I believe that this book will serve a double-purpose. Anyone
who is studying or reviewing the life and works of the Sir Lennox
Berkeley (1903-1989) will find a tremendous amount of primary
material here. Furthermore, because of Berkeley’s largely cosmopolitan
nature and his wide-ranging interests all students of twentieth-century
music will find this a key text in developing their understanding
of much that happened in British and European music during the
middle years of the 20th century.
The literature about Sir Lennox Berkeley is rather meagre bearing
in mind that he is one of the most important 20th
century composers. Most recently, Tony Scotland produced an
excellent study of Lennox and Freda (2011)[review].
This book combined a study of the life and times of the composer
as well as being an interesting and often moving love-story.
It is the main biographical study of the composer presently
available, even although it does not claim to be a ‘biography’.
Peter Dickinson has contributed the only significant study of
Berkeley’s music. This was originally published in 1988 but
was extensively revised and reissued in 2003. Stewart R. Craggs
has made a valuable contribution to the musicologist with his
essential Lennox Berkeley: A Source Book.
This was published in 2000 so is to a certain extent out of
date. However, it is still the starting point for any serous
study of the composer. Over and above these basic texts there
is a great deal of periodical essays, reviews and articles.
Douglas Stevens has recently  produced a PhD thesis ‘Lennox
Berkeley: a Critical Study of his Music’ however this does not
appear to be readily available. Perhaps it will be published
in the near future?
Lennox Berkeley and Friends is conveniently divided
into a number of sections. After an important introduction,
which deserves to be read (!) the first group of texts are Berkeley’s
reports from Paris. These were originally published in the Monthly
Musical Record which was one of the most influential journals
of its day (1871-1960). In 1927, Berkeley went to Paris to study
under the redoubtable Nadia Boulanger: he remained there for
five years. During this period he met all the ‘big’ names in
20th century music, including Francis Poulenc, Darius
Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Albert Roussel and Igor Stravinsky.
These letters are a fascinating and informative account of concert
and opera life in the French capital during a vibrant era of
Part 2 consists of letters written by Berkeley to Nadia Boulanger.
A few words about Juliette Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) may be
of interest. She was one of most important figures in Western
music of the twentieth century. Her dates show that she straddled
a huge variety of musical developments. She was a composer,
a conductor and perhaps most significantly a teacher. It is
in this latter role that she had the most considerable influence.
The list of major American and European composers and performers
who studied with her must be one of them most impressive lists
in musical history. These include Aaron Copland, John Eliot
Gardiner, Philip Glass, Astor Piazzolla, Virgil Thomson, Ned
Rorem, Richard Stoker, Nicolas Maw, Thea Musgrave and Lennox
Berkeley. Boulanger taught in the great music schools including
the Juilliard, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy
of Music. However much of her teaching was based at her flat
in 36 Rue de Ballu, Paris. She continued work until her death
aged 92 years.
The letters have been ‘selected and annotated’ from the collection
held at the Bibliothèque National in Paris. The author tells
me that the content of these letters becomes less concerned
with musical matters as time goes by. In fact, by the 1950s
they tail off into family news, Christmas greetings and other
day to day matters. These more ephemeral letters have been omitted.
Everything of interest from the pre-war letters is included.
Peter Dickinson suggests that more than 70% of Berkeley’s side
of the correspondence has been given.
The idiomatic translation of these letters makes for easy reading.
Footnotes have been provided to give the reader a context for
each letter and to explain the many allusions and references.
Unfortunately, most of the letters from Nadia Boulanger to Lennox
Berkeley have not survived.
Part III includes a large selection of Lennox Berkeley’s contributions
to journals and newspapers as well as interviews with the composer.
In this digital age, more and more publications are finding
their way into various databases. No longer does the student
have to order dusty copies of The Musical Times or
The Sackbut from the ‘stacks’. However, most of these
are only available to academics or to people ‘signed up’ to
various libraries. Secondly, there are still many publications
not available ‘on-line’ – just yet.
Many of the articles given here are from The Times
or The Listener - the BBC’s erstwhile arts magazine.
However, a number of the present writings and talks come from
these hard-to-find sources – for example the essay on Maurice
Ravel is from the Adam International Review (1978)
and ‘Britten’s [Operatic] Characters’ from About the House
(1963). Of special interest is the programme note for the
first performance of Francis Poulenc’s Piano Concerto in England
(1950). Of greater difficulty to access are the various radio
interviews and ‘talks’. I enjoyed reading the composer’s thoughts
on being a ‘song-writer’ transcribed from a Radio 3 broadcast
16 November 1973. He states there that ‘very well known poetry
of the past is probably best left alone [by the composer]’.
It is certainly a view that deserves a thesis!
The next subdivision (Part IV) of the book includes four important
interviews with the composer. The first two are with Peter Dickinson;
one is with three literati and lastly a wide-ranging discussion
of the Fourth Symphony with Michael Oliver.
The interview with C.B. Cox, Alan Young and Michael Schmidt
was published as ‘Talking with Lennox Berkeley’ and appeared
in the Poetry Nation No.2 journal. Michael Schmidt
is the well-known founder of the Manchester-based Carcanet Press
Ltd that has successfully published poetry since 1969. The present
interview is of considerable length and detail; however, it
is not musically ‘technical’. The interviewers quiz Berkeley
on a number of subjects including his view on John Cage’s 4’33”.
Berkeley replies, ‘Quite honestly it doesn’t mean anything at
all to me.’ However, the question that caught my eye was ‘Is
there a distinctive English quality in English music? The composer
responds by suggesting there is a ‘distinctive sort of English
nostalgia which you find in Vaughan Williams sometimes, and
Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro that’s quite unique.’ This
idea of ‘English nostalgia’ is certainly something to ponder.
Part V of the book is a comprehensive selection of Lennox Berkeley’s
diaries drawn from the years 1966-1982. Peter Dickinson notes
that the composer ‘wrote his diaries with some reluctance.’
I do not know if there are earlier diaries in existence, however
the editor has told me that all of interest is contained in
this selection. The short entries tell of the composer’s travels,
his meetings with VIPs and accounts of performances of music
by him, and many other composers. Footnotes have been provided
to help explain the context. A good example of his forthright
style may be seen in the entry for 19 December 1971. The LPO
had just given a performance of Berkeley’s Third Symphony at
the Royal Festival Hall. He wrote, ‘I think it is one of my
better things and I enjoyed hearing it. So far so good. However,
he suggests that ‘John Pritchard conducted a rather perfunctory
performance.’ He added that he hoped the ‘record is very much
better than this’. Finally he admits to two good notices of
the works given by William Mann (‘to my very great astonishment’)
and Ronald Crighton.’ This Symphony was duly released on Lyrita
SRCS.57 (LP) (1972).
The last major section (Part VI) of this book is the ‘Interviews
with Performers, Composers, Family and Friends’ 1990-1991. The
list is striking and includes Colin Horsley who was a powerful
advocate of Berkeley’s music and Nicolas Maw (1935-2009) one
of ‘the leading British composers of his generation’ who studied
with Berkeley. The family is represented by two excellent interviews
with the composer’s wife, Freda and his eldest son, Michael.
The ‘Friends’ section includes a conversation with Desmond Shaw-Taylor
who was chief music critic of The Times between 1958-83.
He was especially drawn to Berkeley’s music. All these eminent
people were in discussion with Peter Dickinson in the early
Part VII of this book as a reprint if the ‘Memorial Address’
given by Sir John Manduell CBE. Manduell (b.1928) is both composer
and musical administrator, having worked for the BBC, and the
Cheltenham Festival (1969-94). He was Director of Music at Lancaster
University (1968-71) and Principal of the Royal Northern College
of Music between 1972 and 1996. At present he is the President
of the Sir Lennox Berkeley Society. The Address was delivered
at Westminster Cathedral on 10 March 1990 at the Memorial Requiem
Mass for the composer. It is a moving tribute from a former
student of Berkeley.
A very useful inclusion in this book is the ‘Catalogue of Works’.
I accept that Berkeley-enthusiasts will have most of this information
at their fingertips in either Craggs’ Source Book or
Peter Dickinson’s study of the composer. However, for anyone
not possessing these volumes this catalogue is essential in
assisting them to a structured hearing of Berkeley’s music.
It goes way beyond the listings in Wikipedia and even the Sir
Lennox Berkeley Society website. This catalogue is arranged
by genre and includes date of composition, first performance
(for major works) and the publisher.
The bibliography is impressive, if not exhaustive. All the extant
writings of Lennox Berkeley are listed in chronological order.
Some of these texts are included in the present volume, however,
there are still a considerable number of essays and articles
that will of interest to the musicologist and deserve to be
hunted down. The second part of the bibliography is a selective
list of articles, essays and books published about the composer
since 1929. Helpfully, this is also chronological. The bibliography
concludes with a useful list of general works that deal with
contemporary composers, poets and history.
There is an extensive index, conveniently divided into two parts
– ‘Berkeley’s Music’ and a general index. The former section
will be particularly useful to the reviewer or essay writer
studying a particular work.
Peter Dickinson is a well-respected name –as an academic, a
composer and a performer. I have had the pleasure of reviewing
a number of his recently issued CDs and I am impressed by the
wide range of his imagination and technical achievement. His
style has allowed him to cross a number of compositional boundaries
– from jazz to electronic and from ragtime to aleatory music.
This is always done with skill and sympathy and results in interesting
and enjoyable music. As a pianist, Dickinson has achieved much
for contemporary music, most especially with his sister, the
mezzo-soprano, Meriel Dickinson. Apart from his books about
Lennox Berkeley, Peter Dickinson has contributed a major study
of the ‘popular’ composer-pianist Billy Mayerl and a book about
Lord Berners, which highlights this eccentric’s achievement
as a composer, a writer and a painter. Other volumes, which
reflect the author’s deep
interest in American music includes CageTalk: Dialogues
with and about John Cage, Samuel Barber Remembered
and Copland Connotations: Studies and Interviews. I
find that most of these books are on my bookshelves!
I was impressed with the quality of the production of this book.
The excellent paper and strong binding is typical of The Boydell
Press and adds greatly to the general impression of this book.
Included in the text are a fine selection of rare photographs
of Berkeley, his family and friends.
‘Lennox Berkeley and his Friends’ is an expensive book, being
priced at £45.00. However, when one considers the vast amount
of primary material contained in these pages it does put the
matter into perspective. The price is similar to many ‘academic’
books on the market at present. Research, in any discipline,
does not come cheap. This book is essential reading for all
enthusiasts of 20th century music, and will be of
tremendous value to all scholars of British music in particular
and Western music in general.
Lennox Berkeley by Peter Dickinson
discussion of his music by Francis Routh
France interviews Richard Stoker