GEORGE LLOYD – SYMPHONY No. 6
by Peter Fender
I had the immense privilege of conducting the English première
of George Lloyd’s very fine cello concerto. In May this year
I will conduct Lloyd’s sixth symphony - the first performance
of one of his symphonies in London for something like 20 years.
Next year I plan to perform one of his longer symphonies (possibly
the 4th or 5th), and I’m working on a
longer term project to resurrect his opera John Socman.
I wrote about the cello concerto in the British Music Society
Newsletter and would now like to share with you some thoughts
on the 6th symphony.
Last September I spent three wonderful days in the Cumbrian
rain – well not literally in the rain, you understand, but inside
William Lloyd’s farmhouse. George’s nephew William owns all
of George’s scores and many other items belonging to his uncle,
and has housed them in a beautiful library which forms a part
of his farmhouse. I was given free access to all the materials
and a complete set of CDs of George’s music. Whilst the rain
hammered down I blew off the dust, listened to CDs, played on
George’s piano and violin, and looked at scores of a number
of unperformed works. I even had a moment to write a Lloyd-inspired
theme for an overture I was working on at the time! I was able
to see the scores which George himself conducted from, many
of which contained the composer’s hand-written notes. On departure,
William presented me with one of Lloyd’s batons – I shall use
it to conduct the 6th symphony in May.
The more I get to know Lloyd’s music, the more I find it extraordinary
that it is so rarely performed. I suspect I may soon have conducted
more Lloyd than any other living conductor. That is quite bizarre.
My purpose here, however, is not to lament this situation but
rather to give some insights into the wonderfully tuneful, terse,
and tremendously enjoyable sixth symphony.
Before going any further, I recommend that you listen to the
piece. It is available on CD for around £12, coupled with the
10th symphony and the ‘John Socman’ overture AmazonUK
I don’t think you can get it as a download. I am quite confident
that you will think it money well spent. And after doing that,
you should get out your diary and make a date to come and hear
it live on 26th May 2012 in St John’s Church, Waterloo,
London, played by Philharmonia Britannica. Come and say ‘hello’
at the end of the performance!
Whilst chatting with some musicians in an amateur orchestra
recently, I was surprised to find that one of them knew Lloyd’s
6th Symphony. Then I remembered that Classic FM have
aired the slow movement a good number of times, and it has become
the most broadcast of all Lloyd’s works. It is not hard to see
why. That movement is deliciously simple, interweaving two singing
melodies and displaying that wonderful skill so prevalent in
Mozart and Schubert of combining a beautiful melody with melancholic
depth. But before talking any more about the music itself, let’s
look at the historical origin of the 6th symphony.
For this I am particularly indebted to William Lloyd, who has
supplied me with his own programme notes on the piece.
George Lloyd completed his sixth symphony in 1956. His 4th
and 5th symphonies (1946 and 1948) had been completed
in Switzerland whilst his wife nursed him back to health from
the shellshock he suffered in the Second World War. Both symphonies
are large scale works. The 4th is an emotive and
haunting piece with Lloyd struggling to come to terms with the
torpedoing of his ship, HMS Trinidad, on an Arctic convoy in
1942. The 5th shows a brighter tone as he started
to emerge from the shadows. On returning to this country he
was commissioned to write an opera for the Festival of Britain
in 1951 along with Britten and Vaughan Williams. The resulting
opera John Socman was plagued with problems. After
hearing a shambolic performance, Lloyd vowed that he would never
set foot in an opera house again – a resolution he was to keep
for over 20 years.
By 1956, Lloyd established a market garden in Dorset, growing
carnations which he sent off to Covent Garden market every day.
His diary notes that it was hard physical work and that the
only way he had the time and energy to compose was to rise at
5.30am and put in a couple of hours at his scores before starting
work on the business.
These factors certainly contributed to his explicit desire to
write something concise, bright and lively, with a minimum of
development. There is an interesting note in the file for the
first performance on 12th October 1980 with the BBC
Philharmonic under Ted Downes. The text is crossed out and heavily
revised, but Lloyd kept the original:
“It is 25 years since I wrote this symphony, and this is
the first performance. I tried once or twice to have No 6 played
in the late 1950s, but I was told it was a worthless work because
it had no contemporary significance. At that time ‘significance‘
meant swimming along with the tide, and no one seemed to understand
that it was just as legitimate for a composer to react against
the current trends as to go with them, or even that a composer
can write what they like, which is what I did with this symphony.
Perhaps I was naïve to think that I could try and forget the
horrors of this world by escaping into the simplicity and happiness
of a private fairyland.”
Here we are face-to-face with two contrasting but complementary
sides to Lloyd’s composition. In the 4th symphony
he was very much confronting the ‘horrors of this world’ but
in the 6th, ten years later, he takes delight in
writing happy and carefree music.
After its 1980 première, the 6th symphony was played
at the Proms in 1981, a last minute addition to the programme
by Edward Downes after a commissioned composer failed to deliver
a score on time. Lloyd used to point out the irony that his
first and only Promenade concert happened by accident! As far
as I can ascertain, it has subsequently been played by the Plymouth
Symphony Orchestra in 1983, the Slaithwaite Philharmonic early
in the 1980s, the BBC Philharmonic in 1988 (just before they
recorded it on CD), and the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra,
Maryland, USA, in 1996. Waterloo in 2012 may well be the sixth
What of the music itself? Words can’t really do music justice,
so I again urge you to listen to the symphony.
Despite the lightness of the piece (in contrast with the preceding
two symphonies) it is still scored for an orchestra with triple
winds. The use of the various sections of the orchestra is,
however, quite different – Lloyd employs considerable restraint
and circumspection in an almost Ravelian manner.
The symphony begins with bright and upbeat unison staccato chords.
They are slightly syncopated, giving an extra little bit of
jauntiness. The violins then launch into a laid back and slight
cheeky tune. The general mood is of elfin lightness, of scampering
through the woods playing games, and this is aided by the fact
that there are over 3 minutes of music at the one fast tempo.
The sun is out and hardly a cloud crosses the sky. In a model
moment of restraint the movement ends softly, perfectly foreshadowing
the following movement.
You may feel you have already heard the haunting F minor melody
that opens the second movement. I’m not suggesting by this that
you will have heard it on Classic FM, although this is entirely
possible, but rather that it is one of those inevitable and
satisfying tunes which the listener feels they must have heard
before. It is beautifully proportioned, like a simple English
folk song, combining nostalgia and nobility. The cor anglais
plaintively sings a second melody, and then plunges into the
only truly dark moments of the symphony over painful low-lying
wind chords with stopped horns. Continuous upward triplets in
the woodwinds propel the movement towards its conclusion, where
the cor anglais resolves its earlier angst, yet ends on a yearning
upwards appoggiatura which the harp is left to resolve. A marvellous
movement of just 65 bars length.
In the final movement we return to another version of the games
being played in the first movement. There is a sense of the
fun of the fair, and although there are moments when you wonder
if there are clouds approaching, the fun and games are never
far away. Notable are the swirling and lightning fast demands
on the flute section. The piece accelerates to a joyful and
It is worth quoting Paul Conway, from his survey of Lloyd’s
12 symphonies on MusicWeb International (http://www.musicweb-international.com/lloyd/index.htm),
where he says:
“George Lloyd's Sixth Symphony is a model of formal
perfection and emotional restraint … by any standards a fine
symphonic achievement … [the 2nd movement]
is the perfect introduction to George Lloyd’s individual sound-world,
encapsulating its rare brand of resilience without acrimony
and a courageous message of hope for all who listen with open
As a postscript I would like to put on record that the performance
of Lloyd’s 6th symphony this May (as with the cello
concerto last year) has been made possible by a donation by
a private individual who knew George Lloyd. What a fantastic
thing to do. Should you be interested in contributing towards
a revival of Lloyd’s opera John Socman in 2014 - an
expensive venture - I would love to hear from you!