Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
Born Boars Hill, near Oxford, 12 May 1903 - Died 1989
Lennox Berkeley was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, in Norfolk, then at Merton College, Oxford. After meeting Ravel he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger from 1927 to 1932, becoming friendly with Francis Poulenc, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger and Alberts Roussel. This could explain why his music throughout has a distinctly Gallic flavour and demonstrates a fastidious attention to detail and workmanship. From 1942 to 1945 he was on the staff of the BBC Music Dept. Elected President of the Performing Right Society, he was awarded the CBE in 1957 and knighted in 1974. Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music from 1946 to 1968, his pupils included Nicholas Maw, Richard Rodney Bennett, David Bedford and John Tavener. Honours and awards include the Collard Fellowship in 1946, the Cobbett Medal in 1962, Ordre de Merite Cultural by Monaco in 1967, Composers' Guild Composer of the Year in 1973 and the Papal Knighthood of St Gregory in the same year. Appointed Hon. Fellow of Merton College in 1974, Hon Professor, University of Keele and Hon Fellowship of the Royal Northern College of Music in 1975. His son Michael Berkeley is also a composer.
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(Age at time of composition shown in parenthesis)
Reg Williamson Norwich Music Society
Extract form Contemporary British Music by Francis Routh (Macdonald 1972) - with Permission
Lennox Berkeley, who was born in 1903, developed a distinctive style within the traditional idiom, and has maintained it consistently. His most characteristic features are a textural lightness and lucidity, a harmonic piquancy, an eighteenth-century galanterie, and a thematic brevity; and these intrinsic qualities are more effectively realized in the more intimate forms than in the large structures; in works of limited and precise emotional range, rather than in those of broader sweep or more profound import; in such orchestral works as the Serenade or Divertimento, rather than in the symphonies; in chamber operas, such as A Dinner Engagement, or Ruth, rather than in the more heroic, grand opera Nelson; and particularly in songs and chamber music.
Berkeley spent five years in France (19281933) under Nadia Boulanger, when he also met some of the French composers of this periodPoulenc, Milhaud, Honegger, Sauguet. The influence of Fauré, Ravel, Stravinsky was very strong on him; his style was firmly orientated at this time towards a French logic, precision and clarity, rather than towards an English romanticism or modalism.
Many parallels can be seen in Berkeleys music with the styles of other composers and other periods. The closest is with Mozart; the Divertimento, the Horn Trio, A Dinner Engagement, to mention just three examples, are entirely Mozartian in conception. Among French composers, he has close affinities with Faur6 and Poulenc; with Faur6 particularly in the songs, though Berkeleys harmonic style is piquant and without Faurés subtlety; with Poulenc in his melodic and harmonic style. The second set of Ronsard Sonnets was dedicated to Poulencs memory. Among British composers, he and Britten share many qualities. A similar receptivity to literature and the poetic image, which finds its chief outlet in songwriting; a similar interest in opera, and particularly chamber operaLennox Berkeleys works were performed by the English Opera Group, one of them at Aldeburgh; a similar concern for church music. Points of contrast, however, between the two composers are equally instructive. Berkeleys style has not evolved as much as Brittens has; he has written little if any Gebrauchsmusik for the less talented or amateur performerindeed, though his work does not call for virtuoso performance, polish and refinement are essential ingredients in his musical personality; finally, unlike Britten, he is one of the oldest established teachers in this country, and his numerous pupils at the Royal Academy have included Richard Bennett and Nicholas Maw.
His works cover every genre. Among the first of his orchestral works to win distinctive recognition were the Serenade for string orchestra, and the Divertimento for chamber orchestra; among chamber works, the Sonatine for violin and piano. His characteristically short-winded melodic style, aptly suited to such a piece as the Sinfonietta, which Berkeley wrote for Anthony Bernards London Chamber Orchestra, is not so amenable to the more sustained development and growth of the symphonies. He has also written concertos for piano and violin, and some early piano pieces; he himself is a pianist.
Berkeleys songs include poetry from many sources, and the words, depending on their content, add a correspondingly extra dimension to his pliant style. His response to a text resembles Brittens in this respect. Berkeleys most intense and powerful expression is reserved for those texts with a religious significance: the Donne settings, or the Four Poems of St. Teresa of Avila. His strong religious sense finds expression in several sacred works, some of them liturgical. His early Stabat Mater (1946), dedicated to Britten, was for six solo voices and instruments; his later Magnificat (1968) was more in the grand manner of the older choral tradition, and was written for performance in St. Pauls Cathedral during a City of London Festival.
His first opera, as in the case of Britten, was his most successful. The librettist for A Dinner Engagement was Paul Dehn, who also co-operated in the later work, The Castaway. In the brilliant writing of Dehns libretto, Berkeley found the perfect foil. The shortwinded, ridiculous plot, and its total lack of innuendo or intricacy, ideally suited Berkeleys style; the result was a highly successful comic opera. The story of the next opera, Ruth, was biblical, with a libretto by Eric Crozier, while The Castaway was an adaptation by Paul Dehn of the Homeric story of the shipwrecked Odysseus and the princess Nausicaa.
It appears that, just as English composers during the inter-war years responded in a mood of romantic nostalgia to the movements that occurred on the continent of Europe some twenty years previously, so the wistfulness and the elegance that characterised the music of certain French composers in the twenties, of whom we may chiefly mention Poulenc, was reflectedagain some twenty years laterin the work of Berkeley.
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