The Life and Works of Geoffrey
his recently published memoirs Geoffrey Winters recalls that
a few years after his studies at the Royal Academy of Music
in the 1940s he met Sir Arthur Bliss at a Composers’ Guild luncheon.
He says of this meeting,
‘I mentioned that he had been instrumental
in my becoming a composer. He replied, Did I want to thank him,
or sue him! ‘ (1)
To the young aspiring composer, Bliss’s levity
might have been distinctly off-putting. In retrospect, perhaps
it also serves to remind one of the exigencies of the compositional
process and the subsequent difficulties contemporary composers
may often experience in getting their works repeatedly performed
and widely recognised.
The celebration of Geoffrey Winters’ birthday
in October 2008 was a timely reminder of the need for a reappraisal
of his compositional output. Such a landmark event provides
an ideal opportunity to reflect and offer an overview of a lifetime’s
work which has been both prolific and profound. The development
of Winters’ work over the last six decades has undoubtedly established
him as a composer of considerable significance. Yet, his name
and reputation may be more familiar to music educationalists
and teachers, rather than to the concert-going public.2
It cannot have escaped those who attended the
world premiere of Winters’ Variations for Two Pianos Op.
19, performed by Claire and Antoinette Cann in the West Road
Concert Hall, Cambridge on 2 October 2008, that here is music
that is challenging, finely crafted and immensely rewarding.
With such an enthusiastic and rapturous reception the composer
received on this occasion, one feels that here is music that
should - and does - have an enduring appeal. The fact that the
work was composed nearly fifty years ago does however raise
questions as to why Winters’ work in general has not received
more exposure and prominence. Perhaps his propensity for too
readily assigning his music to the drawer when a performer or
publisher had rejected it, showed a lack of confidence in his
own work. This also showed in his reluctance to use the phone.
He used to refer to his wife, until she died three years ago,
as his ‘telephone secretary’. He is a little better now.
Winters’ main body of work encompasses instrumental,
chamber music, vocal and choral music through to large-scale
orchestral works such as his Violin Concerto Op. 51 and Symphonies
Opp. 23 and 55. From the gravitas of the opening movement of
the Concerto to the witty humour of the second movement of the
Second Symphony, the listener is treated to a range of music
of breath-taking contrast, ingenuity and expressivity. Smaller-scale
works such as the viola sonatas, works for recorders or solo
instrumental pieces, such as Domenico’s Music Box for
Harpsichord Op. 64, are no less impressive and make an important
contribution to the 20th century repertoire for these
instruments. One must also pay tribute to the extensive range
of works composed and published especially for children such
as The Year Op. 26 or Thames Journey Op. 31, both
written for junior voices and ensemble. Originating from the
late 1960s, these and other works for children were very successful
Winters was born in Chingford on 17 October 1928
and was the youngest of three boys. His father was a monumental
sculptor and this undoubtedly has influenced Winters’ life-long
interest and proficiency in calligraphy. Apart from his being
briefly apprenticed to his father at the age of 17 to gain a
skill in letter cutting and stone sculpture, he was brought
up to revere Eric Gill, Epstein, Morris and the calligrapher,
Edward Johnson. Indeed this influence is manifest when examining
any of Winters’ manuscripts, revealing a precision, attention
to detail and aesthetic awareness that is quite unique. Although
his mother was, by all accounts, a very capable pianist and
would sing ballads and music hall songs, Winters’ early musical
education at school was variable. Piano lessons commenced at
the age of nine, but progress was interrupted because of the
wartime evacuation. However, he did take an active interest
in composition. His first piece, which he still has in his possession,
was a funeral march, ‘...much inspired by my first piano
book of Mrs Curwen’s. What a strange thing to have in a book
In 1939 Winters passed his scholarship for Chingford
County High School, but on 3 September was evacuated to a billet
near Rochford. Over the next three years he moved to no less
than six billets countrywide and recounts that it was initially
one of ‘.... the unhappier periods in my life.’(3a) In
1940 he eventually ended up in the Forest of Dean and attended
the Parish Hall near Coleford for his school lessons. The French
teacher, Miss Boagey, made a lasting impression on him. It was
here that he heard her practising the Grieg Sonata in E minor,
Op. 7. As he says,‘I fell in love with the piece, which had
a lasting influence on me.’(4)
It was in his final billet that Winters found
happiness and contentment. Referring to his hosts as Uncle Les
and Auntie May he recalls, ‘Auntie May had been a piano teacher,
but when she married, Uncle Les (very autocratically),had forbidden
her to teach, or it seemed, to have anything to do with music.
This was the start of my career in music, for although she didn’t
practice, she had many standard classics. I was not very advanced
from my pre-war lessons, but I battled away with such works
as The Pathetic Sonata of Beethoven.....’(5)
Returning to Chingford in the summer of 1942,
Winters resumed his piano studies and excelled at theory. Taking
his school certificate in nine subjects he gained Matriculation
exemption. With ensuing A level studies Winters became passionate
about architecture. His musical tastes and experiences broadened
to Bliss, John Ireland, Vaughan Williams as well as Beethoven,
Mozart and Schubert.
Student Days and National Service.
Towards the end of the war, whilst attending
a Wigmore Hall concert, Winters introduced himself to John Ireland.
Ireland agreed to give Winters several tutorials as part of
his preparation for the Royal Academy of Music in 1945. Ireland
also wrote a letter to the Academy suggesting that Winters should
be taught by Alan Bush, a former pupil of his.
Also at this time, a chance meeting with the
Academy professor Frederic Jackson resulted in Winters giving
up sixth form and having piano tuition from Frederica Hartnoll
for the summer term. Winters acknowledges that in these three
or four months he improved his piano playing more than at any
other time in his life.
A successful audition at the Academy resulted
in Winters initially being tutored by Felix Swinstead for piano
and Priaulx Rainier for composition. At this particular time
both Frederic Jackson and Alan Bush were in the forces. The
adventurous attitude of Rainier broadened Winters’ musical horizons
in a variety of ways and he recalls being encouraged to attend
a Bartók quartet series at the Wigmore Hall. This experience
resulted in Bartók remaining a seminal influence on his style,
particularly in later years.
In his first spell at the Academy he also read
Hindemith’s ‘The Craft of Composition‘ and this was a formative
influence on his early compositional development. Winters very
much felt at this time that such an approach might be a solution
to him being a tonal composer, whilst allowing him to explore
and expand his chordal and harmonic repertoire.
Perhaps the central influence on Winters was
the systematic teaching of Alan Bush. Winters acknowledges that
this had a considerable effect on his craft and technique. Bush
encouraged close study of Bach Chorales and was insistent that
his students handled contrapuntal elements capably.
Emphasis on compositional structure was central
to Bush’s teaching, as was the expounding of the thematic system.
He was particularly keen on the derivation and development of
a work’s material from the opening thematic motif; something
which preoccupies Winters in a number of his works and most
notably in his Second Symphony.
Whilst at the Academy, Winters met Christine
Ive and their friendship blossomed into a proposal of marriage
shortly after Easter 1947. It was at this stage that Winters
composed 24 Preludes for Piano, dedicated to his future wife
and a setting of The Ancient Mariner for narrator, chorus
and small orchestra. That Summer, Christine successfully took
the LRAM in performance and Winters the intermediate B.Mus.
Call up into the army resulted in their marriage taking place
during a spell of compassionate leave. After National Service,
now with a young family, Winters resumed studies at the Academy
in 1949. At this juncture Winters started to give his works
opus numbers: A Wind Quartet, Op. 1 played at the Academy, the
Yorkshire Suite, Op. 2, all but in name a symphony and
the Toccata, Op. 3 for piano. These early works reveal Winters’
fluent and self-assured compositional technique in three very
With the Wind Quartet there is adventurous melodic
and harmonic invention containing many of Winters’ hallmarks:
a rising minor 3rd motif permeating much of the development
of material in the second movement, extensive textural contrasts
with bold unison writing and contrapuntal interplay between
the parts and extensive use of rhythmic devices such as syncopation.
The three movement Yorkshire Suite is
a substantial work with a distinctly programmatic theme. Winters’
close affinity with the Yorkshire Ridings gave him the inspiration
for the piece. Broadcast and recorded by the BBC Northern Orchestra
under George Hurst, the first movement, East Riding is
an evocative and atmospheric piece, in part reminding one of
the more pastoral influences of Vaughan Williams and early Tippett.
With the incorporation of the chimes of Beverley Minster, it
clearly demonstrates Winters’ adept and confident handling of
orchestral forces. Imaginative instrumentation is explored to
great effect throughout the whole work. Textural and structural
elements are skilfully handled, whilst the virtuosic and vibrant
orchestral passage work of the final movement merits repeated
From its opening bars, the Toccata for
Piano is a kaleidoscope of three note arpeggi in ever-changing
keys: C major, Eb major, F major, Db major, but nevertheless
remains strongly tonal. The exploration and ambiguous quality
of the harmonic material of the flowing opening passage is contrasted
with the more disjunctive and texturally transparent material
of the middle section. The rapidity and delicacy explored in
the writing, so impressively realised in an early recorded performance
by the composer’s wife, returns in the final pages. This is
made all the more surprising by the coda, which briefly returns
to the material of the middle section before finding a resolution
on three descending Cs. (6)
Winter’s gained his teacher’s LRAM in 1950 and
had joined the Graduate of the Royal Schools of Music course
at the Academy with a view to being able to teach in schools.
Although composing rather less at this time, he won a light
music prize with An English Jig Op. 6a and later a duet
version Op. 6b played by his wife and Margaret Kitchen as part
of an Alan Bush programme.
Gaining the GRSM in July 1952, Winters commenced
teaching music in Larkswood School, Chingford and was a strong
advocate of singing and the Tonic Sol Fa method. (7)
At this time Winters embarked on composing a
Thames Symphony, but all that came of it was a single
movement which became A River Pastoral (Intermezzo)
Op. 7.First performed by the Halle Orchestra under Maurice Handford
in a public rehearsal, A River Pastoral was subsequently
broadcast by the Berlin Radio Orchestra conducted by Alan Bush.
It remains one of Winters’ favourite works. The richly orchestrated,
elegiac and lyrical sound canvas is instantly memorable for
its opening rising motif, predominantly constructed around intervals
of a 4th, which become integral to the whole movement.
With this piece, and the romantic Viola Sonata, Op. 8 (one of
number of works written for the instrument and which won the
Harry Danks Prize), the powerful and at times bitonal Essay
for Orchestra, Op. 9 (also given a public performance by
the Hallé) and the somewhat more dissonant First String Quartet,
Op. 10 (which won The Clements Memorial Prize). Winters’ compositional
method and style briefly started to move towards a totally new
and unexpected direction.
Winters immersed himself in the 12-tone system
and this resulted in some serial compositions, most notably
the Three Inventions for Horn and Tuba, Op. 11, the Piano
Sonata Op. 12 and the Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano
Op. 13. However, by his own admission Winters felt that the
esoteric, perhaps cerebral nature of the musical language and
style would not endear itself to the general public. After a
break in creative work, he became less preoccupied with serial
music and composed a Miniature Suite for Recorders Op.
17 and the Concertino for Piano, Horn and Strings Op. 18. Both
these works proved to be far more popular and accessible.
With the Variations for Two Pianos,
Op. 19 that followed, here was a work that embraced a more neo-classical
approach. Using as its main theme Friedrich Kuhlau’s Allegro
burlesco from the Sonatina in A minor, Op. 88, No. 3, the
seven variations that follow explore dissonance, structural
symmetry, textural clarity, extensive use and development of
the theme’s opening 3-note motif (Variation 1) and octave passages
(Variation 6) reminiscent of Prokofiev. Here Winters’ musical
language is decidedly more dissonant but within a tonal landscape.
Such other works as his Sonatina for Flute and Piano, Op. 28
and the Sonatina for Piano Op. 29, also have a neo-classical
influence. Winters also acknowledges the considerable influences
of Prokofiev and Shostakovich on his own musical language. It
is certainly the case that Winters’ knowledge and regard for
the past is in no way inhibiting and has provided a rich stimulus
for his creative imagination.
Middle Period Works
Spanning a 16 year span in the middle period of Winters’ composing
output, the Symphony No. 1, Op. 23 and the Symphony No. 2 Op.
55 establish a significant development and maturity in musical
form and language. What becomes increasingly evident over this
period is Winters’ eclectic and intellectual rigour. Here there
is a move away from the early influences to a more individual
and original musical language. This is quite apparent in the
harmonic and rhythmic contrast in the First Symphony which received
its first performances in London in 1973, including a performance
at the Royal Festival Hall by the then New Philharmonia Orchestra
under Owain Arwel Hughes. The success of this work lies in his
use of bold and colourful orchestral timbre and textural ingenuity,
a rich and varied harmonic palette and an organic growth within
the context of a taut and concise symphonic structure. Despite
Alan Bush’s comment that perhaps the work was not rhetorical
enough - its total duration is 16 minutes -Winters notes that
he was particularly interested in brevity at that time. The
Daily Telegraph critic wrote, ‘..the adagio’s spare and yet
thoughtfully written lines show what Mr Winters can do. For
a slow movement to reveal unsuspected weightiness is bit like
Shostakovich and so was this symphony’s finale with the brass
provocatively repeated A major chords pitted against a soaring
C minor/major melody......the work left no doubt that here is
The Second Symphony, first performed by the Guildhall
School of Music Graduate Orchestra in 1978, is a more extensive
and expansive work with imaginative scoring particularly for
the percussion section in the jocular and jazzy second movement.
With the opening of the 1st movement being introduced
with a long sustained B emerging from the lower strings and
passed around to the rest of the string section, the sense and
feeling of timelessness conjures up a sound-world not that dissimilar
to the opening bars of Mahler’s 1st Symphony. As
Winters goes on to mention in the programme notes, the timeless
B... ‘.... collects on an A when the oboe joins in and in
a leisurely fashion this pair of notes is discussed and trilled
until the horns introduce the note C followed almost immediately
by Eb on the xylophone and piano. After a brief cello cadenza
C sharp is solemnly played by the brass. From these five notes
the remainder of the work derives its main melodic material.’(9)
The 2nd movement, introduced on five
approximate pitches for percussion instruments, also explores
additive rhythms and more unusual timbres such as key tapping
on woodwind instruments. The sombre opening of the slow third
movement contains hushed string cluster chords, subsequent use
of aleatoric techniques and incorporates most effective writing
for solo cello and violas. With the final movement there is
a reworking and recapitulation of earlier material particularly
in the final thrilling Piu Mosso section.
Set within the context of the 20thcentury
British symphonic tradition, that includes Vaughan Williams,
Walton, Tippett, Arnold and Rubbra to name but a few, Winters’
works make an important contribution to the genre. Along with
the Violin Concerto, they represent the pinnacle of his orchestral
Over this period in time Winters taught music
in a secondary school and later as a college lecturer up until
his retirement in the late 1970s. Preoccupation with teaching
in a secondary school resulted in him composing very little
at this time. However, from 1967 came a series of works for
children which were readily published. On moving to Gipsy Hill
College as a lecturer he became prolific again and most notably
composed Reflections for Recorder Op. 45 and Conversations
for Recorder Consort, Op. 46.
After the Second Symphony, Winters’ composed
an astonishing variety of works spanning 14 years. Now living
in Suffolk as a freelance composer he received numerous commissions,
including, Caprice: Brass Fair for brass band,
Op. 63, performed at the Brass Band Championships in 1983 and
Studies from a Rainbow for piano, Op. 70, performed in
Cambridge, the Purcell Room and most successfully in the States.
One of the outstanding works of this period is
Winters’ Meeting Point song-cycle, Op. 59, first performed
in the Wigmore Hall in 1978. The cycle of five songs, which
in a sense is autobiographical, sets the poems by Marlowe, Robert
Graves and Louis MacNiece in a contemplative and sentient manner.
With this and such later works as the exquisite Tributaries
for solo harp, Op. 79, the light-hearted Mutations for
two trumpets (1988) and Summer Songs for chorus, Op.
90, Winters continued to explore new directions in adventurous
and versatile ways. As with his compositional output as a whole,
one cannot deny that here is music that is more than deserving
of a wider exposure and recognition in the concert hall, through
radio broadcast and recording. Although many early recordings
exist of Winters’ works and a number of scores are still available
from the composer or his publishers, a reappraisal of much of
his repertoire is now long overdue. The upsurge of interest
in lesser known 20th century British composers, by
such enterprising recording companies as Naxos (and indeed from
other independent recording companies) in recent years, sets
a strong precedent for the work of Geoffrey Winters now to be
1. Geoffrey Winters Memoirs: A Life of Loves, Lavenham Press 2008
2. Winters wrote many very successful music books for use in primary
and secondary schools over 25 years, published by Longmans Books.
Many of these books became integral to class music teaching and
essential coursework texts for teachers at a time when the National
Curriculum did not exist. Such titles as 'Sounds and Music, Books
1-3' aimed at 11-14 year olds and 'Listen, Compose, Perform',
the first coursework book for the new GCSE Music examination in
the mid-1980s, gave teachers and pupils a structured and progressive
approach that paved the way for a more coherent music curriculum.
3. Geoffrey Winters Memoirs: A Life of Loves, Lavenham Press 2008
6. The recording of the Toccata was originally made onto aluminium
disc at 78rpm in 1952 and subsequently transferred to CD recently.
7. 'I was a strong advocate of singing and in addition sight singing.
I employed the rather unfashionable Curwen Tonic Sol Fa method
along with its associated hand signs. I always related it to staff
notation........ Later when recorders were introduced and then
Orferry (emphasis on ostinati and tuned percussion),I widened
my approach, but never gave up the voice as the main expressive
element of music, given to, almost, everyone.'
Geoffrey Winters Memoirs; A Life of Loves, Lavenham Press 2008
8. Sleeve note to CD private recording of Symphony No 1.
9. Sleeve note to CD private recording of Symphony No 2.
SELECTIVE WORK LIST
A Yorkshire Suite
Op. 2 (1949)
A River Pastoral
Op. 7 (1954)
Symphony No. 1
Op. 23 (1961)
Pageant for Orchestra
Op. 37 (1969)
Action, Reaction, Interaction
Op. 38 (1969)
Celebration for Orchestra
Op. 50 (!974)
Concerto for Violin
Op. 51 (1974)
The Mind of Man for chorus and orchestra.
Op. 52 (1975)
Symphony No. 2
Op. 55 (1977)
Elegy for a Countryside for Horn (viola) and strings
The Forest: Tomorrow?
Op. 84 (1986)
Op. 1 (1949)
String Quartet No. 1
Op. 10 (1956)
String Quartet No. 2
Op. 21 (1960)
Aspects for flute, clarinet
, horn and harp.
Conversations for Recorder Consort
. Op. 46 (1971)
Contrasts on a Theme of Liszt for wind quintet
. Op. 54
Five Epigrams for String Quartet.
Op. 62 (1978)
Again the Grass Grows Green for flute, double bass
Op. 78 (1983)
Serenade for flute, violin, harpsichord and cello.
Mutations for two trumpets.
Preludes for Piano
Sonata No. 1 for Viola and Piano.
Op. 8 (1955)
Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano.
Op. 13 (1957)
Variations for two pianos
. Op. 19 (1960)
Sonatina for flute and piano
. Op. 28 (1965)
Sonatina for Piano.
Op. 29 (1966)
Reflections for Recorder.
Op. 45 (1971)
Sonata No. 2 for Viola and Piano.
Op. 57 (1978)
Domenico’s Music Box for Harpsichord.
Op. 64 (1980)
Studies from a Rainbow for Piano.
Op. 71 (1981)
Tributaries for solo harp
. Op. 79 (1983)
Sky Dance for solo flute.
Op. 88 (1988)
Two Joyce Songs for high voice.
Op. 33 (1966)
Three Herricks songs for voice and guitar.
Op. 41 (1970)
Phoebus Arise for soprano and ensemble
. Op. 56 (1978)
Meeting Point song cycle. Op. 59 (1978)
Summer Songs for chorus and piano
. Op. 90 (1990)
Caprice: Brass Fair.
Op. 63 (1978)
A Walkabout Waltz.
Op. 72 (1981)
MUSIC FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.
Suite of numbers for recorders and glockenspiels.
The Year for junior voices and ensemble.
Op. 26 (1962)
Sing It and Ring It for junior voices and ensemble.
Thames Journey for junior voices and ensemble.
Op. 31 (1967)
Chanticleer for junior voices and ensemble.
Op. 34 (1968)
A Cowboy Suite for junior ensemble.
Op. 39 (1969)
Moonshine, a smugglers tale.
Op. 61 (1978)
Contact point/address for scores and performing materials:
4, The Causeway,
Suffolk CO10 5JR.
TEL: 01787 211261
Article written by:
- Indicates, manuscripts,
sketches and correspondence lodged at British Library.
The Old Barn,
Cornwall PL11 3BQ.