Lord's Prayer an other works for chorus; He Hath Entered The Heaven for trebles; orthodox services The Divine Liturgy of St.John Chrysostom and Vigil Service

- opera Thérèse; chamber operas A Gentle Spirit and Mary of Egypt


recommended works:

Celtic Requiem (1969) for soloists, chorus, children's voices and orchestra

Ikon of Light (1983) for chorus and string trio

The Immurement of Antigone (1978) for soprano and orchestra

opera Mary of Egypt (1992)

The Protecting Veil (1987) for cello and strings

Ultimos Ritos (1972) for soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra


TIPPETT (Sir) Michael Kemp                                                                                                    

born 2nd January 1905           at London

died 8th January 1998


It took many years for the singular achievement of Michael Tippett to receive widespread recognition, following derogatory comments by leading conductors, an inability to read across bar-lines by leaders of orchestras, and bewilderment at his first acknowledged opera by critics in the early 1950s. Many have found his idiom extremely difficult to absorb, in part because it sets up an expectation of a traditional basis (the harmonies, for example, are never especially extreme in modern terms, and most of his works have the starting point of the traditional genres of symphony, concerto, oratorio or opera), but after the earlier works that expectation is completely confounded, and the listener must adapt to an idiom that pursues its own course within the mainstream of our concert experience. However, perseverance brings its rewards, in the shape of a highly individual and incisive mind, whose especial achievement has been to create a genre of Jungian psychological opera.

The development of his style has been consistent, but has undergone evolutionary leaps with each new opera, the musical solutions in those operas spilling over into the non-operatic works that follow them. He has been considered an eclectic composer, but this tag can be misleading: his procedures have been to absorb the work of other composers (from Gibbons and gamelan music to Messiaen, with Beethoven perhaps the predominant mentor) and heighten his own idiom with aspects of those musics that answer particular needs in his own personal style. Counterpoint, stretching back to Renaissance procedures, has been a foundation of his music, but he has developed two aspects of his music into an individual voice. The first has been the use of rhythm, particularly `additive' rhythms, where the uneven rhythmic accents do not follow the regularity of traditional bar-lines (hence the problems of orchestral players in the 1950s, unused to such flexibility) and cross-rhythms, which give his music a lithe, fluid life. The second has been the development of unusual forms within the general framework or flow of a traditional genres; gradually a procedure using blocks of thematic ideas, which are often associated with particular instrumental combinations and which undergo overlapping development (often through changes of tone or colour) has dominated, within more traditional formal divisions. The operas have used cinematic techniques of `cross-cutting', with overlaps of time. Form, and the overall structures, are crucial to Tippett's music; individual incident is always related to that overall form. Whereas in the work of many composers the accumulative effect of individual sections or incidents gradually reveals the form from within, so that the listener gains the overall impression as the work progresses, this is not the way a Tippett piece generally works, except for the earlier music. Consequently the first hearing of a Tippett work can be confusing or bewildering; after a second or third hearing the overall pattern becomes clear, and then the content and details within that pattern become revealed; it is always worth hearing a Tippett work a number of times before dismissing it as not acceptable.

A number of emotional and philosophical themes combine to make Tippett's music especially individual. The first is the strong sense of humanity and compassion, concerned with allowing people to achieve their greatest potential as individuals. The second is a visionary quality, looking beyond the merely corporal and material towards the spiritual and the psychological, but careful to relate those to the more mundane world. The third, and perhaps the most important, binding these two themes, is the exploration of Jungian psychology, and the use of music to express those aspects of Jungian psychology that are difficult to express in words, especially the movement towards the `individuation' of each person. Some understanding of Jungian psychology is really essential for the operas to have their full impact, and also enlightens evens his purely abstract works. Associated with this (especially the concept of the `collective unconscious') is an understanding of time where larger, non-linear concepts of time predominate over our more ordinary notions of time's progress; this influences Tippett's musical structures.

Tippett withdrew all his music written before 1935, and his first acknowledged work is the String Quartet No.1 (1935, revised 1943), two energetic and rhythmically vital outer movements framing a Beethovenesque slow movement of austere and unsentimental lyricism. The Concerto for Double String Orchestra (1938-1939), still one of his most popular works, was the nearest he came to an English pastoral evocation through its colours, harmonies and sonorities, but it bursts with lithe rhythms (unequal beats, cross accents) that give it a distinctive sound, and its sonorous slow movement is modelled on Beethoven's String Quartet in F minor, op.95. The first major indication of Tippett's humanitarian concerns came with the passionate plea against tyrannical oppression that is still probably his best-known work. A Child of Our Time (1939-1940, first performed 1944) for soloists, chorus and orchestra, is recognizably in the English oratorio tradition, but both subverts and extends it. First, its subject was a contemporary one: the shooting of a German diplomat by a Jewish refugee in Paris in 1938. Second the use of the vernacular in combination with forms based on Handel and J.S.Bach's St.Matthew Passion removed the constraints from such a lofty tradition. Its most striking feature is the use of five Negro spirituals as the equivalent of Bach's chorales; Tippett saw a correspondence between Renaissance music (influencing his own music) and the jazz-blues tradition, and the spirituals arise entirely naturally from the general writing, to striking effect. It also (though entirely covertly) introduced the Jungian into Tippett's work, with humankind in such dire circumstances psychologically battling with its Shadow, and with the themes of compassion, tolerance and forgiveness; it remains as potent today as when it was written. The Symphony No.1 (1944-1945), although it shows some of the preoccupations that were to be developed in subsequent works, is now the least encountered of the symphonies, as the divergence between wealth of musical idea and the creation of a large-scale form to contain it is too obvious. In the String Quartet No.3 (1945-1946) marvellously lithe fugal writing dominates two of the five movements, and the influence of Beethoven is absorbed into a personal idiom in this fine work.

However, these works of the late 1930s and 1940s were preludes to the maturity of his musical philosophies, that came to fruition with the opera The Midsummer Marriage (1946-1952), discussed below. In this period the wonderfully rich sonorities of strings and the vitality of rhythm predominates. The beautiful Fantasia concertante on a theme of Corelli (1953) for strings brilliantly combines the ethos of Corelli's music (including a touch of the mood of Corelli's Christmas Concerto at the end) with Tippett's rapturous idiom of the period. The Divertimento on Sellinger's Round (1953-1954) for strings ingeniously blends the dance tune with echoes of earlier English music from the Tudor period to Sullivan. The Piano Concerto (1953-1955), inspired by Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.4, inhabits the dense lyrical textures of The Midsummer Marriage, with which it has musical connections, the sonorities of piano extended by the sound of the celesta. The initial impetus for Symphony No.2 (1956-1957) was the pounding basses of Vivaldi's music, and with its atmospheric slow movement, continuing the tone of Midsummer Marriage and the piano concerto, it avoids traditional development in favour of transformations using colour and texture, set against the colours of harp and piano.

With the opera King Priam (1958-1961), discussed below, Tippett developed a more direct idiom, in which the rich sonorities and lithe dances were evolved into a more rigorous and pungent use of the orchestra, in part derived from the example of Stravinsky, and which had started to emerge in the finale of the Symphony No.2. Structures are developed by the contrasts and overlaps of blocks of thematic material associated with particular instrumental groups, exemplified in the Concerto for Orchestra (1962-1963). This method of construction confounds traditional expectations of the progress of the music, giving a spontaneous flow but also a lack of expected resolution, and is combined with the visionary in The Vision of St.Augustine (1963-1965) for baritone, soprano, chorus and orchestra, where Tippett uses his recently evolved sound in a thicker palette. In three parts drawn from Augustine's visions in the Confessions in Latin and English translation combined with other religious material, it uses fourteen thematic blocks, each with their own tempo and which pursue their own development, combined with chorus writing that has stratas of effect, from hymns to soaring choral declamation. The work has a ritualistic quality, and touches of the dance emerge, but the flow and the high choral writing imbues this with passion and visionary fervour in what has aptly been described as a "stream of consciousness". It is a work of ferment and ecstasy best absorbed by immersion in the sound and text, allowing the construction to be felt intuitively.

The Symphony No.3 (1970-1972) for soprano and orchestra followed the experience of the opera The Knot Garden (1966-1970, discussed below). Behind it lies the combination of the abstract symphonic form and the concrete expression through words in the example of Beethoven's Symphony No.9 (which is quoted), but here using a blues as a modern counterpart to Beethoven's choral ending. It is a symphony of dualities: a two-movement structure combining aspects of sonata-form with Tippett's construction by blocks, the opposition of dynamic music, with flamboyant orchestral effects, and quieter music concerned with the release of that energy, in a mood that Tippett has called the "windless night sky and the tidal wave below". The Symphony No.4 (1976-1977), following the opera The Ice Break (1973-1976, discussed below) is entirely orchestral, in one continuous movement divided into three sections, and overall using three general tempi. The third section absorbs a fantasia by Gibbons, and the symphony is an unusual amalgam of fantasy and symphony, its theme of `birth-to-death' emphasized by the haunting wind sounds that open and close the work. There are assimilations of Shostakovich (the fifteenth symphony is all but quoted) and Messiaen, and the work is like some dream in which events seem quite logical at the time, but in retrospect have an elusive, illogical quotient. The Triple Concerto (1978-1979) for string trio and orchestra also uses a one-movement form, and has a beautiful central section influenced by gamelan music. The Mask of Time (1977-1982) for voices and instruments is a kaleidoscope of musical, intellectual and literary ideas for large forces (rarely used all together) that traces man's place in the cosmos and his relationship to time. In spite of the moments of vivid imagination and typical power of orchestral expression, it is an uneasy work, partly because the structure is so disparate, and partly because the vocal writing (as opposed to the much more imaginative orchestral writing) is inclined to echo the large-scale oratorio tradition, over-emphatic and with a curiously dated feel. The String Quartet No.4 (1977-1978) again followed a one-movement pattern built around a passionate slow movement; a fifth string quartet appeared in 1992. Mention should also be made of Tippett's four piano sonatas, dating from 1938 to 1984, the third of which contains his most abstract and direct music with little sense of outside influences or absorptions.

However, it is the operas that form the most complete of Tippett's achievements. Their central core is their conscious use of Jungian psychology, which led to bewilderment among audiences and critics until the general facets of Jung's thinking were more widely understood. Just as material from the collective or personal unconscious is expressed in dreams or myth, so it could be expressed in opera, where the combination of stage-symbol, word-symbol and music-symbol, as well as movement (dancing and ritual are major components of Tippett's operas) could be employed to express both idea and communication on a subconscious level. Tippett first developed this concept in the lyrical opera The Midsummer Marriage (1946-1953), in which he drew on many sources, including Greek myth, the Grail legends, and the illusionary poetics of Eliot's The Waste Land. Its antecedents are perhaps Mozart's The Magic Flute and Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten; but where in those works the psychological symbolism was largely instinctive, here it is consciously used. Two levels are represented and combine: the human and the archetypal, represented by two couples, Bella and Jack, largely living in the conscious (though they have parallel roles in the mythical) and Mark and Jennifer, with elements of the mythical. Both must take the journey into the unconscious to find their own dualities of masculine and feminine, and achieve Jung's process of `individuation', the central theme of this quest opera. The entire libretto is suffused with symbolism to support these two pairs: archetypal figures, archetypal places, and even archetypal musical forms. The four ritual dances (well-known through their concert version for orchestra) represent the state of grace, and the wholeness of the mandala (with four sides). Those unwilling to be immersed in this strange world that crosses forward and back from the conscious to the unconscious will have great difficulty with this work; otherwise it teems with life, like a fecund representation of nature, with gloriously rich textures dominated by string colours, essentially traditional harmonies (extended by the use of superimposed fourths), touches of the Baroque and of Purcell buried into the score with hints of the masque, marvellous choral writing, and above all a vital rhythmic energy that propels this masterpiece without pause.

The opera King Priam (1958-1961) marked a change in Tippett's idiom, a dramatization of Homer that is closer to the poetics of Brecht than Eliot. It concentrates on the role of King Priam in the Trojan war, its scenes set against the offstage war rather than including them, divided into four short acts with the chorus used as `interludes'. Its theme is that of personal choices, or rather with the consequences of personal choices, which are seen to have two aspects: the immediate personal consequences, determined by one's own choices and actions, and the longer-term pattern where those choices are part of a wider determination whose interactions cannot be pre-determined. This is more than just the Greek sense of Fate or Destiny: it is Jungian (specifically in such figures as the old man, and the equation of the three Goddesses with the three human women of the story), although the symbolism is not nearly so overt as that of The Midsummer Marriage. Fate unfolds in more a synchronistic than a pre-destined fashion. The lucid orchestration, often using a single instrument (with no strings in the second act) and with an assimilation of Stravinsky's neo-classical orchestral techniques, is striking and powerful, as if each instrument represented some Greek deity standing behind and influencing the human-vocal, whose lines are declamatory rather than lyrical. This is above all an exciting opera, direct, sometimes abrasive, often fast-paced, its characters compelling. But with The Knot Garden (1966-1969) he returned to the Jungian allusionary vision, in a less conventional cinematic structure that draws on a multiplicity of sources, from The Tempest and Goethe to Eliot and Virginia Woolf. The `knot garden' itself provides the primary image of the inner life that the personality may or may not be cultivating, the knots the twists of the inner life. The theme is of displaced relationships; each of the seven characters starts the opera without the internal psychological balance (self-knowledge) to make an external relationship successful. The figure of the analyst appears, himself not fully aware of his psychological inner life, and there is little plot, rather a gradual awareness of each individual's personal psyche to the point where successful relationships and interactions are possible. Dysfunctional generational effects from distorted relationships are shown in the figure of Flora, and the whole opera has a sense of therapeutic role-play. The score continues the more direct, spartan orchestral usage of King Priam, but to quite different ends; here it is intimately connected with each character, expressing the subconscious and its changes, and the overall moods are both more nervous and more lyrical. One character remains without resolution, but that was provided in the associated Songs for Dov (1969-1970) for tenor and chamber orchestra.

Some have seen Tippett's discovery of American culture in The Knot Garden, but its conscious emergence is in The Ice Break (1973-1976). Here Tippett explored another archetypal theme: that the attachment of the crowd to one archetype leads to personal and social disintegration, and that it is only the assimilation of the multiplicity of archetypes within the individual that creates personal emancipation. Symbolism abounds (the chorus are masked), the words are matched by `archetypal sounds' in the score, Jung is quoted directly, and the very last words return to the archetypal theme of the maimed fisherman. Tippett has been heavily criticised for his librettos, mostly arising from the non-comprehension of the Jungian content, for (apart from one or two infelicitous phrases), his actual word-usage is workmanlike if not poetic. But The Ice-Break, which contains some of Tippett's finest music, with a richer, thick and dramatic use of the orchestra, is spoiled by its words, in particular the use of slang, which sounds not only instantly dated, but also affected and somewhat ridiculous in the slower time-frame of sung, rather than spoken, word.

There is an element of George Bernard Shaw in Tippett's musical drama, often masked by the Jungian layers, and the opera The New Year (1985-1988) has something of the symbolic futuristic fantasy of Shaw's late plays, similarly employing a variety of genres (here including masque, ballet, pantomime and suggestions of the musical theatre). Tippett has identified elements of his own childhood experience in the central male character, the Afro-American Donny, a name close to the childhood name Sonny of Shaw, who had similar childhood experiences; the central female character, Jo Ann, a child psychologist, has suggestions of Joan of Arc. Its two general settings are `Somewhere and Today' of the turbulent urban present, and `Nowhere and Tomorrow', an equally uncomfortable futuristic world of time-travel ruled by a domineering woman. The two worlds interact (with the landing of a space-ship), and with the experience of this interaction Jo Ann is transformed from an inability to cope with a violent world to a position of self-confidence, her choice between reality and escapist amnesia being made in a paradise garden. It is a heavily symbolic opera: the characters from the future can clearly be identified with Jungian psychological archetypes, representing her unconscious, and indeed the whole opera can be construed as a psychological projection of Jo Ann. Tippett's music is wildly eclectic, including elements of pop music and `break dancing', and uses electronics.

Tippett organized music at workcamps for unemployed ironstone miners in 1932, was a conscientious objector in the Second World War (and was briefly imprisoned in 1943), taught at Morley College (1940-1951), became President of the Peace Pledge Union in 1959, and was artistic director of the Bath Festival (1970-1975). He was knighted in 1966. Marmalade has been his chief solace in times of stress or crisis.


works include:

- 4 symphonies (No.3 with soprano)

- piano concerto; Triple Concerto for violin, viola, cello and orch.; concerto for orch.; Concerto for Double String Orchestra; Fantasia on a Theme by Handel for piano and orch.

- Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli and Little Music for strings

- Prelude, Recitative and Aria for flute, oboe and harpsichord; 4 string quartets; sonata for four horns; Praeludium for brass, bells and percussion

- 4 piano sonatas

- song-cycles Boyhood's End, Heart's Assurance, Songs for Dov (with small orch.) and Three Songs for Achilles (with guitar)

- oratorio A Child of Our Time; The Mask of Time and The Vision of St.Augustine for soloists, chorus and orch.; Crown of the Year and The Shires Suite for chorus and orch.; The Weeping Babe for soprano and chorus and other vocal and choral works

- operas King Priam, The Ice Break, The Knot Garden, The Midsummer Marriage and The New Year


recommended works:

oratorio A Child of Our Time (1939-1940) for soloists, chorus and orchestra

Concerto for Double String Orchestra (1938-1939)

Concerto for Orchestra (1962-1963)

Fantasia concertante on a theme of Corelli (1953) for strings

opera The Ice Break (1973-1976) (see text)

opera King Priam (1958-1961)

opera The Knot Garden (1966-1969)

The Mask of Time (1977-1982) for voices and instruments

opera The Midsummer Marriage (1946-1953)

opera The New Year (1985-1988)

Piano Sonata No.3 (1972-1973)

String Quartet No.4 (1977-1978)

Symphony No.2 (1956-1957)

Symphony No.3 (1970-1972) for soprano and orchestra

Symphony No.4 (1976-1977)

The Vision of St.Augustine (1963-1965) for soloists, chorus and orchestra



M. Tippett       Moving into Aquarius, 1959

D.Matthews    Michael Tippett: An Introductory Study, London 1980

M.Bowen        Michael Tippett, 1982


VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Ralph                                                                                               

born 12th October 1872          at Down Ampney (Gloucestershire)

died 26th August 1958           at London


The music of Vaughan Williams, long thought too quintessentially English for successful export, has found an increasing and admiring international response as the durability and the universality of his major works have become more apparent. His output is large and diverse, covering all the major musical genres, and much of it is indeed parochial. Like a number of other similarly nationalist composers of the same period (for example, Bartók), he was concerned that serious music should be available to all, and his works extend from music for amateurs with purely local significance to an emotionally complex, large-scale, and sometimes abstract idiom. However much affection the English have for some of the former, it is the latter that are emerging as significant 20th-century works. The relative delay in their general acceptance is partly due to the lack of obvious musical experimentation in Vaughan Williams' language - he was content to develop recognized forms using a traditional harmonic base - and to the over-popularity of some of the less substantial pieces, of which the beautifully crafted, effortlessly lyrical Fantasia on Greensleeves (1934) for orchestra is the most obvious example - the best-known arrangement of one of the Western world's best known tunes.

Behind all of Vaughan Williams' music lie two decisive influences, both rediscoveries for English music when he began to employ them: the English folk-song, and the madrigals and polyphonic mastery of Tudor and Elizabethan English composers. He collected English folk-songs (he joined the Folk-Song Society in 1904), together with fellow composer Holst, which again has parallels with the similar activity of such composers as Bartók and Kodály in the same period, and his interest in hymn and church music was reflected in the editing of the music of The English Hymnal (1904-1906). His earlier work is dominated by songs, direct, usually simple and often lyrical, with a keen appreciation for the quality of the literature set and the nuances of the language, and which include the song-cycle Songs of Travel (completed by 1907) to words by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Then, following a period of study (1908) with Ravel, three years his junior, and whose influence recurs indirectly in orchestral colour and effect, Vaughan Williams produced a number of works that mark his late maturity. The Sea Symphony (1903-1909) for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra, is his (and English music's) farewell to the English Romantic tradition of the large scale oratorio, but its visionary fervour - to the sensuously joyous words of Walt Whitman - looks forward to a later emotional expression, the symphonic form is indicative of his sense of technical craftsmanship, and the nocturnal mystery of the slow and the passion of the final movements contain many of his musical hallmarks, in a work that has retained its popularity in English-speaking countries. The 'Aristophanic Suite' The Wasps (1909) contains an English jauntiness that infects much of his output, while at one point rather uncannily foreshadowing the ballet idiom of Prokofiev. The song-cycle On Wenlock Edge (1909) for tenor, piano, and string quartet (setting A.E.Housman) has the long-breathed lyricism associated with his English pastoral style combined with a more fervent Impressionism. But his first masterpiece is the Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) for two string orchestras and string quartet. Using one of the old church modes (the Phrygian) that give so much of Vaughan Williams' music such a distinctive flavour, and the use of which is his main if subtle contribution to 20th-century harmony, the Fantasia spins webs of soaring and serene polyphonic sound, the alternation of major and minor creating a nostalgic and yearning flavour in an idiom that is an English neo-Renaissance equivalent to the neo-classical movement.

These works established the essential flavour of Vaughan Williams' idiom, though it was to undergo constant evolution until his death. Nowhere is Vaughan Williams' range and contrasts of mood better expressed than in the nine symphonies which are the backbone of his output (though since Vaughan Williams was such a late developer, he was already 71 when he wrote the fifth symphony). All of them apart from the seventh use a traditional four-movement pattern, but within this is an exploration of many emotional facets, and although (after the choral first) only one of the symphonies has any kind of detailed programme, it is difficult not to see each symphony as reflecting the mood of particular extra-musical events or inspirations, if not a programmatic text. The Symphony No.2 `A London Symphony' (1912-1913) - or more accurately, a symphony `by a Londoner' - emerges from the 19th-century inheritance of the Romantic symphony, its opening redolent of the great city awakening in the gloom, a musical equivalent of a painting by Monet or Whistler. Westminster chimes appear (and they do keep time with the actual progress of the symphony), as well as a lavender seller's cry and the sounds of street musicians, but this is primarily a symphony of the evocation of mood (sometimes in darker hues than mere celebration), with one major innovation: the haunting epilogue, coming after the powerful finale, that seems to conjure up the Thames, with wisps of earlier material half-remembered. The Symphony No.3 `A Pastoral Symphony' (1921), is a combination of a haunting sense of loss (it was started in Northern France when Vaughan Williams was serving with an ambulance brigade) and wonder at the beauty of pastoral landscapes, encapsulating the emotions of a generation. Its atmosphere is contemplative throughout, visionary in the feel of its chordal progressions, developing through the metamorphosis of melodic idea rather than through traditional procedures, and using a wordless soprano in the finale. This is one of Vaughan Williams' most beautiful works; it is also of great interest from a purely symphonic point of view, with modal scales and procedures that swing into diatonic scales, a combination which is responsible for much of the haunting effects. The Symphony No.4 (1931-1934) burst like a thunderbolt onto Vaughan Williams' predominately pastoral image. Its opening bars unleash anger, a predominant mood in this darker coloured work, but undermined or opposed by a bouncy buoyancy typical of Vaughan Williams. It is also a concise and taut work, exactly containing what it wants to express, unified by the presence throughout the symphony of two motifs heard at the opening, and achieving a kind of emotional equilibrium in its finale, almost as if it is smiling at its own outburst. The Symphony No.5 (1938-1943) again confounded expectations by returning to a serene beauty and to the overlap of the modal and the diatonic. The darker undercurrents are kept at bay by the overall impression of visionary stillness found especially in the opening of the `romanza' slow movement and in the finale; they are there, notably in the scherzo, but they have the quality of something from the past, something remembered, and the achievement of this symphony is to create an atmosphere where the spiritually lyrical predominates over the more sinister or tragic without any sense of triumph or domination. He returned to something of the dark anger of the fourth symphony in the Symphony No.6 (1944-1947), but this is altogether a finer work, where the passions have been held, weighed, and then unleashed, and in terms of exploring the more difficult of human emotions (and presumably his own) this is Vaughan Williams' most searching symphony, and, together with the more lyrical fifth, his finest. Like the fourth, it erupts at its opening, but when the bouncing basses emerge they have a macabre, sardonic edge. An almost Elgarian noble lyricism attempts to oppose this, but ends up in a disconcerting uneasy climax that emerges into the true dark grit of the work, with menacing reiterated phrases against pallid, haunted strings, that a more resolute nobility attempts to overwhelm, but itself gets caught up in. The sardonic dominates the restless third movement, especially in the sound of saxophones, the whole suggesting some kind of malicious retributive fury, but all this suddenly emerges into the extraordinary epilogue finale. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep", Vaughan Williams commentated, quoting The Tempest, and this movement never rises above pp, occupying some remote region of the mind, and inevitably suggests parallels with nuclear oblivion. It is bleak, but also icily beautiful, and completely recasts the effect of the music that has gone before it. The Symphony No.7 `Sinfonia antartica' (1949-1952), with soprano and female chorus, has been treated as the ugly duckling of Vaughan Williams' symphonies, for it was the development of music he had written for a film about Scott of the Antarctic. Each of the five movements are headed by a quotation applicable to Scott's enterprise, and also descriptively to the music of the movement. In idiom it echoes and extends some of the effects of the sixth symphony, turning them to a more descriptive purpose, as if in emotional terms he was trying to reconcile the interior emotions of that work with a place in nature. It is also an instantly attractive work, especially the magisterial third movement, and if the symphonic argument is weaker than his other symphonies it deserves a more sympathetic reputation. The last two symphonies are products of the wisdom of old age, caring little whether they meet the expectations of younger minds. The sound of the Symphony No.8 (1953-1955) is enlivened by a battery of percussion instruments, many tuned; its variation form first movement covers many of Vaughan Williams' different musical hues. The Symphony No.9 (1956-1957), whose genesis was inspired by the Thomas Hardy landscape around Salisbury, is a tougher and more interesting work. There are touches of his earlier music throughout, but they are distilled into a softer, enigmatic glow, enhanced by saxophones (used lyrically) and the flügel horn.

Many of Vaughan Williams' other major works group themselves around the symphonies in terms of mood and tone. The beautiful A Lark Ascending (1920) for violin and orchestra, one of his most popular works, has with its soaring evocation of the bird over the English landscape the pastoral lucidity of the third symphony. Flos Campi (1925) for viola, wordless chorus and orchestra, is his finest work using a concertante instrument (though the piece is titled `suite'). The inspiration is the Song of Songs; the small chorus is used for its vocal textures and colours, and with the rich writing for the viola, like the lark descending, it has the visionary stillness felt in the fifth symphony, countered by a central dance-march (representing Solomon). Five Variants of `Dives and Lazarus' (1939) for strings and harps combines folk-song with the mood of the fifth symphony, as does the last movement of the String Quartet in A minor (String Quartet No.2, 1942-1944), and especially the attractive small-scale Concerto for Oboe and Strings (1944), the solo sometimes dancing, always lyrical, sometimes with the longer-phrased stillness inherent in the symphony. The drama and anger of the fourth symphony was preceded by a finer but less well-known work, the ballet (or `masque for dancing') Job (1927-1930). The scenario by Geoffrey Keynes is based on eight Blake illustrations to the Biblical story, in nine scenes in the score. Equally effective as a concert work, the ballet uses a large orchestra augmented by percussion, bass flute, organ and especially saxophones, used to telling effect in the sixth scene as Satan brings in three Comforters, with its apocalyptic vision of the Devil. The emotional range of the score is striking, from the pastoral to sardonic wild dances and broad visionary vistas. Much of it has a crushing power, leavened by moments of bouncy jauntiness to which some have objected, but was an essential part of Vaughan Williams' musical make-up, preventing any sense of distancing. The instrumental experimentation of the eighth symphony was reflected in the Romance (1951) for harmonica, strings and piano and the Bass Tuba Concerto (1954), both light-weight but entertaining works, an old man pottering about and simply enjoying himself without any pretensions.

The summation of all these different emotional aspects of Vaughan Williams' is the opera The Pilgrim's Progress (completed 1949), whose composition covered much of his life. Perceptive listeners will recognize not merely the Romanza movement from the fifth symphony (which was adapted from the opera when Vaughan Williams thought he would never complete it) but also echoes of most of his other symphonies; some critics have complained that the symphonies are a more effective expression than the opera of these ideas, but they write from the basis of knowing the symphonies first and then hearing the opera, and miss the point. For this work is Vaughan Williams' testament, from which the symphonies are the expansion and pendants, not the other way round. Based on Bunyan, but considerably condensed by the composer, the story is an allegorical quest rather than a drama, a ritualistic progression that Vaughan Williams called a `morality'; this has caused problems in staging, which should not now be valid following the wider understanding and acceptance of spiritual ritualistic works by Britten, Glass, Messiaen and Tavener. Indeed, The Pilgrim's Progress is not without colourful stage settings and characters, in the arming of the pilgrim or the bustle of Vanity Fair. Familiar with the pastoral folk-lyricism, the bouncy jocularity, or the powerful angry thunder of Vaughan Williams' best-known works, it is easy to forget that underneath those layers he was at heart a visionary, an agnostic with a deep understanding of the humanist and the spiritual, and their importance; hence the deep sincerity of his liturgical music. The Pilgrim's Progress is the finest expression of that vision, for the Pilgrim himself remains true to it (and Vaughan Williams made his intentions clear by changing his name from `Christian' to `Pilgrim', indicating it is an opera about universal spirituality, untied to any specific religion). He passes through those other emotional and musical layers that make up Vaughan Williams' personality and form the various scenes, and Vaughan Williams' evocation of the visionary could not be more beautiful or more ardent. The work will not appeal to those for whom such spirituality counts for little in their lives; but it can be an extraordinary experience for those prepared to respond. That he could write a purely dramatic, psychologically intense opera was demonstrated in Riders to the Sea (1925-1932). Not only is this arguably Vaughan Williams' finest single work, it is one of the tautest and most moving of all one-act operas. It sets J.M.Synge's play almost word for word, and Vaughan Williams supplies exactly the musical expansion the play needs, with a huge orchestral backdrop of the sea (including a wind machine) deeply involved in the action as a protagonist, a wrenching portrait of the old woman who loses her sons, sharp secondary characterization always pointed up by the music, and the sense of the other-worldly visionary common to the idiom of both Synge and Vaughan Williams. It is astonishing that it is not more often performed, for it always proves deeply affecting; the problem is finding a companion work that is not emotionally overshadowed by it. His other operas contain some very fine music, but their librettos subscribe to a rose-tinted view of the English past that now seems dated. Hugh the Drover (1910-1914) is a folk opera, drawing on traditional tunes and including a boxing-match in its action. The much more mature Sir John in Love (1924-1928), based on The Merry Wives of Windsor captures the atmosphere of Shakespeare's underlings aspiring to greater pretensions and to other wives' beds, but lacks a deeper undercurrent; it is, though, very entertaining, and would perhaps be more performed were it not for its large demands in cast and staging.

Vaughan Williams wrote a large number of choral works, from hymns to full scale cantatas. The oratorio Sancta civitas (1923-1925) for tenor, bass, chorus and orchestra sets texts (in English) drawn from Revelations, Plato and the Roman Missal, and was the first indication of his more angry, powerful voice, as opposed to the ruminative folk-song pastoral with which he was then associated. The cantata Dona nobis pacem (1936) includes passages from the Bible, Whitman, John Bright, and Latin prayer; its theme of peace not only looks back to the First World War but reflects the turbulence of contemporary European politics. If largely within the English choral tradition, its combination of rhythmic flow, passionate intensity, and the quietly lyrical reveals his depth of feeling. The Mass in G minor (1920-1921) is for unaccompanied double choir with a quartet of solo voices from within the chorus. It is in essence a neo-Renaissance work, merging older polyphonic procedures with Vaughan Williams' modern directness and, within its particular liturgical purposes, most effective. The Five Tudor Portraits (1935) for baritone, contralto and chorus, are rather rollicking settings of the early 16th-century poet John Skelton. Two of his more effective vocal works are unusual hybrids. The Fantasia on the Old 104th Psalm Tune (1949) for piano, chorus and orchestra sets the psalm with the old Ravenscroft tune in a series of variations with the piano playing a fantasia role, in a work that is half choral, half piano concerto. The marvellous Serenade to Music (1938) sets words from The Merchant of Venice for sixteen solo voices with orchestra, with a long pastorally lyrical orchestral introduction into which the voices quietly steal (with affinities to both Holst and Delius) and then weave a gorgeous web, the music entirely matching the magical seduction of the words in one of the finest of all Shakespeare settings. It is, however, rarely performed since it does require operatic or oratorio solo voices, and not merely a divided chorus. His many songs are always effective and sympathetic to the words, if (with the exception of the cycles On Wenlock Edge and the late Ten Blake Songs, 1957, for voice and oboe) not as penetrating as those of some of his English contemporaries; Linden Lea (1900) and Silent Noon (from the cycle of six Rossetti sonnets The House of Life, before 1903), with its limpid piano writing and cadences, are two of the best-loved of all English songs.

Vaughan Williams' output was extremely large, and those exploring his lesser-known works should bear in mind that many were written for specific occasions, purposes or performers, partly in keeping with his belief that music should be available to all walks of life, and thus not expect the universality of his major works. The neo-Baroque Concerto Grosso (1950) for string orchestra, for example, uses three bodies of strings: a concertante group (advanced players) against a group of players of intermediate skills and another of beginners. Other works can vary in quality; the ballet Old King Cole (1923) will perhaps only appeal to the English, while the Christmas cantata Hodie (This Day, 1954) contains music of visionary wonderment alongside pedestrian passages.


works include:

- 9 symphonies (No.1 A Sea Symphony for soloists, chorus and orch.; No.2 A London Symphony, No.3 Pastoral with soprano solo, No.7 Sinfonia antartica with soprano and female chorus

- concerto for oboe and strings; piano concerto (also version for 2 pianos and orch.); bass tuba concerto; Concerto accademico for violin and orch.; Flos Campi for viola, chorus and orch.; The Lark Ascending for violin and orch.; Romance for harmonica, strings and piano

- In the Fen Country, Fantasia on Greensleeves, Norfolk Rhapsody No.1, Prelude and Fugue, and other works for orch.; Concerto Grosso for string orch.; Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Partita for double string orch.; Five Variants of `Dives and Lazarus' for strings and harp(s)

- Suite de ballet for flute and piano; violin sonata; 2 string quartets; Phantasy Quintet for string quintet;

- Introduction and Fugue for 2 pianos; Three Preludes and other works for organ

- song cycles Along the Field (for voice and violin), Four Last Songs, On Wenlock Edge, Songs of Travel and Ten Blake Songs (for voice and oboe); many solo songs

- Benedicte for soprano, chorus and orch.; cantata Dona Nobis Pacem; cantata Epithalamium; Five Mystical Songs for baritone, chorus and orch.; Five Tudor Portraits for chorus; cantata Hodie; cantata In Windsor Forest; Magnificat for soprano, woman's chorus, flute and orch.; Mass in G minor for unaccompanied double chorus; oratorio Sanctas Civitas for tenor, bass, chorus and orch.; Serenade to Music for 16 solo voices and orch.; cantata The Sons of Light; Te Deum; Towards the Unknown Region for chorus and orch.; other works with chorus

- ballets Job and Old King Cole

- operas Hugh the Drover, The Pilgrim's Progress, Riders to the Sea and Sir John in Love; nativity play The First Nowell

- film scores


recommended works:

All the symphonies are recommended; those new to Vaughan Williams might care to start with the central symphonies from A London Symphony (No.2) to the Symphony No.6.

cantata Dona nobis pacem (1936)

Fantasia on Greensleeves (1934) for orchestra

Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) for two string orchestras and string quartet

Flos Campi (1925) for viola, wordless chorus and orchestra

masque for dancing Job (1927-1030)

A Lark Ascending (1920) for violin and orchestra

song-cycle On Wenlock Edge (1909) for tenor, piano, and string quartet

opera The Pilgrim's Progress (completed 1949)

opera Riders to the Sea (1925-1932)

Serenade to Music (1938) for sixteen solo voices and orchestra

song-cycle Songs of Travel (completed by 1907)

Ten Blake Songs (1957) for voice and oboe



R.Vaughan Williams   National Music, 1973

M.Kennedy                 The Works of Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1964

H.Ottaway                  Vaughan Williams, 1966

U.Vaughan Williams   R.V.W., 1964


WALTON (Sir) William Turner                                                                                                  

born 29th March 1902            at Oldham

died 8th March 1983  at Ischia (Italy)


William Walton's place in 20th-century music is currently an equivocal one, rather like that of his friend Hindemith, with whose music he has much in common. Like Hindemith, his works remain on the margins of the repertoire (with the possible exception of the oratorio Belshazzar's Feast), while his name remains universally known. An individual voice in English music, he totally ignored the English interest in old English music and in folk-song, and (again like Hindemith) developed an idiom usually deriving internally from the technique of composition rather than being inspired, like so many English composers, by extra-musical sources (an exception are the orchestral overtures). His harmonic style, essentially tonal (though later using tonal bases founded on elements of note-rows), and his structures are largely traditional, and in aesthetic he continues an English line initiated by Elgar. At the same time his brilliant rhythmic incision and complexity (initially inspired in part by jazz and by Stravinsky) were new to English orchestral music. His relatively small output is loosely divided by the war years, after which his insistent rhythmic energy became more mellow, and between a number of shorter occasional works and larger scores of more serious intent.

The work that brought him to fame was a tongue-in-cheek divertissement, the brilliant and witty Façade (1921-1922, for reciter and string instruments, revised 1926 for larger instrumental group, revised again with additional material in 1979 as Façade 2, and turned into two suites without reciter, 1928 and 1939). He never repeated its chamber-scale dramatics (except for echoes in the comic opera The Bear), although the ironic intellectual wit remained an element of his style. The poems are `abstract' but socially ironic experiments by Dame Edith Sitwell, the music a parody of contemporary Parisian musical manners, with strong jazz overtones.

But Walton's preferred medium was that of the large orchestra. Prominent and popular are a number of occasional overtures and marches following the Elgarian tradition, notably Crown Imperial (1937) with its noble tune, full of pomp and circumstance, and the 1953 coronation march Orb and Sceptre. The overture Portsmouth Point (1925), in sonata form, is a busy score, combining a sense of the English pictorial in brilliant orchestral colours with rhythmic diversity. The overture Scapino (1940), inspired by a drawing of the commedia dell'arte character, is jaunty enough but unconvincing, and for readers looking for such works Malcolm Arnold's similar overtures are more entertaining and vivid. However, the later Johannesburg Festival Overture (1956) and the Capriccio Burlesco (1968) are abstract works, more clear-cut, the former enlivened by a sense of Afro-Cuban sounds in the percussion, the latter with an almost neo-classical verve. The Partita for Orchestra (1957) is a three-movement showpiece for orchestra, brilliantly executed but not very memorable.

The three string concertos have been much admired by critics, but have not achieved a similar popularity with soloists or audiences, and readers are advised to take such statements as "Few works in this century can match Walton's two pre-war string concertos in richness and warmth of melody" with a degree of scepticism. Such lyricism is indeed present in the Viola Concerto (1928-1929, orchestration revised 1961), premiered by Hindemith, but it is compromised by the nervous impetuous energy, an unusual combination which partly explains its marginal place in the repertoire. The Violin Concerto (1938-1939) starts dreamily, but quickly turns into a virtuoso work for the soloist, again with an unsettled quality to the music. The Cello Concerto (1956) is more obviously warm, with a Mediterranean tinge (Walton's home was the island of Ischia, off Naples).

As with so much of Walton's music there is a feeling in these works of the emotional distance between the composer and his material, of an intellectual refinement. It is in the two symphonies (the first Walton's masterpiece) that the personal involvement is palpable. The dramatic Symphony No.1 (1932-1935) is savage and shattering, with the influence of Sibelius in the build-up of profuse thematic ideas. Its opening phrase, capable of both power and nostalgia, insinuates into the memory. The unsettled atmosphere of the work is partly based on the use of the interval of a seventh, partly on the contrast between changing chromatic harmonies and the foundation of long bass pedal points, and partly on the orchestration, that includes saxophone colours. The scherzo has a combination of amiability and menace, and the weakest section is the final fugal movement, more celebratory and restrained, and written some time after the previous three. The three-movement Symphony No.2 (1959-1960) uses a 12-note sequence (with six of the notes in the first movement's second subject, the other six stated in the slow movement, and the full twelve as the theme of the passacaglia theme and variations in the finale). Structurally more assured, the finale is in three large sections, and while much of the bite of the earlier symphony remains, the nervous energy and short terse phrases have broadened. The mood is more light-hearted, with a song-like slow movement with thick string textures predominating. Of the later orchestral works, the Variations on a Theme by Hindemith (1962-1963) has nine variations each of whose tonality is based on a different note of the Hindemith theme (from his Viola Concerto). Although sometimes dry, the elegant writing has considerable variety and typically purposeful orchestration.

Although the oratorio Belshazzar's Feast (1931) was a landmark in the English choral tradition, its rhythmic insistence, pulsing energy, fierce orchestration and total absence of sentimentality representing a new departure, time has made it seem much tamer, especially in comparison to the contemporary choral works of composers such as Prokofiev or Orff. Essentially a vividly descriptive piece rather than a philosophical or spiritual oratorio, much of the bite comes from the large orchestra, used in clear-cut colours with fierce brass and percussion dominating. The choral writing, marvellously textured, is less overtly incisive, and has its antecedents in Elgar. But the work continues to thrill audiences, partly because the vocal writing so often taxes the limits of acceptance of modernity for amateur choral societies. His two operas have failed to keep a hold in the repertoire. The grand Romantic opera Troilus and Cressida (1950-1954) is predominantly lyrical, concentrating on vocal line rather than the symphonic development that might have been expected. The one-act comedy of manners, The Bear (1965-1967), based on Chekhov's 'jest in one act', is totally different, being essentially a work of parody of various operatic styles (including his own earlier opera). The ballet The Wise Virgins (1940) is based on orchestrations of music by J.S.Bach.

An important part of Walton's output was his uncompromising music for films, especially for three Shakespeare films, Henry V, Hamlet and Richard III. He was knighted in 1951.


works include:

- 2 symphonies

- cello concerto; viola concerto; violin concerto; Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orch.

- Capriccio Burlesco, march Crown Imperial, Improvisations on an Impromptu of Benjamin Britten, Johannesburg Festival Overture, march Orb and Sceptre; Prologo e fantasia, Siesta, Partita, Portsmouth Point, Variations on a Theme by Hindemith and Varii capricci for orch.

- 5 bagatelles for guitar; violin sonata; piano quartet; string quartet

- songs including A Song for the Lord Mayor's Table for soprano and piano or orch.; oratorio Belshazzar's Feast; Coronation Te Deum, Gloria and In Honour of the City for chorus and orchestra and other works for chorus

- ballets The Quest and The Wise Virgins

- melodrama Façade; operas The Bear and Troilus and Cressida

- music for films


recommended works:

oratorio Belshazzar's Feast (1931)

melodrama Façade (1921-2, revised 1926)

Symphony No.1 (1932-1935)

Symphony No.2 (1959-1960)

Violin Concerto (1938-1939)



F.Howes The Music of William Walton 1965, 2nd edition 1974


WILLIAMS Grace                                                                                                                      

born 19th February 1906        at Barry

died 10th February 1977        at Barry


Grace Williams was of especial importance to the music of Wales, establishing, with Daniel Jones, a place for Welsh classical composition and greatly encouraging the improvements in standards of orchestral performance and composition by her example and her music. Within a fairly narrow range of a relatively conservative idiom, and while not of exceptional profundity, her music is also individual and exceptionally beautiful, filled with an ecstatic fervour and joy, and would win many friends outside Wales were it better known. She destroyed most of her early works, and her mature idiom has affinities with the choral music of Holst and the more visionary side of Vaughan Williams, though without the pastoral element and sometimes tinged with unexpected influences from Strauss and later Mahler. What makes her music so attractive is its exceptional fluidity; in many of her works, all the components seem to have been spun out of gossamer. Technically this is achieved by a number of elements. There is an absence of classical procedures, leading to a more spontaneous flow of idea; her preferred forms were the suite, or were dictated by word-settings. When she attempted a more traditional structure, such as the Symphony No.2 (1956, revised 1954), with more turbulent emotional material than was her custom, the traditional harmonic arguments are muted; the Trumpet Concerto (1963) was structurally more successful, highlighting one of her favourite instruments. The chromatic harmonies, especially in the 1940s and early 1950s, are often ambiguous (while founded on a diatonic base), sometimes without key signatures, oscillating on modal ideas, and often using a scale of alternating semitones and tones, probably derived from Bartók (the scale is also Messiaen's second mode of transposition). Her rhythms are rarely emphatic, but often full of subtle changes that create lithe, half-unnoticed change and movement. The fervour arises from this constant fluidity, the ecstasy often from the high writing for instrumental or vocal lines; the solo vocal writing sometimes encompasses wide leaps, drawn from Viennese influences, but these are so integrated into the general tone that they often go unremarked.

Of her earlier music, Hen Walia (1930) for orchestra is a suite of Welsh folk-songs and folk-like tunes, while the Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes (1940) for orchestra is her best-known work with a nationalist hue, using eight traditional Welsh lullabies. The short, heart-felt Elegy for Strings (1936, revised 1940) exemplifies her aesthetic, rapturous, emotionally undemonstrative, and harmonically ambiguous for much of the work. An abiding influence was that of the sea beside which she lived (and whose constant change and motion is reflected in her music), and the suite Sea Sketches (1944) for strings is perhaps her best-known work. In five sections, ranging from chromatic turbulent tossing, to the mysterious (with fog-horns subtly sounding), through breakers rolling over each other, to the final calm sea in summer reminiscent of late Strauss, this is perhaps the most accurately evocative musical view of the sea penned, avoiding any attempt to anthropomorphize or to add spurious colour. The suite The Dancers (1951) for soprano, female chorus, strings and harp is the finest of these earlier works, setting five poems ranging from Chesterton to Kathleen Raine. Its opening, the falling violin line answered by the soprano, is rapturous, and the magical movement of the second setting of Belloc's `Tarantella' is matched by the lament of the third, the soloist repeating a refrain of her lover's death eight times, each at a different pitch, over a floating, chanting chorus.

After 1954 Grace Williams never again utilized an authentic Welsh folk-tune; instead, within a framework of less ambiguous key structures, she started to incorporate some of the inflections and accents of the Welsh language into her music. Penillion (1955) for orchestra most obviously started this process, for it emulates (in three movements) the traditional Welsh art of vocal improvisations with irregular metrical structures against a repeated melody on the accompanying harp (here replaced by various members of the orchestra). The Welsh style is declamatory, and this infiltrated her vocal writing, notably in the powerful song-cycle Six Poems to Gerard Manley Hopkins (1958) for contralto and string sextet. Hopkins' highly musical and alliterative verse is difficult to set, but his metrical systems were themselves influenced by Welsh verse, and Williams' setting succeeds in releasing both the metrical effects and the spiritual beauty, with a distinct echo of Mahler in the middle. Perhaps her finest vocal setting is one of her last. Redolent of the movement of the sea of its title, Ave maris stella (Hail, Star of the Sea, 1973) for unaccompanied choir, oscillates between the verses, with complex vertical writing, and the soft swell of the refrain, all suffused with a sense of loving prayer. Her one-act comic opera, The Parlour (1961), based on a Maupassant story of a cantankerous grandmother whose supposed death leads to family wrangles, confounded when she awakes from a coma, was highly regarded by some of those fortunate enough to encounter it.


works include:

- 2 symphonies (No.1 Symphonic Impressions)

- trumpet concerto; violin concerto; Carillons for oboe and orch.; Sinfonia concertante for piano and orch.

- Welsh Dances for flute, clarinet, trumpet, 2 violins, viola, cello and double bass; other chamber music

- Three Nocturnes for 2 pianos

Ballads for Orchestra, Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes, Four Illustrations for the Legend of Rhiannon, Hen Walia, Penillion, Processional, Suite for Orchestra and other works for orch.; Elegy and Sea Sketches for string orch.

- The Billows of the Sea for contralto and piano; Fairest of Stars for soprano and orch.; Four Mediaeval Welsh Poems for contralto, harp and harpsichord; Six Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins for contralto and string sextet; Songs of Sleep for soprano, alto flute and harp; many other songs

- All Seasons shall be Sweet for soprano, women's chorus and orch.; Ave maris stella for unaccompanied choir; Benedicite for soprano, women's chorus or full chorus and orch.; Carmina avium for chorus, viola d'amore or viola and harp; The Dancers for soprano, women's chorus, strings and harp; Missa Cambrensis for soloists, chorus, boy's choir and orch. and other choral works

- ballet Theseus and Ariadne

opera The Parlour; incidental music; film music


recommended works:

Ave maris stella (1973) for unaccompanied choir

Sea Sketches (1944) for orchestra

Six Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1958) for contralto and strings

choral suite The Dancers (1951) for soprano, woman's chorus, strings and harp



M.Boyd           Grace Williams, 1980


WILLIAMSON Malcolm - see under AUSTRALIA




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