VI The Contemporary Scene
20 Electronic music and the Avant-garde
[Tristram Cary, Peter Zinovieff, Ernest Berk, Daphne
Electronic music was both inevitable and necessary
in the evolution of the Western contemporary tradition; and just as
important as its technological basis is its underlying philosophy. It
is important to differentiate between creative energy and creative originality;
both have their place in different situations. The energy which drives
a composer to discover existing sounds, or to invent new ones, is not
necessarily synonymous with the originality which invests a sound with
musical meaning. To take a simple example, when writing his Violin Concerto,
Beethoven took the scale of D major-a sound which had been musical common
property for centuries. But to raise this from the level of a mere sound
to the status of a musical theme called not for energy so much as originality.
In thus focusing his creativity onto the ‘meaning’ more than onto the
‘sound’, Beethoven was closely reflecting the Romantic philosophy of
his age, which we may read, in its literary expression, in the work
of E.T.A Hoffmann or Goethe.
In 1920, when Schoenberg first formulated the 12-note
technique, it was not possible to foresee the goal of total serialism
to which, thirty years later, that path would lead, and towards which
his new style of composition represented the first, tentative step.
All that was possible was to identify the philosophical basis on which
Schoenberg built, which was linguistic, mathematical; the musical extension
of Wittgenstein’s logical philosophy, and the ‘Vienna Circle’.
So today electronic music is at a correspondingly early
stage of development. It is impossible to foretell what lies at the
end of the path; it is only possible to identify its philosophical raison
d’etre, which, as in the case of Schoenberg’s style, is linguistic,
Coming at the end of the Romantic period, Schoenberg
also realized and took advantage of the climate of avant-garde thought
in his day, which was broadly speaking, in many branches of philosophic
activity, the avoidance of linguistic abuse, and the search for the
logical expression of meaning. In evolving the note-row, he was similarly
seeking to avoid the ‘abuse’ of pre-conceived tonal and melodic associations
in his music, and to discover the ‘new logic’. The numbers of a series,
in later serial composition, are precisely analogous to the variables
of logical philosophy. The Beethoven-process is thus reversed, and the
composer’s creative energy is focused onto the ‘sound’ more than onto
the ‘meaning’. In fact, the ‘meaning’ becomes the ‘sound’, and the composer’s
originality consists in his logical invention of sounds, and the manipulation
of the series.
Coming at the end of the serial period, the electronic
composer finds that the climate of avant-garde thought is still concerned
with linguistic and scientific logic, but, in an age of computer-technology,
this now takes on an unprecedented scientific precision in the exact
analysis of sounds.
Just as the creative energy of the philosophical leaders
in Schoenberg’s day was directed not to the invention of new philosophical
propositions, but to the avoidance of linguistic abuse in the presentation
of existing ones, so this principle still holds today, when the climate
of thought now favours an even closer inspection and analysis of life
as it is, with all the advantages of a scientific age to assist towards
this end. It is the main characteristic of an Alexandrian period, such
as ours, that its energies are spent in questioning, analysing, discovering
what already exists, not in originating new concepts and insights. The
mere act of discovery, it is believed today, will bring its own insight.
The electronic composer reflects this philosophy. He
explores and explains the nature of sounds, which he breaks down into
parameters, then reconstructs. As the technological means of achieving
this is so complex, it has taken a much longer time to arrive at a system
than Schoenberg took in first evolving his 12-note style. But the principle
is similar: the composer is expected to use his energy in logically
analysing and synthesizing sounds, not his originality in giving them
meaning-such a romantic concept, it is held, belongs to a past age,
and to an out-of-date philosophy.
Electronic music is not just a new sort of sound; it
is a new way of communicating sound, with a precision hitherto unknown
to the musician. Conventional notation allows the performer wide scope
for his personal artistic judgement; with each performance, the performer
becomes to some extent the composer’s colleague in bringing the work
to life. Giving rhythmic and dynamic life to a phrase has always been
an integral part of the performer’s art, and the exact interpretation
of a marking, such as mf, or accel., and the exact degree of die-away
at the end of a phrase, has always been a matter for the performer’s
individual judgement. But with the arrival of the computer and the tape
recorder the composer of electronic music has become his own performer,
to a degree of exactness hitherto undreamt of. On the principle of the
parameters, composition has become organized sound; and since it is
done by computer, this organization is exact down to the smallest detail.
The story of the beginning of electronic music in Paris
and Cologne is well-known. The musique concrete of Pierre Schaeffer,
and his Concert des Bruits, dates from 1948, and studios were built
in the early 50s in Cologne (1953), under Stockhausen and Eimert, and
Milan (1954) under Maderna and Berio. These developments all took place,
significantly, in association with radio stations; and indeed the first
piece of electronic music, Musica su due dimensione for flute and tape
(1951), was composed by Maderna and Dr. Werner Meyer-Eppler? who was
a lecturer in communications technique at Bonn University. Parallel
developments took place in America, mainly centred on universities;
particularly notable, and first, were Ussachevsky and Luening at Columbia.
Thereafter composers developed their various concepts of serialism in
the new medium; Eimert, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Berio, Barband, and many
Electronic music may be said to have begun in England
on 15th January 1968, when the first concert of works by British composers
took place in London [given by the Redcliffe Concerts at the Queen Elizabeth
Hall]. It was the work of two musicians, Tristram Cary and Peter Zinovieff,
and represented the stage then reached in this country.
The programme was:
1. Potpourri Delia Derbyshire
2. Diversed mind Ernest Berk
3. 3 4 5 Tristram Cary
4. Birth is life is power is death is God is... Tristram
5. December Quartet Peter Zinovieff
6. Contrasts Essconic (for piano and tape) Daphne Oram
and Ivor Walsworth
7. Partita for unattended computer Peter Zinovieff
8. Silent Spring George Newson
9. Syntheses 8, 9 and 12 Jacob Meyerowitz
10. Agnus Dei Peter Zinovieff
11. March probabilistic Peter Zinovieff and Alan Sutcliffe.
The first piece was made in the B.B.C. radiophonic
workshop; all the others were made in private studios. This first concert
excited considerable interest, but it did show up the handicaps under
British composers work in this medium without a properly
equipped studio. Some of the tapes were merely sound effects, at a primitive
stage of development. Electronic composition presupposes sophisticated
techniques. Soon, therefore, various somewhat tentative studios began
to be assembled-at Manchester and York Universities, at King’s College,
Cambridge, at Goldsmith’s College, and at the Royal College of Music
in London, where Tristram Cary began a class.
Cary and Zinovieff jointly gave another concert the
following year (February 1969), and this was followed by the setting
up of the British Society for Electronic Music, whose chief purpose
was to raise money to build a properly equipped national studio.
If this project is still (in 1970) an unfulfilled dream,
certain important technical developments have meanwhile been pursued
by Peter Zinovieff, whose computerized studio at Putney is far the most
advanced in the country. Starting in 1962, he developed an electronic
music system, Musys, in collaboration with David Cockerell and Peter
Grogono. His studio is unique, both in the design of the audio devices,
which are controlled directly by digital computers, and in the programmes,
which implement a comprehensive and sophisticated language for musicians.
This could be adapted by any studio with a simple computer, and a few
simple hardware devices and converters.
The musical idea, once compiled, is fed into the faster
of the two computers in the form of a programme, which must be exact
in every detail. The studio is a hybrid of two types of machine, digital
and analogue. The digital part consists of two general purpose computers
and devices for feeding information into them. The analogue parts are
mostly special purpose machines which convert the essentially numerical
signals from the computers into the electronic equivalents of sound
pressure waves. The function of the computers could thus be compared
with that of an orchestral conductor, and that of the analogue devices
with that of the players except that, in this case, only the conductor
has the score.
The digital hardware consists of two D.E.C. PDP8 computers,
a disc file and fast paper tape reader/punch, to which a magnetic tape
drive is added. The PDP8 computer is cheap and reliable and has a simple
interrupt and input/output system, which makes it very suitable for
realtime applications. One of the devices connected to the interrupt
line is a crystal clock, which delivers synchronizing pulses at 400Hz
or a sub-multiple of this frequency: the resulting resolution of 2.5ms
has been found adequate for music realized in the studio. For complex
pieces, multi-tracking is used, and synchronization between tracks is
achieved by recording the 400Hz pulse train on a guide track. There
are also 10KHz digital-analogue and analogue-digital converters connected
to the faster computer (PDP81L) but apart from simple experiments in
waveform synthesis and simulated reverberation these have been used
in visual display systems rather than music.
The computers control the pitch, tuning, amplitude,
waveform and envelope of three banks of oscillators, each covering seven
octaves; the gain and response mode of 64 narrow passband filters, placed
at semitone intervals over 5 octaves for spectrum analysis and synthesis;
nine other oscillators and function generators; six amplifiers; two
variable response filters; and a number of other devices such as percussion
simulators, noise generators (for both white and coloured noise) and
reverberation units. Most of the connections between devices are made
manually on a patch-panel, but up to twenty of them may be changed during
realization by computer-controlled audio switches.
Signals from these devices are mixed and may be monitored
both on the oscilloscope and through amplifiers and loudspeakers. A
four track recorder and four two track recorders may be used for recording
compositions on magnetic tape, but it is one of the great advantages
of the studio that it is not necessary to use tape at all until the
piece is known to be correct in every detail.
There are two important programmes in Musys: the Compiler
translates the composer’s programme into a data set stored on the disc,
and the Performance Programme sends items from this data set to the
audio devices at appropriate times controlled by the crystal clock.
Eight independent lists of data may be stored by the Compiler, each
with its own time scale, so the composer is spared the intricacies of
temporal relationships between parts. The language has a macro facility,
which permits the user to give a name to a sound or structural element,
leaving ‘gaps’ which will be filled by parameters when the macro is
called. It also allows sections to be repeated or compiled conditionally:
these facilities are meant to reflect musical requirements, rather than
Either before or during performance, the composer can
use a peripheral known as the Button Panel, from which he can monitor,
alter and control data going to any of the Musys devices; he can also
stop, start and adjust the rate of delivery during a performance, and
can ‘single-shot’ the delivery routines by turning a knob which the
computer recognizes as a substitute for the clock. An editing programme
run in conjunction with the Button Panel enables the data stored on
the disc to be altered, providing a way of making fine adjustments which
are hard to programme.
In many ways, Zinovieff’s studio and programme language
are unique in the world. He brought it to the attention of an international
audience at a UNESCO conference in Stockholm, in June 1970 [Music and
Technology; the Composer in the Technological Era].
If Zinovieff may be considered primarily as a technician
who has brought an electronic language within the reach of the composer,
Tristram Cary is a composer who has extended his range of expression
towards electronic music. Ideas for the manipulation of sound came to
him already while he served in the Navy during the war, working in radar.
He worked quite independently of Schaeffer’s musique concrete, and by
1953 he had built up a working studio. But he found little interest
or encouragement for electronic experiments at this time, and devoted
much time to film work and incidental music for B.B.C. plays. A few
conventional compositions were played.
Cary does not consider electronic music as a thing
apart from other music; nor does he consider that its function is simply
to reproduce the sounds made by existing instruments-if you want a violin
tone, you use a violin. He does not see electronic music as a substitute
for orchestral music, so much as an extension of it. But its uniqueness
consists in the building of sounds, and all Cary’s electronic compositions
have a very clear scheme and purpose.
3 4 5 deliberately restricts the material, and the
only frequencies used are 3, 4 or 5 cycles per second, and their multiples
by 10, 102, 103 and 104. This results
in three subsonic, nine sonic and three supersonic tones. The subsonic
tones, inaudible by themselves, become audible in combination with others,
mostly by modulation. The basic combinations are all concordant, but
discords arise when harmonics are mixed in certain ways.
Birth is life is power, etc., is based on the music
used for Don Levy’s multi-screen film shown in the British Pavilion
at EXPO ‘67. This was concerned with a cycle of energy, creative and
destructive, and the music is therefore a nine-minute loop.
Cary has combined instrumental with electronic music.
Peccata Mundi is for choir, orchestra and tape; Narcissus for solo flute
and tape. The latter, as its name implies, feeds on its own reflection.
As the piece proceeds, playbacks at different speeds and directions
join the live flute, and these too are recorded, so that the single
instrument builds a polyphony round itself Every nuance, even every
mistake, of the performer thus becomes part of the total fabric, as
it is played back to him. No modulation or other transformations are
employed, which would destroy essential flute quality. Speed changes,
however, quadruple, or quarter, the original pitch, and up to thirty-two
notes occur together in later passages.
If the basis of Narcissus is tonal, that of Continuum
is temporal. This piece, which was first heard at a Cheltenham Festival
concert in 1969, suggests the infinity of time stretching endlessly
in both directions from where (or when) we stand. This endlessness is
disturbed by temporary events, which bend it but do not essentially
change it. This continuum in the music is a sound both changing and
changeless, within which there are three episodes, each a little longer
than the last, and containing at least one element derived from the
This main sound is a texture, a large pile of notes
all continuously modulating in pitch, but by different amounts and at
different speeds. The overall structure of Continuum has affinities,
in the broadest sense, with symphonic procedures, as the composer’s
The ‘mesh’ of sound is presented in a number of different
forms, because it is disturbed by events. During the opening passage,
we hear some other sounds faint and strangled in the background, as
if struggling to get through the mesh. Later in the piece these sounds
become definite and forward. The mesh gradually thins, losing its upper
frequencies and slowly reducing energy, so that it eventually becomes
weak enough to be penetrated by the first event proper. This consists
of a ‘freezing’ by modulation of two blocks of the mesh sound, thrown
like a thrombosis across the flow of the continuum. The result is a
short passage of dynamic terracing and positional displacements, followed
by a new, almost melodic idea in the bass which rises up with the modulated
continuum to a climax. At this point groups of supersonic transformations
of four notes at a time of the continuum (the audible sound consists
of beat notes) make a series of clang-like sounds, while the melodic
idea disintegrates and slips away. The continuum reasserts itself, but
filtered to a lower sound than before (the event has left its mark).
The second episode (each one rises to a climax and
falls back into continuum) also begins by throwing in an interruption
which layers and terraces the mesh. The new sound is a development of
the undulation idea-notes are slowly moved up and down as much as a
fourth or fifth and then ‘chopped’ at a frequency not necessarily related
to that of the frequency modulation. This results in little figures
which, like the continuum itself, are similar but never quite the same.
These figures build by becoming more numerous (there are twelve at the
climax) and two other elements also build; these are (I) the two main
elements of episode I modulated together (each event ‘learns’ from the
previous one), and (2) the continuum now twisted and tortured by filtering.
After the climax the episode I element goes, and the ‘chop’ falls away
by gradually thinning out (like ending a round in a way). Finally, all
that remains is an exhausted continuum, filtered till only a low rumble
remains. This too goes and there is a short silence (it hasn’t stopped,
but we have lost sight of it.
Out of this silence arises the third episode, which
is the most complex of the three. Another almost melodic idea (this
was also heard in a choked version at the opening) is built from a rearrangement
of the original ‘mesh’ notes; the filtering of this material is being
constantly altered, which means that timbre changes occur within most
notes. Added to this is yet another continuum transformation and a development
of the ‘clang’ motive from the first episode. In addition, you hear
a choked version of the ‘chop’ from the second episode, which goes away
well before the climax after wandering about like a lost soul in the
space between the speakers. Most of this material, as well as moving
about, is slightly reverberated, which takes it back in space. The 'clang’
sounds are doubled and thrown across from one speaker to the other.
Near the climax, some unreverberated (and therefore close) blocks of
notes (in eights) appear in rhythmic units and gradually build to the
climax (of the piece as well as the episode). The chords here turn into
a thick wall of notes, not undulating, whose very density stops the
original continuum in its tracks. The melodic strand, by now high in
pitch, can be heard wailing and crying behind the heavy curtain of the
chord. But both gradually collapse, and again there is a short silence.
In the closing passage the continuum picks up its own
pieces in a palindrome of the way we first heard it, and reasserts its
power over strangled versions of the ‘chop’ and the ‘clang’. Finally,
the ‘mesh’ rises suddenly and forcefully to its original virility, and
we as suddenly turn away, leaving whatever future events there may be
to happen unobserved.
The period of the sixties might be called the ‘first
phase’ of the development of electronic music in this country. Composers
were made aware of its existence, but they lacked the technical apparatus
of a properly equipped studio. Apart from Cary and Zinovieff, several
other composers have made individual attempts at electronic effects,
notably Ernest Berk, Robert Gerhard and Daphne Oram. Younger composers,
including Birtwistle, Connolly and Smalley, have also attempted to embody
a simple use of electronics into their compositions. But the electronic
composer is just as much technician as composer; either without the
other is incomplete.
[Roger Smalley, John Tavener, Tim Souster, David Bedford,
Harrison Birtwistle, Cornelius Cardew]
The term avant-garde, like the terms romantic or contemporary,
is capable of many shades of meaning. It describes an attitude rather
than any one style, with the result that it is evident in many different
categories of contemporary music-making, and in all countries of the
world. Manifestations of the avant-garde may be seen today in Los Angeles,
New York, London, Paris, Cologne, Vienna, Stockholm or Tokyo. It is
polarized between wide and mutually contradictory extremes; between
the artless primitivism of pop musicians on the one hand, whose talent
is rudimentary and whose compositional technique non-existent; and post-Webern
serialists on the other, whose experimental techniques are everything,
and can only be described by the term avant-garde, since they work consciously
on the frontiers of musical knowledge. Or again, between the total abandonment
of creative responsibility, the total non-involvement, of the aleatoric
school, on the one hand, and the highly sophisticated machine-involvement
of the electronic composer on the other. What is the underlying attitude,
which we call avant-garde, that can possibly be stretched to apply to
these widely differing and often contradictory trends?
One of its main characteristics is the element of protest
and questioning; and of the mocking of generally accepted standards
of concert-music. That avant-garde composers are for the most part young
is largely due to the protest-core of the aesthetic. The time for protest
is when you are young; it sounds more convincing if you are twenty-five;
if you leave it until you are forty-five you merely sound disillusioned,
tired. When you approach middle-age, you yourself become the object
of the withering contempt of a younger generation of protesters. So,
one by one, the aesthetic canons on which musical traditions are built
are disposed of, until the ultimate goal is revealed: of nihilism, in
a figure like John Cage; or of total abstraction and complexity, in
the-case of the later serialists.
Why, says the avant-garde, should music be serious?
We will make it frivolous. Why should it involve hard work and laborious
technique? We will make it easy, improvised, random. Why should music
be dignified? We will distort, mock and parody. Why should a composition
necessarily be a work of art, for all time? We will make it ephemeral,
here and now. Why should the audience sit in rows? We will have them
in informal groups. Why should musicians wear lugubrious, respectable
dress? We will do the opposite.
There is thus a considerable affinity between this
aspect of the avant-garde attitude and the frivolous mood of the 1920s;
and it is significant that there has been a recent revival of interest
in the work of Satie and Lord Berners by certain groups, such as the
It is illogical to assess an ephemeral work by the
standards of permanent artistic value, and to approach a satirical or
trivial work with the solemnity we reserve for a serious composition.
In the case of avant-garde music, whose purpose is by definition to
make, in some direction, an ‘advance’, the first question to decide
is whether it succeeds in making such an advance, and, if so, what it
is. In order to arrive at such an aesthetic conclusion, it is necessary
to identify the point at which protest ceases and artistic alignment
begins; the point where the composer’s intention ceases to be on the
periphery of experience, and begins to involve the listener's; for at
some point he has to cease his aleatoricism, and invite the performers’
collaboration; at some point he has to cease cocking a snook at his
audience, and invite their artistic response, if his work is to have
even an ephemeral identity. A great number of avant-garde works have
no identity, or are derivative from one of the dominant trends of Europe
Both pop and jazz are American-derived; most of the
absurdities of British attempts in these fields are due to their derivation
from American models. But several different and basic influences converged
to produce these phenomena. First, a lack of stimulus, particularly
among the young, from the complex developments in contemporary music,
which meant little or nothing to them; second, just as jazz itself was
a negro folk-art born out of protest, so pop followed suit. Elvis Presley
had been the well groomed hero-figure of a generation of post-war adolescents,
and it was only a logical step for succeeding groups, the Beatles, the
Rolling Stones, to become also the focus for those countless points
of difference between teenagers and their elders-which might be expressed
politically, in student revolution, in the Black Power movement, in
civil rights, in nuclear disarmament; or socially, in the assertion
of a carefully publicized ‘drop-out’ status, by means of unkempt dress
and dishevelled appearance, or by means of drug-taking or sexual permissiveness-or
by making records.
British jazz also lacks a valid traditional basis;
its nature is derivative, with the result that even the most successful
British bands compete on unequal terms with their American originals.
Jazz is a branch of music in which the negro has always retained the
artistic initiative. In recent years, however, the jazz style has been
subjected to treatment and modification by composers of varying shades
of allegiance; it has been embodied in a light style by Joseph Horovitz
and Ernest Tomlinson; it has been grafted onto other styles (the so-called
‘third stream’) by Banks and Richard Bennett; it has been given the
sort of avant-garde treatment usually reserved for other more complex
styles of composition, by Howard Riley, Tony Oxley and others.
The avant-garde musician is always asking ‘Where do
we go from here?’ Music is for him, therefore, essentially a continuous
development, a ‘one-upmanship’. He is concerned not with what is ‘valid’
today; still less with what was ‘valid’ yesterday; but what is going
to be ‘valid’ tomorrow. If we may say very broadly that pop and jazz
developments are, generally speaking, American-derived, those avant-garde
musicians whose experiments are with more sophisticated forms of music
start from the post-Webern situation of European serialism, which they
either respond to, or react from.
Two composers who have responded, though differently,
are Roger Smalley and John Tavener.
Ten years Davies’s junior, Roger Smalley’s artistic
starting-point is more dogmatically and narrowly confined to the avant-garde,
whose standard he bears with considerable conviction, and for whom he
acts as spokesman. ‘Tradition’ for him practically amounts to an indecent
word. His aesthetic attitude is aptly summarized in a review [[Musical
Times, February 1969: The pieces which earned this accolade were as
follows:, Mayuzumi Prelude for String Quartet; Kagel Fantasia; Lutoslawski
String Quartet; Penderecki String Quartet; Juan Allende-Blin Sonorities;
David Bedford Two Poems; Stockhausen Gruppen; Carré; Solo; Berio
Sequenza for trombone; Carlos Roque Alsina Consecuenza; Ligeti Etude
I; Lux Aeterna; Globokar Discours II five trombones, Mauricio Kagel
Match for two cellos and percussion; Music for Renaissance instruments];
of six avant-garde records:
I sometimes wonder if I am being wilfully perverse
when I condemn so categorically the ‘traditional’ music of our time-since
so many people seem to enjoy it.... One only has to try and imagine
listening to six records of so-called ‘traditional’ music (my imagination
won’t stretch quite that far) and compare the boring, cliche-ridden
irrelevancies that would not fail to be on offer over 90% of the time,
with the vital, imaginative, and stimulating music on these records.
Here there is hope even for the composers of those works which are not
very interesting because they have at least chosen the path which has
the possibility of leading to something original, while the 'traditionalists’
will never succeed in becoming relevant whatever they do. I assume that
everyone already interested in contemporary music will have bought these
records. I am more anxious that those who are not particularly convinced
or concerned by contemporary music take advantage of this bargain set
and devote several hours of unprejudiced listening to its contents.
They will, I am sure, be astonished by the vistas opened up.
The overwhelming naivete of such an approach to the
musical art does not necessarily invalidate Smalley’s work as a composer;
and it is this that concerns us more than his theories. For anyone except
the composer himself, however, there are two basic and logical flaws
to be noted: the first is that such an aesthetic reduces the range of
artistic choice open to the composer, that ‘creative volition’ of which
Stravinsky speaks, to a contrived one between two irreconcilable opposites-the
avant-garde on the one hand, the ‘traditional’ on the other. Thus the
whole range of the compositional process is reduced melodramatically
to a stark contrast-black or white. Neither art, nor life, is quite
so simple as that.
The second flaw is that by its failure to define, it
begs more questions than it answers. What is meant by ‘traditional’;
what is meant by ‘avant-garde’? Smalley suggests that the avant-garde
is what is ‘contemporary’-with the implied corollary that the traditional
is what is out of date. Thus, if you do not align yourself with the
avant-garde you are not truly ‘contemporary’. To offer the definition
that the avant-garde is what is new and ‘advanced’, while the traditional
is what is old and un-advanced, does not so much define a style as describe
the effect of that style on one particular already-committed recipient.
It is also to confuse style with content, what you say with the way
you say it-which is a central feature, as will become apparent, of avant-garde
Unfortunately, as we all know, it is not only possible,
but most commonly the case, that composers of standing achieve new artistic
ends with existing means at their disposal. In other words they have
considered the ends (what they say) more important than the means (how
they say it). As Smalley is still only twenty-six, it is hardly possible
yet to do more than show the general direction in which he is facing.
Most of his output so far has been of a formative, exploratory nature.
Ironically enough, he is, in one sense, one of the most ‘traditional’
composers in England today, if by ‘traditional’ is meant that he accepts
what is ‘handed down’ from someone else. He has accepted in the fullest
sense of the word the ideas and techniques handed down by Stockhausen,
and he has acted as the advocate and protagonist in this country for
Stockhausen’s work, in much the same way as Robert Sherlaw Johnson has
assimilated and passed on the ‘tradition’ of Messiaen.
He was born in Swinton in 1944, and at Lee Grammar
School (where Peter Maxwell Davies had also been a pupil) he combined
science with music. He went to the Royal College of Music in London
in 1961, where his composition teacher was Peter Racine Fricker. After
the latter left for America [See p. 245], there was no one to teach
serial techniques. Smalley had studied Stravinsky’s Movements, and his
first serial piece dated from that year. Thereafter his study became
more diffuse with John White, whose compositions at first comprised
mainly piano sonatas with a strongly French flavour, until later they
became much more experimental; with Alexander Goehr at Morley College,
who analysed in detail several works of Mozart, Beethoven, Schoenberg.
He also attended the B.B.C. Invitation Concerts, newly instituted by
William Glock, at which works by Stockhausen, Berio, and others of the
avant-garde were introduced to London. In 1965 he was given a Countess
of Munster award, which enabled him to go to Cologne with Brian Dennis
and attend Stockhausen’s class. The summer of that year saw him at Darmstadt.
Since 1967 he has worked from Cambridge, where he was elected a Fellow
of King’s College.
So Smalley’s formative years occurred in the mid-60s,
some ten years after the tide of post-Webern serialism was first felt
in London. In his work, therefore, the results of this powerful movement
can be seen. The pattern of serialism was by this time clearly recognizable,
and thus formed the background to his creative attitude as a composer.
What is his attitude? He never felt the slightest dichotomy, or break
in continuity, between classicism and serialism. It had been Schoenberg’s
vision to see that after Mahler’s death keys were dead; thus Brahms
and Wagner were embodied in Schoenberg and Berg; but serialism did provide
one answer to the problem of avoiding tonal chords and regular beats.
Smalley has never used a 12-note series, but prefers sets of fewer notes,
like a cantus firmus or ground bass; nor is he attracted to motivic
development, but instead derives the parts from the motif by canon.
Up to 1967 he did not use non-pitched percussion instruments, since
they add nothing (so he felt) to what has already been said. What is
‘advanced’ is interesting; what is most ‘advanced’ is most interesting;
what is not ‘advanced’ is not interesting. It is not possible to do
interesting things in the old style; new things require new language
and new methods.
His student years were very busy and productive. His
compositions between 1962 and 1967 form a ‘first period’. Apart from
Stockhausen, he was also strongly aware of the work of Maxwell Davies,
and in many respects was directly influenced by him; for instance in
the use of mediaeval or renaissance pieces as sources of musical ideas;
in the idea of parody; in textures and layout generally. Following Davies,
he had recourse to the Mulliner Book, and the sixteenth-century composer
William Blitheman gave him the starting-point, first for two settings
of Gloria Tibi Trinitas, one for orchestra, the other for orchestra
with soloists and choir; next for a Missa Brevis, a taxing, virtuoso
setting for sixteen solo voices [first performed by the John Alldis
Choir, on 2 May 1967], which includes vocal effects such as whispering,
shouting, humming and parlando. The two Missa Parodia (No. 1 for piano,
No. 2 for piano nonet) also originated in this way; the Blitheman themes
are quoted, only to be deliberately distorted. Another early work (1964/5),
Elegies, is a strongly dramatic setting of Rilke, for soprano and tenor
soloists, and accompaniment of three groups of instruments, strings,
brass and bells. Instrumental interludes, and in the middle a Sonatina,
separate the four vocal sections, and a characteristic instrumental
chord gives rise to the melodic material of the voice parts. In this
piece, as in all his other early works, there are implications of tonality;
also, as in the Gloria Tibi Trinitas, multiple division of the strings.
Other pieces of this formative period include a Septet (1963), a String
Sextet (1964), Variations for Strings (1964), and a Capriccio for violin
and piano (1966), as well as two song-cycles with instrumental accompaniment,
and some short, experimental piano pieces. Then after 1967 his style
underwent a change.
Stockhausen’s influence has always been all-powerful
over Smalley. Not only does the young Englishman perform and propagate
the works of his German mentor, and make them the starting point for
his own composition, but he has also been persuaded by the older composer’s
views on the social function of music, and about such mundane matters
as the arrangements of concerts, and the relationship of composer, player
and audience. Why should an old score be extended into a complex contemporary
work? Why should the listener be expected to possess a fund of musical
and historical knowledge? Too much intellectual superstructure can well
cut him off from the composer [cf Busoni’s Die Brautwahl in Dent’s Ferruccio
Busoni, pp. 183-185]. A conversation with John Cage in 1967 also had
a decisive influence on Smalley in forming his opinion that the traditional
conception of concert-giving is unattractive.
And so from now on he became concerned not so much
with the musical material as with the very minutiae of the process of
composition; with the continuity not of the motif or harmony, but of
all those controlling factors that hitherto had been subsidiary, or
taken for granted. Scales of each controlling factor were graded and
systematized (loudness, speed, degree of eventuation and density, rate
of change, intelligibility of words and so on), and composition became
a rational search for a balance between these factors. The finished
piece would thus consist of different combinations of these scales of
elements. Spontaneity was impossible, though a limited amount of freedom
might be allowed to the performers, who could be invited to listen and
take part. Generally speaking, Smalley’s music since 1967 is not so
technically demanding as that of Maxwell Davies, who looks for a virtuoso
standard from the Pierrot Players.
The first work in this new style was Song of the Highest
Tower, for soprano and baritone soli, chorus, string and brass ensembles
and orchestra, which was first heard, with disturbing effect, in the
otherwise somewhat decorous atmosphere of a City of London Festival,
1968. The score, which calls for two conductors, consists not so much
of notation as such, but of instructions on the manner of performance
of the ideas. What matter for the players are durations, dynamics, bowing,
mode of tone-production; these are the factors that are ‘composed’,
more than any thematic or motivic invention, which is very simple. The
vocal parts consist variously of whispering, murmuring, speaking, shouting.
This piece was followed by Transformation I for piano
(1968/9), in which Smalley first used electronic modulation, live not
pre-recorded. The work, which was commissioned by the City Music Society,
was a preparatory study for Transformation II, or Pulses 5 x 4 [first
played by the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton on June
20, 1969]. In this piece five groups of four players are placed at random
in the hall, and each group is amplified and/or modulated electronically,
by combination of the instrumental sounds with sine-tones in a ring
modulator. The instruments consist of: 3 trumpets, 1 percussion (1 group);
3 horns, 1 percussion (2 groups); 3 trombones, 1 percussion (2 groups);
The work lasts fifty minutes and is made up of thirty ‘Moments’.
The conception is one of a composition in layers of
continually fluctuating densities, according to how many of the five
groups are playing during each Moment.
The ‘pulses’ of the title are rhythmic variants, or
‘categories of pulsation’, of which there are three, each with five
sub-divisions. What matters therefore in this case are the rhythmic
characteristics of each Moment. Again, the notes played are of secondary
importance, and indeed could hardly be simpler, since in each Moment
each instrument only plays one note, which is varied constantly by internal
vibrations, microtonal inflections, muting and so on. During each Moment
only one group plays from notated music; the other ‘layers’ are provided
by groups continuing to develop the last Moment they have played.
This process and principle of composition, which Smalley
derived from Stockhausen, rests on the assumption that the composer’s
art consists not so much of musical ideas or themes as on the constantly
fluctuating and variable presentation of the elements of the material.
Thus the analogy with logical philosophy is seen to be extremely close
[see my Contemporary Music, pp. 231-3]; the same intellectual principle
governs both-chiefly, that what is important is not what you say but
how you say it. Such a principle of composition is not so much an extension
of the range of music’s experiences as a confining of it within certain
selected, concentrated limits, which are thoroughly exploited to the
exclusion of other fundamental factors.
Such a trend is directly the reverse of that adopted
more than fifty years ago by composers such as Busoni, Schoenberg, Stravinsky
and Webern. Then it was a question of breaking out of the confines of
a comparatively narrow tradition into the wider fields of mediaeval,
polyphonic and renaissance music, as well as reaching into the unknown
paths of the future. their intellectual curiosity and creative urge
was directed towards the constant enlargement of both the extent and
the depth of their musical experience. Conversely, however, the avant-garde
of 1970, of which Smalley is an articulate representative in this country,
reverse this process, and seek instead to reduce the range of their
musical vision by eliminating whole periods and facets of artistic experience
from their thoughts, pronouncing them to be ‘irrelevant’, and focusing
their creative energy with correspondingly greater concentration onto
the comparatively limited areas of their own choosing. This process
illustrates not only the profound changes that have come about in music,
particularly since 1945, but also the illusory nature of freedom’ where
art is concerned. The composer needs constantly to ask: Freedom-from
what? Whereas composers of the earlier generation sought freedom from
their immediate tradition, and from academic formalism, by the exercise
of their creative curiosity, the present generation has inherited the
fruits of this freedom; it therefore scarcely needs to invoke the cry
of ‘freedom’ in quite the same way as its forebears did. Yet already,
paradoxically, the result of this freedom is showing signs of leading
to a narrowing, a rigidity of the art, that is far more restricting,
far more rigorous in its demands, than that nineteenth century aesthetic
from which earlier composers strove to break free. If this proves to
be the case, then it will only be a matter of time before the next generation
of composers, in their turn, seek to win their freedom from it. Dogmatism,
from whichever quarter, whether ‘traditional’ or ‘avant-garde’ is an
unsatisfactory basis for the creative artist.
Like Smalley, John Tavener was also born in 1944. Again,
therefore, it is premature to suggest more than the general direction
in which he is facing-which is unquestionably that of the avant-garde.
And though his technique is less complex, and not so mathematically
theoretical, as Smalley’s-nor is it derived from Stockhausen-nevertheless,
the same generating principle inspires both composers: that of concern
with, and sophistication in, the manner of presentation of material
which by itself may be rudimentary. For instance, the closing section
of In alium, whose texture is similar to part of Smalley’s Elegies,
consists of an improvised glissando within the framework of certain
given pitches for sixteen divisi violins, and a pre-recorded solo voice
in sixteen canonic parts, gradually dying away to nothing. The notes
by themselves mean nothing; there is no thematic material in the accepted
sense of that term. The composer’s attention is directed towards originality
and unexpectedness of effect, not towards the invention of original
He studied under Lennox Berkeley at the Royal Academy
of Music, and later with the Australian David Lumsdaine; his early pieces
include settings of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, and of Three Holy Sonnets
of John Donne (1963/64), as well as a short religious drama, The Cappemakers
(1964), and a dramatic cantata Cain and Abel (1965). The last two are
similar in style and both betray a certain awkwardness of word-setting;
but in Cain and Abel, which is clearly derived from late Stravinsky,
Tavener first begins to use that free, improvisatory technique that
was soon to become dominant. The work was awarded first prize in the
Monaco competition, 1965.
A light work, Grandma’s Footsteps, and a traditional
work, a Chamber Concerto, are the prelude to his total adoption of an
avant-garde style which became apparent in The Whale (1966). This is
the piece on which his reputation now chiefly rests. It was not performed,
however, until 24th January, 1968 [by the London Sinfonietta under David
Atherton. This was also the first appearance under a new twenty-four-year
old conductor of this chamber orchestra, formed specifically to perform
avant-garde works], when it was received with rapturous acclamation.
Hardened London critics, whose enthusiasm is not always their most prominent
characteristic, even admitted to a sense of exuberant enjoyment and
infectious high spirits. The composer’s comment gives the clue to his
intention: ‘the extravagance of the score is something which I feel
I may not be capable of when I grow older.’ After all, if you are going
to throw traditional discipline to the winds, half-measures will not
do. And so the work, a dramatic cantata, which lasts forty-five minutes,
is an abandoned display of ingenuity, theatrical amusement; it is certainly
never dull. It is a word-fantasy, and is constructed, again like Smalley’s
Elegies, with instrumental interludes. It opens with a solemn, documentary
reading from the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the biological properties
of whales; only gradually does the music encroach on the words, until
the voice has to struggle to be heard. The composer’s ingenuity is directed
towards the treatment of noise-effects, some of which are deliberately
banal and monotonous; interruptions from a loud-hailer, whispers, snores,
grunts, buzzes, hisses; electronic effects; the baritone soloist shouts
into an undamped piano, representing the whale’s belly; and so on.
Such a work could not be repeated; but the immediate
success of The Whale opened the door to the young composer. In alium
was commissioned by the B.B.C. for a 1968 Promenade Concert [at this
concert (12th August 1968) three new works were played; Tavener’s In
Alium, Banks’s Violin Concerto, Musgrave’s Concerto for Orchestra. In
the interval of the concert a ‘popularity poll’ was conducted to find
out which of the three works the chiefly youthful audience would like
to hear repeated. Tavener’s work was the clear favourite], and the Introit
for March 27, the Feast of St. John Damascene, was commissioned by the
London Bach Society. These were followed by A Celtic Requiem (1968-69)
which, like The Whale, is described as a ‘dramatic cantata’, and in
which, also like The Whale, and the other works, though its origin may
have been sacred, any traditional religious association is entirely
contradicted by the individual presentation of the idea. Though the
movements are recognizably traditional (Requiem aeternam, Kyrie, Dies
irae, etc.) in no other sense is the work a ‘requiem’. The adult rendering
of the words is parodied by the nonsense interruptions of children as
they play hopscotch; their games have ritualistic overtones for the
composer, as well as suggestions of parody.
For instance, the concluding section Requiescat in
pace is set against the words of the nursery rhyme ‘Mary had a little
lamb,’ which ends:
Mary had a little lamb
Her father shot it dead.
Now it goes to school with her
Between two chunks of bread.
This is enacted to an accompaniment of organ and popguns,
to say nothing of Cardinal Newman’s hymn, ‘Lead, Kindly Light’. The
purely musical material is extremely limited; indeed, the whole work
is reduced to different presentations of the chord of E flat. It is,
in this case, no longer a question of a composition consisting of the
treatment and development of contrasting ideas or thematic material;
it is the varied treatment itself which is the composition.
Tim Souster is Smalley’s contemporary, and shares his
aesthetic. He also succeeded him at King’s College, Cambridge, as ‘composer
in residence’. After studying at Oxford, and with Richard Rodney Bennett,
he attended in 1963 the courses of Stockhausen, Berio and Kontarsky
at Darmstadt, the Mecca of the European avant-garde. Most of his recent
works include electronic effects, such as Tsuramono-domo and Titus Groan
Music. The first of these is about war on three levels: the personal,
the epic and the political; the second, named after the first of Mervyn
Peake’s trilogy of novels, is also political, dedicated to the Greek
composer and freedom-fighter, Theodorakis. Other avant-garde composers
of this generation are Brian Ferneyhough and the slightly younger Michael
Of the former generation, the best known are David
Bedford (b. 1938) and Harrison Birtwistle (b. 1934). Bedford’s style
is the slenderer of the two, the more lyrical. Birtwistle’s is the more
uncompromising and abrasive, and though he has been closely associated
with Peter Maxwell Davies, both as fellow-student at Manchester, and
as co-director of the Pierrot Players, his music lacks the dimension
of parody that Davies shows; nor does it derive inspiration from the
extra dimension of visual or dance effects, or to any great extent from
mediaeval music. His characteristic avant-garde works, such as Medusa,
or Interludes from a tragedy, are built on very simple patterns, and
use violent dynamic extremes. He is very interested in electronics,
and Medusa also required a computer on stage. His only opera so far,
Punch and Judy, which was first heard at the 1968 Aldeburgh Festival,
was a miscalculation in several important respects: the ugliness of
orchestral sound palls quickly on the ear, while the scoring and instrumentation
combine to make the singers inaudible. Stephen Pruslin’s text is equally
savage and aggressive. But a sense of drama underlies some of Birtwistle’s
other orchestral and instrumental works, such as Verses for Ensembles,
Tragoedia and Chorales. Tragoedia (1965) derived a dramatic form from
Messiaen’s Chronocromie, and was a preliminary study for Punch and Judy,
while the earlier Chorales is an individual interpretation of ‘The Martyrdom
of St. Catherine’ by Pieter Brueghel. Its four sections juxtapose, alternate
and repeat similar material in many dimensions and in various perspectives,
some blurred, some in focus, like foreground and background.
In many ways Birtwistle is the most uncompromising
and determined post-Webern composer in England today. Another who follows
a similar path is Justin Connolly, who also went to America on a Harkness
Fellowship, and who follows the established avant-garde pattern in his
concern for method rather than style. He has worked with electronics
at Zinovieff’s studio.
Several groups have been started in the 60s for the
presentation of avant-garde works: ‘The mouth of Hermes’, ‘Sonor’, ‘The
Electric Candle’, to mention only three. ‘The Gentle Fire’ is associated
with Richard Orton; ‘Intermodulation’ is the name under which Smalley
and Souster present their work to the public. The group known as ‘The
Soft Machine’ played at the first ‘Pop Prom’, on 13th August 1970; but
the ultimate so far in this direction (though who can say what the future
holds in store?) is Cornelius Cardew’s ‘Scratch Orchestra’? which he
founded in 1969.
Cardew, who was born in 1936, is the John Cage of British
music. Indeed, after studying electronic music in Cologne (1957/8),
Cardew was associated with Cage and David Tudor, and also made his acquaintance
with the music of Christian Wolff and Morton Feldman. His compositions
bear deceptively traditional titles, but there any resemblance to traditional
procedures ends; more often than not the scores contain lengthy instructions
on how to decipher the otherwise unintelligible symbols. Every work
is for him a fresh experiment, and every performance too. The only thing,
for instance, that is determinate about Treatise is that no performance
will bear audible relationship to any other performance. The score consists
of 193 pages of free graphics, without a single symbol whose meaning
has been agreed in advance. You can sing it, play it on any instrument,
in any order, backwards or forwards, in part or in whole; you can contemplate
it in silence, or act it; but for the final result Cardew disclaims
all responsibility. ‘My intention’ he says, ‘is that the player should
respond to the situation.’
But what of the audience? An artistic response on the
part of the listener has always been the sine qua non of any music which
lays claim to the stahls of art. If the nihilistic avant-garde composer
dissociates himself from the performer, does he also disclaim any concern
for the audience? Suppose that a listener were to trespass on a meeting
of the Scratch Orchestra in the fond and innocent expectation that he
was going to hear a concert:
Place: St. Pancras Assembly Rooms
Date: 2nd April 1970. Thursday evening, 7.50 p.m.
Heavily Victorian hall. About one hundred seats occupy
one half of the floor; the other half is taken up by seven or eight
young people seated on the floor, with assorted items of musical and
Audience, ten minutes before the concert, consists
of eleven people, and one somewhat bewildered janitor.
Concertgoer refers to his programme-a postcard informing
him that this is the 12th presentation of the Scratch Orchestra, and
that the date is 2nd April 1970. The reverse side is entirely blank.
Perhaps his nearest neighbours might know what was to be played? They
say that the participants in the orchestra are not musicians at all;
they just enjoy playing. Their instruments appear to consist of a frying
pan, blocks of wood, assorted tins. Is that a military drum over there?
Someone is busily unpacking a shopping-bag, which evidently contains
more utensils, needed no doubt for the performance; a paint tin, what
looks like a bag of nails, some iron bars.
Another possible audience-member ventures round the
door, only to retreat in haste at the sight that meets his eyes. Those
sitting on the floor now number twenty; the audience, so far, twelve.
Various tappings, squeaks, noises. Can this be the
concert? Surely not; but it is almost 8 o’clock. The audience is now
eighteen. Everyone waits expectantly. More uncoordinated tapping and
isolated sounds. Is this all that is meant by avant-garde?
Someone with a mallet intently and very deliberately
strikes a piece of wood: whereupon four children come in (five-eight
age group), who make the loudest noise so far heard, with their golliwog
father. The audience is now twenty-three.
A saxophone somewhat surprisingly emits a note; someone
claps; someone else utters a vocal sound. Perhaps this is some secret
means of communication, like morse code? Or a meditation? Or more likely
a leg-pull. Yes, a practical joke. But the date is 2nd April, not 1st
April. Several teenagers come in, dishevelled, bored and disconsolate.
Evidently avant-garde people are unhappy?
More very quiet sounds. Surely this is very tentative
for an improvisation? Some of the participants seem to be reading something;
a score, maybe?
A rustling of paper; a squeak of a whistle, all unconnected.
Someone arrives late with a cornet. Someone else sits with his arm embracing
a cello, apparently incapable of playing it. Ah, no! After much deliberation
he manages to produce one pizzicato note. Another noise, like the whistle
in a Christmas cracker. Over there is a horn player; but he, too, is
transfixed, quite unable to play.
The time is now 8.15 p.m. Another violinist comes in,
bejeaned, shoeless. He solemnly selects a chair, sits down, and lays
his violin on the floor. Evidently dissatisfied, he then moves to the
other side of the room, sits this time on the floor, and meditates.
About what, one wonders.
Twenty-four human beings are now reduced to silence;
only the occasional peep or plonk disturbs the placid scene.
Concertgoer is now in a questioning mood. For want
of anything resembling music, his thoughts take a dissatisfied turn.
Is this all the avant-garde has to say about the Western musical tradition?
Is this all that is left of the musical art?
(Suddenly a tune is heard-on a musical box.)
Is it meant to be a joke? If so, each concertgoer must
supply his own punch-line; nobody else will.
(Two more elderly people arrive - surely not The Times
The participants are obviously indulging their private
rite of this particular spring; a private meeting of meditation for
their own edification. An audience is an affront in such a gathering-an
unwarrantable intrusion; neither valued nor necessary.
Concertgoer reflects that there is a saloon just opposite,
where his custom would be, on the contrary, highly valued.
21 Serialism and Romanticism
Categorisation is an inadequate way of considering
a composer’s work; if he is a composer of any marked individuality,
whose music bears the imprint of his personality, he will create his
own category. Nevertheless, it is equally true that the great increase
in musical activity in this country since 1945, and the vastly greater
general interest in music-making at all levels has led directly to a
correspondingly increased response by composers. Demand has, to some
extent, created supply; moreover, the highly variegated demand by different
groups and different trends has created a highly variegated supply;
largely occasional and ephemeral perhaps, but all an essential part
in a vital and growing tradition.
[Frankel, Lutyens, Hamilton, Goehr, Gilbert, Wood,
One of the strongest trends, and one which made the
most exacting demands to any who succumbed to its siren voice, was the
serialist/avant-garde movement that began to be noticeably felt in the
50s. It largely focused on a small group of composers centred round
the B.B.C., where William Glock was Head of Music from 1959.
The most senior of those composers who today reflect
the trend of serialism is Benjamin Frankel. He was born in 1906, and
in his case it was a gradual assimilation of Schoenberg’s ideas, not
a sudden conversion; he was not born into an environment which accepted
the 12-note principle as a fait accompli. On the contrary, his musical
growth has been a slow and cumulative process, which is reflected in
his compositions. Frankel developed his own 12-note style, because Schoenberg
alone appeared to him to offer a technical discipline which he, Frankel,
needed. He came to serialism practically unwittingly, instinctively;
then he worked consciously and quite alone, in an attempt to arrive
at his own technique, which was not comparable with anybody else’s,
but which arose absolutely from the ‘classic example’ of Schoenberg.
Frankel’s large output culminates in seven symphonies, the first of
which was not written until 1960. All the symphonies are, to a greater
or lesser extent, serial.
Prominent among those who have worked within the Schoenberg
tradition is Elizabeth Lutyens. With Humphrey Searle, she was the pioneer
of the 12-note technique at a time (in the forties) when it was hardly
heard of in this country. Moreover, as the wife of Edward Clark, and
one of the founders of the Macnaghten concerts in 1931, she has been
actively concerned with matters to do with contemporary music concerts
in this country, and the musical politics that appear to be inseparable
from them, for very many years. Needless to say, she has not infrequently
been at the centre of controversy. Her close acquaintance with William
Glock has secured for her works a hearing at his Dartington Summer School,
and since 1960 in radio concerts. Indeed, the trend towards serialism,
which reached a peak in the 60s, was in no small measure the result
of her influential and crusading voice.
She was born in 1906, the daughter of the architect,
Sir Edwin Lutyens. She studied first in Paris, then at the Royal College
of Music under Harold Darke, the organist of St. Michael’s, Cornhill.
Her first public performance consisted of a ballet The Birthday of the
lnfanta, conducted by Constant Lambert. Gradually during the thirties
her works reached audiences, through the L.C.M.C., or her own Macnaghten
Concerts, or Adolph Hallis. Later she regularly featured in I.S.C.M.
programmes, starting in 1939, when her Second String Quartet was played
at the Warsaw Festival [when Rawsthorne’s Symphonic Studies were also
played (see p. 43)]. This is a conventional work; dissonant, though
hardly revolutionary. It was gradually, after about 1940, that she embarked
on the path of 12-note composition, starting with the first of the Six
Chamber Concertos, Op. 8. It was a path which, particularly at that
time in England, called for qualities of musical vision and personal
determination. She had to be prepared for her voice to be, for many
years, a lone one crying in a particularly lonely wilderness. In retrospect
we are now able to detect, and identify, that goal of total serialism
towards which Schoenberg’s 12-note style represented the first step.
It was an all-demanding technique of composition, through which only
the strongest musical personality could assert itself. Such a success
in the personal adoption of the serial world is seen in the later works
of Gerhard [see p. 183/5], in which his individual characteristics of
style remain stronger and more important than the technical procedures
he adopted. But his achievement is exceptional, and, in this country
at least, unique.
But for the pioneer Elizabeth Lutyens in 1940 this
path lay in the unseen future. Her works since then, of which there
are over seventy, as distinct from her incidental film scores, represent
her gradual movement along that path. In a number of them, her idiom
and style is indistinguishable from that of countless other European
composers at this time. Schoenbergian dodecaphony was the common technique
of the avant-garde in the 40s and 50s; the more refined Webernian serialism
The adoption of dodecaphony, and a totally chromatic
tonality, presents the greatest problems of balance and texture in orchestral
works; not so much in chamber works, which use fewer instruments. Moreover,
Lutyens’s style is best suited to small-scale works. A highly expressive
score, and an early one, is the soprano cantata O Saisons, O Chateaux
(1946); it has a clarity and a brevity which is lacking in some of the
orchestral works, such as the densely concentrated Three Symphonic Preludes
(1942) or Music for Orchestra I(1954). Indeed, writing for voices tends
to bring out the lyricism in Lutyens-such works as the Wittgenstein
Motet (1953) and Quincunx (1957), for instance, have a focal point.
Wittgenstein’s philosophy is germane and highly relevant to Schoenberg’s
[this point is dealt with in greater detail in my Contemporary Music,
pp. 231-3], and in translating into music such apparent imponderables
as ‘The world is everything that is the case’, or ‘The existence and
nonexistence of atomic facts is the reality’, Lutyens was retracing
the path that Schoenberg had trod thirty years earlier. She simply,
if unconsciously, substituted one series of symbols (a note-row) for
another (the variables of logical philosophy). The musical characteristics
of the resulting composition are precisely analogous to the linguistic
characteristics inherent in Wittgenstein’s text in the first place.
It is one of the most apt pieces ever composed, since the 12-note technique
was linguistic in origin. Lutyens’s motet is not a setting of words
so much as a realization of ideas.
She has written a large number of scores since 1960
for B.B.C. performance, many directly commissioned-starting with the
Wind Quintet, OP. 45, (1960). These include orchestral works-Music for
Orchestra II (1962) ‘for Edward Clark,’ who had died that year, and
Music for Orchestra III, (1964); also Symphonies for piano, wind, harp
and percussion (1961), and several works for voice and instrumental
ensembles. In these later works Lutyens found herself confronted with
the severest test of all-a ready audience. The path of the 12-note technique
can only lead the composer through progressive refinement of idiom,
until all inessentials are pared away. Webern is the prototype in this
respect. Lutyens’ style is slender and lyrical; but all too easily,
as in Quincunx? the melodic line can be lost among the notes. Her idiom
is the lingua franca of European serialism; but her musical personality
does not shine through it with the strength and brilliance of Gerhard.
Many composers have since followed along the Schoenberg-Webern
path; among them the Scottish composer Iain Hamilton, who was born in
Glasgow in 1922. Like his contemporary Fricker, he emigrated to America
in 1961, where he was Professor at Duke University, North Carolina;
also like Fricker, he was awarded a Clements memorial prize, for a String
Quartet, and a Koussevitzky Prize, for his Second Symphony (1950). Unlike
Fricker, however, he is more doctrinaire in his approach to the post-Webern
situation; and the strict serialism of his Sinfonia for Two Orchestras
(1959), which was a direct reflection of the then Continental avant-garde,
caused an uproar when it was first heard at an Edinburgh Festival concert
that year. He has, however, written several works in lighter vein, such
as a 1912 Overture (1958), and a Concerto for jazz trumpet and orchestra.
A similar versatility, and a certain artistic ambiguity,
marks the work of the younger composer, Richard Rodney Bennett. His
major works are unquestioningly 12-note, yet he combines this with a
remarkable fluency; already his work so far includes as many as five
operas, two symphonies, a major choral work, Epithalamion, a Piano Concerto,
and numerous other pieces, including scores for films, radio, television
and theatre, which call for a less intellectual style. He is also an
accomplished pianist, and his penchant for jazz led to a jazz ballet,
and several pieces for jazz ensemble.
More directly in line from Schoenberg (not so much
from Webern) is Alexander Goehr, the son of the conductor, Walter Goehr.
At Manchester, his name was bracketed with Davies and Birtwistle in
the ‘Manchester Group’, though his work has since followed a more recognizably
conventional path than that of his two student contemporaries. After
Manchester he studied under Messiaen in Paris, and his piano Capriccio
(1958) is dedicated to Messiaen’s wife, the pianist Yvonne Loriod. Goehr
is widely-travelled, spending much time in Europe and America, and active
as a teacher, lecturer and writer. He taught analysis and composition
at Morley College, and two of his pupils were Roger Smalley and Anthony
Gilbert. He later taught at Yale (196819).
The idiom of his work is that of the orthodox European
post-Schoenberg tradition; concentrated, dense, proliferating in detail,
and instrumental rather than vocal-indeed, his vocal and choral works
(The Deluge and Sutter’s Gold) are the least satisfactory among his
output. Concertos include the Violin Concerto (1962), Romanza for cello
(1968) and Konzertstuck for piano (1969); symphonic works include Little
Symphony (1963) and Symphony in one movement (1970). The final movement
of the Little Symphony is particularly indicative of Goehr’s style.
In it, the composer seeks to combine the features of both slow movement
and finale. ‘I particularly like this type of movement,’ he says, ‘which
combines different tempi and musical inventions, although it always
raises the biggest problems of clarity and continuity, and imposes a
particular stress on the performers.’ In this movement, the various
styles of recitative, finale material, and chorale, alternate in a mosaic
of rich texture, leading to a coda (Adagio) based on the symphony’s
opening. Rather than thematic invention, Goehr prefers the invention,
and development, of texture. This is particularly apparent in his chamber
Apart from instrumental composition, Goehr has also
had considerable operatic experience. His first opera Ardern must die
was written, in German, for the Hamburg State Opera (1967), while his
theatre work ranges from an early ballet to Greek plays, as well as
feature and television films. He is associated with the Brighton Festival,
where, in 1969, he directed the Music Theatre Ensemble in Birtwistle’s
Down by the Greenwood Side and Walton’s Facade, as well as his own Naboth’s
Vineyard - a morality in the style of a chamber opera, combining music
and mime. It has been described by the composer as a ‘dramatic madrigal’.
It was the first of a trilogy, the other two pieces being Shadowplay-2
and Sonata about Jerusalem. Goehr’s ‘Music Theatre’ is comparable with
Davies’s works for the Pierrot Players, and Britten’s Church Parables.
The works of his pupil Anthony Gilbert, though still
comparatively few in number, are also very much the products of their
period, the 60s. The trend of serialism decisively influenced Gilbert
at a formative stage of his development. Though only two years Goehr’s
junior (he was born in 1934), his work so far shows him to be a more
outright avant-garde composer, and less innately romantic, than his
teacher. His first pieces, such as the Missa Brevis, Op. 4, and the
Sinfonia, Op. 5, are serial miniatures; later pieces, such as Nine or
Ten Osannas, Op. 10, and Mother, Op. 15, written for the Pierrot Players,
are avant-garde miniatures, using a certain amount of aleatoricism.
One of his largest scores is Magic in Twelve Regions (Op. 6), written
in 1965 ‘in memoriam Edgard Varese’. This is scored for two orchestral
units, and derived, like Hamilton’s Sigia, from Stockhausen’s Gruppen,
rather than from anything of Varese. It employs a formidable, but not
unusual, array of instruments, including a Hammond organ and amplified
bass guitar, and calls on most tricks of the avant-garde trade, in a
highly organized welter of orchestral effects.
Also contemporary with Gilbert, and three years his
junior, is Gordon Crosse, who, after studying at Oxford under Wellesz,
sought the stimulation of a continental environment by going to Rome,
in 1962, and working under Petrassi. His contacts with the academic
world, first at Oxford, and later at Birmingham, where he was appointed
Composition Fellow in 1966, have given his use of serialism a different
dimensions modalism, which somewhat recalls Maxwell Davies’s style.
His output is varied and variable, and includes several operas (Purgatory
is the best known) as well as other theatrical works, and school and
Another composer whose comparatively small output reveals
a painstaking study of Schoenberg’s 12-note technique is Hugh Wood.
Like Goehr, his works contain a romantic core; as indeed do those of
a large number of composers of widely differing style. Romanticism is
still a strong force in British music today.
[Bliss, Alan Bush, Daniel Jones, Wilfred Josephs, Nicholas
Maw, Jeremy Dale Roberts, Patric Standford, Arthur Butterworth, C W
Orr, John Tomlinson, Horovitz, Ronald Stevenson]
Though an adequate and universally acceptable definition
of Romanticism is impossible, there is probably a broad measure of agreement
about what is implied by the term Romantic when it refers to music.
We might call it that residue, in a score, of sound-for-its-own sake,
which is still left over when the analyst has done his work. Historically
speaking it is music based on a harmonic style of composition, as that
of the nineteenth century was; its appeal is to the heart more than
to the head; it tells a story (roman), it fills a need in the human
spirit, of quest, of imagination, of picture-painting, of pleasure in
sound, which nothing else equally can. In a sense, therefore, romanticism
is a pre-requisite of any music that aspires to anything more than ephemeral
interest. And indeed, is not a man who sits down to write a symphony,
instead of following the more lucrative and rational occupations of
commerce or industry, a living embodiment of that mixture of imaginative
idealism and unrealistic foolishness that we describe by the single,
all-inclusive word romanticism?
Romanticism is only possible in a period of active
confidence. Indeed, historically speaking, it was the rock-firm confidence
of composers after about 1770 in the newly-established principles of
diatonic harmony, the nuts and bolts of the harmonic style of composition,
that gave birth to the period of music that saw by far the greatest
manifestation of the human spirit of romanticism, namely the nineteenth
century. The nineteenth century was certainly a period of overwhelming
confidence. And by this reckoning of romanticism, if you maintain your
confidence when the grounds on which it rests are no longer firm, your
art runs the risk of becoming decadent.
It is a commonplace that many twentieth-century composers,
starting with Busoni and Debussy, ceased to have confidence in this
aesthetic of romanticism and attempted to modify the harmonic foundation
on which it rested. The long line of those contemporary composers who
have since questioned the harmonic structure of music and, as it were,
divided up the spoils of the nineteenth century, is also common knowledge.
But it is all too easy to exaggerate the effects of an experiment. Many
critics have mistakenly interpreted the experiments of a particular
composer as representing the one true direction in which contemporary
music is really facing. They mistake an individual composer’s personal
developments for those of the tradition within which he works; in their
bid to avoid at all costs appearing Beckmesserish, they mistake appearance
for reality, in a way that no composer ever would. It is a particularly
prevalent form of intellectual snobbery which causes a critic to simplify
contemporary music, and to present it as a straight choice between the
work of whatever composer he sees as ‘advanced’ on the one hand, and
all the rest, whom he labels ‘reactionary’, on the other. You do not
see the view if you are facing the wrong way; and the fact that many
composers have questioned the concept of romanticism does not cause
the whole corpus of romantic music to become thereby instantly redundant
and irrelevant. Music history is made, not by trends, but by traditions.
Moreover, one should wait to see the results of an experiment before
announcing, and assuming, its success.
The late flowering of romanticism in British music,
which has already been referred to [see p. 11], was, at least in part,
the expression of confidence by a newly emerging school of composers.
Centred round Vaughan Williams, Holst and Arnold Bax, it was a movement
which formed the background for many composers, before and after 1945,
who wrote symphonies, or large orchestral works: William Wordsworth,
for instance, whose five symphonies and three concertos form the core
of a large output. His particular pleasure is in nature mountains, storms,
spacious views, ever-changing colours-which he translates into symphonic
sounds. Moreover, he admits to the force of emotion; and what could
be more incurably romantic a view than that? Concord, discord, tonality-the
data of romantic music-are for him reality, and he has never pursued
originality for its own sake. His music is a quiet, restrained contemplation
of the world’s tribulations and triumphs.
Enough of something from our hands have power
To live, and act, and serve the future hour.
A composer whose personality reflects many sides of
the romanticism between the wars is Arthur Bliss, who was born in 1891.
In 1953 he succeeded Bax as Master of the Queen’s Musick, and his career
has included a number of administrative posts, including the B.B.C.
His early compositions culminated in the Melee Fantasque (1921) and
A Colour Symphony (1922); but it is the more intimate, less outwardly
original works written since his return from California in 1925 which
have proved longer lasting, such as the Clarinet Quintet (1931) and
the Pastoral: Lie Strewn the White Flocks (1928). His symphonic works
include two concertos, Meditations on a Theme of John Blow (1955), and
Discourse for Orchestra (1957); his large output (over one hundred works)
comprises opera, ballet and innumerable smaller pieces.
Representing an Establishment of a very different order
stands Alan Bush, whose adherence to the Communist Party acts as a positive
stimulus to his composition. After the conventionally English musical
training of the Royal Academy of Music, and a period under John Ireland,
he went to Berlin (1929-31) to study philosophy and musicology at the
Humboldt University. The rise of Nazism, as well as his contact with
Brecht and Hans Eisler, influenced him in adopting Marxism in 1934,
though he had for a long time been associated with music in the working-class
So his early instrumental compositions, which tended
towards a sophisticated chromaticism, now gave place to vocal and choral
compositions of a direct simplicity. Instead of piano pieces he wrote
workers’ choruses; instead of string quartets he wrote marching songs;
and he adopted a simple style. Like Vaughan Williams, he wanted an idiom
which all could understand; unlike Vaughan Williams, however, his message
was political. His search for a national style has been a search for
a topic, and a musical modalism, which would unite the working class.
His ballad-operas Wat Tyler and Men of Blackmoor are each concerned
with the unjust exploitation of the working-class, the one in the middle
ages, the other in the nineteenth century. And when writing Men of Blackmoor
Alan Bush and his wife visited a Northumbrian mine, and acquainted themselves
with the folk-songs and speech idioms of that part of the country. His
operas have so far only been produced in Germany; Wat Tyler in Leipzig,
1953; Men of Blackmoor in Weimar, 1956; The Sugar Reapers in Leipzig,
1966; Joe Hill in Berlin, 1970.
Such direct tone-painting from his choral and vocal
works spills over into his orchestral composition. His Third Symphony,
the Byron Symphony, in which each movement depicts an episode, or aspect,
of Byron’s life, culminates in the hero’s death for the cause of Greece.
In this work romanticism and politics combine; and they make uneasy
partners. Just as Bush’s thematic material appeals to the musically
unsophisticated, so his plots, and musical schemes, reveal a naivete
which cannot but exclude a large number of his compatriots. While he
may seek to unite one section of the population, this is against the
other half. His Byron Symphony finishes with a choral finale; but there
any resemblance to Beethoven ends. Beethoven’s vision was for all men,
and it was one of love.
Another composer of substantial symphonic works, who
combines academic learning with a nationalistic colour, is the Welshman
Daniel Jones. Twelve years Bush’s junior, he is both interested in philosophy
and familiar with many languages. After graduating in English at the
University of Wales, he wrote his M.A. thesis on ‘The relations between
Literature and Music in the Elizabethan period’; he has since written
a number of essays and articles on a variety of highly original topics,
including Music-Aesthetics, in which he is a contemporary pioneer. He
was a friend of Dylan Thomas, and on the poet’s death became literary
trustee of the estate. He constructed Under Milk Wood from the unfinished
manuscripts, and edited A Prospect of the Sea. He wrote his Fourth Symphony
(1954) in memory of Dylan Thomas, and has recently edited the poems
[The Poems of Dylan Thomas, (Dent)]. He appears as Dan Davies in Dylan
Thomas’s Portrait of The Artist as a Young Dog.
Jones’s compositions consist of several symphonic poems
and other orchestral pieces, six symphonies, piano works and chamber
music; an oratorio, St. Peter, an opera, The Knife, and several other
choral works. His romanticism is tempered by metaphysical ideas, which
give his music a distinctive flavour. In 1935 he devised a scheme of
Complex Metre, from which the German composer Boris Blacher later derived
his ‘Variable Metre’ system. Jones’s Complex Metres, however, have an
expressive and formal purpose, and are usually confined to small appreciable
units, whereas Blacher’s system is mathematically based, and the unit
becomes so extended that it is barely detectable to the listener.
Complex time signatures (9.2.318) give Jones’s melody
a distinctive and subtle quality, as well as a new basis for formal
construction. Working from that basis, he evolved complex metrical patterns.
The music gains from the unifying element of a fixed pattern, but the
pattern itself is asymmetrical. In the Sonata for Three Kettledrums
[The Score, June 1950], for instance, (1947) the metrical patterns of
the different movements are:
i Moderato 184.108.40.206.3.4
ii Allegro assai 220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168.2.3 22.214.171.124.126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.3.2
iii Lento e solemne 184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.6.8.
iv Agitato 3 9 2 6 4 3
An example of the use of ‘Complex Metres’ occurs in
three of the six movements that make up the Sixth Symphony (1964). The
six movements are arranged into three pairs as follows:
(a) Maestoso The prelude, containing the symphony’s
basic theme, played in unison.
(b) Agitato The metrical pattern 5 + 4 is maintained
in the main section; in the subsidiary section 445; in the development
section 5 + 8
(a) Sostenuto A slow movement
(b) Con brio A scherzo, without middle section
(a) Capriccioso Variations, played continuously, with
the metrical 18.104.22.168
(b) Vivace Resembles I (b) in structure, but with the
metrical pattern 4 + 8
This symphony, which, like the fourth, was commissioned
by the Royal National Eisteddfod, is free in its tonality, but highly
organised in its structure. The whole work derives from a single theme,
and the tonal centres of the six movements are regular, and balanced-D,
G sharp, B, F, G sharp, D.
If Jones’s ‘Complex Metres’ recall the rhythmic development
of Stravinsky, and in particular the additive rhythm technique which
Tippett embodied into his style, he also invented a system of extended
modes, which are somewhat reminiscent of Messiaen’s music before 1950.
Jones conceives of a mode that arrives not necessarily at the octave
above the starting-note, but at some other one. A musical continuum
is formed by continuing the mode upwards. Thus the mode extends over
a minor ninth; the starting-note is a semitone higher each time. Intervening
notes are not considered; for instance, the note C can only occur at
the point, and pitch, shown above. The use of these modes has been confined
to chamber music for a small number of instruments.
Several composers of the next generation as well have
continued this symphonic growth, with works on a large scale: Wilfred
Josephs, Nicholas Maw, Jeremy Dale Roberts, Patric Standford, Arthur
Butterworth and several others. All derive recognisably from the English
romanticism of the 30s; all use a familiar form of tonality; yet within
these broad limits their individual styles differ.
Wilfred Josephs, who was born in 1927, achieved what
is practically unknown for a British composer, a sudden, and spectacular,
international notoriety. This came in December, 1963, when his Requiem,
Op. 39, won the ‘First International Competition for Symphonic Composition
of the City of Milan and La Scala’. His subsequent success as a composer-performances,
commissions and so on-stemmed from that point, though it was by no means
his first work, nor his first prize.
The Requiem caught the public fancy, particularly in
America [it was first played in this country by the Halle Orchestra
in Sheffield, 29 October 1966], in a way that few works do; certainly
those of unknown composers. It was played in 1967 in Cincinnati and
It is an act of remembrance for the untold millions
of Jews who were murdered in Europe under Hitler. It was originally
conceived in 1961, during the time of the Eichmann trial. Perhaps the
artistic representation of this chief crime of our age required, for
its full effect to be realized, a Jewish composer. Only he would feel
the consanguineous horror at the sufferings of his fellow Jews; only
he could express, on behalf of the world-wide Jewish community, what
it is appropriate should be expressed-and no more. We recall Schoenberg’s
A Survivor from Warsaw. We also recall another work, which, strangely,
was also awarded an international prize in 1963, but without creating
such a sensational, and very obvious, succes d’estime-more strangely
still, it was the work of a composer who was himself, in his own person,
a survivor from Warsaw-Andrzej Panufnik’s Sinfonia Sacra. The very title,
Requiem, appealed to the public mood at this time, as Britten had shown
the previous year. But Josephs’ work is more personal, and contains
none of the immediate juxtaposition of opposites that Britten’s War
Requiem has. The spirit of protest is entirely absent; it is replaced
by a dignified sorrow, a quiet hope.
Josephs first wrote a String Quintet, Op. 32, in memory
of those Jews who had died: three slow movements, called Requiescant
pro defunctis Iudaeis. Later, he incorporated this quintet into a choral
work, a setting of the traditional Hebrew prayer of mourning, the Kaddish.
Just as the mood of this Requiem is prevailingly quiet, so is its tempo
prevailingly slow; yet nowhere does the Kaddish text mention death or
the dead. Though it is a funeral meditation, it is concerned-only with
life and with the glorification of God. The three String Quintet movements
(Requiescant, Lacrimosa, Monumentum) carry the burden of grief, and
become progressively slower, simpler, less rhetorical. Interspersed
as they are, as interludes to the text, they correspond in this respect
to the Wilfred Owen poems of Britten’s work. The six vocal movements
express the acceptance of God’s will, and the traditional Messianic
hope of the Psalms and the Prophets, in a mood of fervent and profound
submission. There is one purely orchestral movement, De profundis. The
scheme of the work as a whole is thus:
(Adagio 3/4) 1 Requiescant string quintet chorus and
orchestra (Adagio 3/4)
(Adagio 3/4) 2 Yitgadal
(Allegro ritmico 4/4) 3 Yehey Sh’mey Raba chorus and
(Poco Andante 3/4) 4 Yitbarach baritone solo and orchestra
(Adagio 4/4) 5 Lacrimosa string quintet baritone solo,
chorus and orchestra
(Adagio 4/4) 6 Yehee Shem
(Grave 6/4) 7 De Profundis orchestra baritone solo,
chorus and orchestra
(Pesante 3/4) 8 Ezri Meyim
(Piu Adagio 4/4) 9 Monumentum string quintet
(Adagio 4/4) 10 Ohseh Shalom baritone solo, chorus
However, the Hebrew text was not used to restrict the
work to Jewish dead. On the contrary, though it was a Jewish tragedy
that first triggered off the composition, Josephs wished to underline
the universality of his artistic aims by avoiding the many established
associations, both musical and liturgical, of the Roman Mass for the
Dead. It was his hope that the listener would be able to submerge himself
in the feeling inspired through the music by the text, without being
distracted by any such specific associations; and the profoundly moving
impact made by the La Scala premiere amply fulfilled this hope.
The very original emotional character of the work results
partly from the layout of the forces employed. When Josephs first started
planning the extension of the Quintet into a ten-movement choral and
orchestral work, begun and interspersed by quintet movements, he entertained
the idea of rescoring the quintet music for orchestra. But by deciding
against this, and instead keeping the original quintet of two violins,
viola, and two cellos, he produced a work of strongly individual dynamic
design. The music rises out of, and finally sinks again into, near-silence,
and the use of a quintet of solo strings adds an extra dimension to
the dynamic possibilities of normal orchestral scoring. By contrast
with the biggest fortissimo the quintet can produce, even the quieter
passages for chorus and orchestra assume a character of massive strength.
The few loud outbursts are in turn able to make a striking impact, since
the contrast with the quintet enables the composer to keep to a soft
dynamic through a large proportion of the choral and orchestral music.
The impact of Josephs’ Requiem, which is sung in Hebrew,
in phonetie transliteration, derives partly from the direct expressiveness
and warmth of the vocal line, partly from the harmonic idiom. This is
both highly individual, yet flexible, and consistent as need be both
with the quasimodal style of a plainsong-like section, and with the
semitonal brilliance of a elimax-point; the third movement illustrates
both these aspects. This harmonic and melodic consistency derives from
a simple 4-note chord which is capable of almost limitless variation
of colour, by the constant permutation of its constituent notes.
By the inflection of each note either way, either singly
or in combination, a wide range of progressions and chords is possible.
For instance, if the E is changed to E# (F natural) and the B to Bb,
harmony in fourths is suggested; the work opens in this way. Many types
of triads can be arrived at; one example, for instance, results from
the two lower notes (C, E) being moved up a tone (to D, F#). No. 6 ends
with this chord (transposed down a semitone). Moving triads occur in
several places (for instance in No. 8); the major seventh chord moves
in its entirety, in No. 3, and No. 4. The four notes may be spelt out
melodically, in modified form, as at the opening of No. 10; the inversion
of the chord leads to the minor 2nd, or minor 9th, with which the work
Indeed, a most interesting parallel may be drawn between
the even chord movement of the unaccompanied choral Amen with which
Britten ends the Dies Irae of his War Requiem, which again occurs at
the end of the work, and the even-chord movement of Ohseh Shalom at
the end of Josephs’ Requiem. Both move step-wise; in both the movement
arises from the nature of the thematic material. But the harmonic change
Josephs is subtler; the final die-away leaves the implications
of the parent chord unresolved. Britten, however, instead of dying away
on the tritone, round which his entire work has been built, allows the
chorus to subside onto a comfortable and reassuring F major triad.
Wilfred Josephs wrote a large number of early works
while still a schoolboy, which he later destroyed. A certain parental
mistrust of the musical profession led him to qualify as a dentist in
1951; and his study at the Guildhall School under Alfred Nieman (1954)
was carried on simultaneously with the practice of dentistry. A year
in Paris under Max Deutsch, 1958/9, enlarged his musical range decisively;
this was the period when Boulez was presenting the avant-garde in his
Domaine Musicale concerts. But Josephs was not easily swayed. ‘The 12-note
style,’ he said in 1964, ‘has come and gone for me, and I have found
my own style in words that have appeared abroad - seldom in England’;
which is the fate of many a British composer.
Yet Josephs was not entirely unknown before the Requiem;
the Viola Concertante, Op. 30, was commissioned in 1961 for a chamber
orchestra in Birmingham. He was particularly in demand as a composer
of lightweight works, and of radio and television incidental music;
his flair for light music had been shown in the Comedy-Overture ‘The
Ants’, Op. 7, which depicts the ant-like movement of Londoners in the
Underground during the rush-hour; and Twelve Letters, Op. 16, a setting
of Hilaire Belloc’s ‘A Moral Alphabet’. Light music, indeed, forms a
strong element in his musical personality. He has since written a very
large amount of incidental and background music for feature films, documentaries,
television and theatre shows, which calls for little beyond fluency,
and whose raison d’etre is economic. Light works form a fair proportion
of his large output.
But for his development of a personal idiom the turning
point came with the Concerto da Camera, Op. 25, the first work that
he wrote after his study with Max Deutsch. Thereafter, his works with
opus numbers are divided between symphonies, concertos and several large-scale
chamber works; important works for piano-14 Studies, Op. 53, 29 Preludes,
Op. 70 - and various dramatic, or semi-dramatic entertainment pieces,
which are more direct in idiom, such as Adam and Eve, Op. 61.
The Second Symphony was the first major work to be
heard and ‘officially’ commented on in this country. When it was known
that Josephs had won the Milan prize, his symphony was included in the
1965 Cheltenham Festival, and played there on 5th July. It is a striking
work in structure and idiom, and breaks new ground in both respects.
The first movement, which lasts almost half the total twenty-five minutes,
is an exposition of the material, which is treated in the ensuing shorter
movements. The second movement is an intermezzo, while the third combines
slow movement and scherzo; the fourth, Grave, is the symphony’s heart,
which Josephs originally conceived as a synthesis to the opening movement’s
thesis, while the finale Prestissimo leggiero, never rising above p,
is a fleeting, ghostlike re-working of the first movement at twelve
times the speed. The harmonic idiom is freely tonal, with a dimension
of expression that comes from an acquaintance with serial techniques.
Two important commissions from America resulted from
the Requiem; the Third Symphony (‘Philadelphia’) was commissioned by
the Chamber Symphony of that city; and a large-scale choral work, for
adult and children’s choruses, Mortales, was commissioned for the Cincinnati
May Festival, in May 1970.
The Third Symphony is tailored to an orchestra of thirty-six
players. It was written in the very short space of two months (June/August
1967), and adheres to a classical four-movement structure. Mortales
followed a period of reassessment, and introduces new techniques, such
Maw, like Josephs, also studied under Max Deutsch in
Paris. His most characteristic works, in a so far fairly small output,
are Scenes and Arias (1962) for soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto and
orchestra (a setting of two anonymous mediaeval poems), a String Quartet
(1965), Sinfonia (1966) and Sonata for 2 Horns and Strings (1967). He
achieves a certain opulence and fullness by the gradual and deliberate
spelling out of a harmonic situation, by thematic cross-reference, and
build up of a complex texture, often from lightweight material. The
music finds its fullest expression when the pulse is slow moving, and
the rate of harmonic change correspondingly leisurely. In purely vocal
works his characteristic romanticism is less noticeable. The vocal line,
for instance, in the songs The Voice of Love (1966) is serially derived,
and various devices are directly influenced by Britten. Moreover, Maw’s
first opera, One-Man Show, was spoilt by a libretto of shattering triviality,
against which the music was powerless; but for his second opera, The
Rising of the Moon (1970), which was the first ever to be commissioned
by Glyndebourne, the librettist Beverley Cross, in spite of some unnecessary
complications of plot, provided a comedy of considerable scope for the
composer’s gradually evolving harmonic style.
Several composers of this generation modify the romantic
tradition in the light of their own style, and in accordance with evolving
contemporary styles. Jeremy Dale Roberts, who was born in 1934, strove
first to emulate Debussy and Tippett, whose imaginative power he most
respected; this is reflected in his earliest works, such as the Suite
for Flute and Strings (1958) and Florilegium (1961). Later, he developed
an increasing interest in timbre, a keener-edged melodic line, in such
pieces as Capriccio for Violin and Piano (1967), and Sinfonia da Caccia
(1966). He is a composer, like Tippett, who seeks to translate the imaginative
experiences of life-a year in the Cameroons, the Egyptian desert, nature,
French epic poetry-into aurally perceptible sound.
Patric Standford’s romanticism, on the other hand,
has been tempered by a study of various contemporary techniques, new
and not so new, under Malipiero, Lutoslawski and Messiaen. Like Bennett,
he includes light music and film music in his output; but his most characteristic
orchestral works are the fruits of a personal imagination. After the
Second String Quartet and Stabat Mater (1966) he developed a greater
freedom of style, and later works such as Chiaroscuro (1967) and Notte
(1968) are an attempt to combine atmospheric and aleatoric techniques
into the traditional disciplines of thematic composition. His student
contemporary at the Guildhall School of Music was the conductor, James
Stobart, who has since performed many of Standford’s works with the
New Cantata Orchestra, which he founded.
In spite of the adulatory fervour which surrounded
the name of Sibelius in the thirties, the two Scandinavian masters of
the Romantic symphonic tradition, Sibelius and Carl Nielsen, have had
curiously few English disciples. Two composers, however, whose symphonies
are directly descended from them are Robert Simpson and Arthur Butterworth.
Both have so far written three symphonies. Simpson is the author of
detailed studies of Nielsen and Bruckner, where his allegiance clearly
lies. Butterworth is a Mancunian, and his music has strong connections
with the North of England; his Third Symphony, for chorus and orchestra,
is called Moorland. He was an orchestral trumpeter in the Scottish National
and Halle Orchestras until 1961, and his main works are symphonic. His
First Symphony (1957) was directly influenced by Sibelius, while his
Second Symphony (1965) was in memory of the Sibelius and Nielsen centenary
(1865-1965). He considers tonality, in the form of the ‘basic symbols’
in sound (the octave, fifth, third and so on), to contain the basis
of meaning common to all human beings. His music also contains a ruggedness,
a certain greyness, which is Butterworth’s impression of the architecture
of the North of England, and the character of his fellow Northerners-to
say nothing of the English weather.
It is perhaps understandable that any British composer
of this tradition should be bracketed with either Sibelius or Nielsen.
However, in the case of William Bardwell such a comparison is not justified.
His First Symphony (1966), though duly ascribed to the Nielsen influence
[The Times of 25 March 1966], is more of a personal essay in orchestral
timbre and symphonic structure by a composer whose work up to then had
concentrated chiefly on chamber and vocal works. His idiom is simple
and expressive, though not naive, and he has a preference for instruments
of an intimate and quiet character, such as the mandolin, for which
he has written a concerto. Three years at the Royal College of Music,
under those twin champions of orthodoxy, R. O. Morris and Gordon Jacob,
were followed by three years under Nadia Boulanger in Paris. His output
is small, the result of painstaking deliberation, fastidious revision
and, occasionally, withdrawal. Performances of his works have been very
intermittent, and none of them is published.
His orchestral works are focused onto two symphonies.
The first is in three movements, of which the second (Andante) was written
separately and before the other two, which were later added. Not surprisingly
perhaps the Second Symphony is more integrated as a symphony, and more
refined orchestrally. Written four years after the first (1970-71),
its four movements gradually enlarge in structure, and increase in tension
as the music proceeds.
Two ideas dominate the first movement; a slow, legato
melody for the strings, woodwind and light percussion, which opens the
symphony; and a more rhythmic, percussive figure, associated with the
brass, with a background of agitated tremolando, which forms the core
of the development, and against which the opening melody is later set
at a moment of rich climax.
The second movement (Allegro non troppo) uses pizzicato
strings like a harp. As the composer says, he takes up at the point
reached by Tchaikowsky in the scherzo of his Fourth Symphony. In the
middle section of the movement, Bardwell gives the cellos and basses
the pizzicato material, but arco, at a low register, and in close position.
This forms a background for free, improvisatory material, largely in
the percussion. The movement closes with the harp taking over the pizzicato
material, inverted (bar 49), while the melody is given this time to
the flute and piccolo (pp, dolcissimo).
The third, slow, movement is a fugue, whose sharply
defined, rather dramatic subject mounts to a solemn climax in the brass
before dying away to nothing. The finale (Allegro spiritoso) has as
its framework an ostinato trumpet theme, whose entry is always marked
by the same chord. The intervening episodes call for a high degree of
orchestral virtuosity, and include a timpani figure, canon for the strings,
characteristic use of the brass, and so on. The melody of the opening
movement is briefly recalled before the end, when the orchestral chord
that has persisted throughout the finale is increased to include the
full orchestra, transposed, and spread out over the last thirteen bars,
until it closes the symphony on a note of brilliance, yet remains unresolved.
Many of his vocal and choral compositions have Eastern
and Spanish affiliations; and, indeed, since 1967 he has chosen to live
in Spain, in a remote corner of Alicante province. The Chinese Cantatas
(1952) (on poems from Ezra Pound’s Cathay) evoke an Eastern spirit,
without slipping into pastiche. The Serranillas (1961), six poems by
the Marques de Santillana, and La Lechuza (1968), three poems of Antonio
Machado, are set for voice and piano; Dardi d’Amore (1967), three sonnets
by Guido Cavalcanti, is set for a capella choir, and is freely expressive
in a traditional idiom.
The Romantic tradition was not only symphonic, though
a number of symphonists have worked within it; choral and vocal music
has provided just as important an outlet.
The senior representative of this aspect of the tradition
is Charles Orr, who was born in 1893, the year before Peter Warlock.
He shared with Warlock the friendship of Delius, and interpreted the
romanticism of the inter-war years solely in terms of song-writing.
Many song-composers shared this influence George Butterworth, Ivor Gurney,
Gerald Finzi, Armstrong Gibbs - all of whom came within the dominating
influence of Vaughan Williams. Unfortunately, Charles Orr was subject
since birth to most severe attacks of eczema, and this gravely handicapped
his work. He was at the Guildhall School of Music, and also studied
privately with Edward Dent. His first, and strongest, formative influence
was the expressive strength of German Lieder; he heard Elena Gerhardt
in 1912, and decided to concentrate his creative energy onto song-writing,
much as Hugo Wolf did. He made translations for performance in English
of Hugo Wolf’s songs-though these remain unpublished.
While Finzi concentrated as a song-writer on words
by Thomas Hardy, Orr focused his attention primarily on the poems of
A. E. Housman; and there lies his strength. In his poetry Housman represented
the mood of nostalgic romanticism that was peculiarly characteristic
of this period. Most of Orr’s thirty-five published songs were written
before 1939, though six appeared in the 50s, including settings of Helen
Waddell’s Mediaeval Latin Lyrics. Twenty-four are Housman settings:
Housman was to Orr what Morike was to Wolf.
The expressive, Purcell-derived parlando style that
was to mark the style of later song-writers, such as Tippett and Britten,
is quite foreign to Orr. Instead, the melodic line is square, but invariably
appropriate for the mood and rhythm of the words; and the colour is
primarily harmonic and dramatic, as in the case of Wolf. There is no
trace of a pseudo-folk style, which is the bane of many a British composer
who wrote beneath the shadow of Vaughan Williams. Moreover, the piano
writing is conceived in terms of the instrument, a part in its own right.
Chromatic subtlety marks the harmonic movement, based naturally on the
acceptance of key-based tonality, which goes without saying among composers
of this tradition. Warlock greatly admired Orr’s work, and it is fitting
that Orr in return should have dedicated to his fellow song-writer one
of his most effective, and largest, Housman settings, The Carpenter’s
Younger than Orr, though working within the same tradition,
is Bernard Naylor; but his considerable output is predominantly choral,
and predominantly sacred. He is one of the very few composers who have
effectively carried the tradition of English Romanticism into the church.
Born in 1907, he was a pupil of Vaughan Williams, Holst and Ireland
at the Royal College of Music, and his first compositions, which included
a symphonic poem, an opera, and a scena for tenor and orchestra, were
derivative from these sources. He has divided his time between this
country and Canada, where he has been active as a teacher and conductor,
as well as composer. Between 1935 and 1947 he wrote nothing of any consequence.
After 1947, however, he began to compose again, and his mature works
date from this year: fifty-three songs and choral works, six chamber
music compositions, and a ‘modern mystery’ for three characters and
string quartet-The Cloak, by Clifford Bax.
Though both derive from a common musical source, Naylor
uses more metrical licence than Orr. Whereas Orr uses a harmonic chromaticism,
Naylor develops a greater tonal freedom. His point of departure was
the ecclesiastical choral style of singing of King’s College, Cambridge;
and so, in one sense, his work represents the first fruits of the new
style of choral music introduced by Boris Ord [see p 14]. Resonance
and homogeneity are the key to the character, quality and effect of
his, at first sight, somewhat disjointed vocal textures. He composes
to a scheme, rather than a theme; he works with a melodic or rhythmic
idea, which is simple, unadventurous accessible to amateurs, yet distinctive.
The music is governed by tonal centres rather than keys, and achieves
its effect more by the expressiveness of each phrase, and each word
within the phrase, than by any strong, or particularly memorable vocal
line. Naylor’s most characteristic works are King Solomon’s Prayer,
a cantata for voices and orchestra, Stabat Mater, for women’s voices
and orchestra, and the Nine Motets. These works, and his numerous other
cantatas and motets, stand out the more so in a period when church music
is at a low ebb. But, curiously, the Nine Motets, which depict the chief
landmarks of the Christian year-Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday,
Good Friday, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Whitsunday and Trinity Sunday-are
all settings of Old Testament texts, largely Isaiah; and this casts
a certain mood of nostalgia over the work, which is reinforced by recollections
of the choral texture of Bax (particularly such a work as Mater Ora
Filium, which is the prototype for Naylor’s choral style), and occasionally
a suggestion of the dramatic excitement of Walton.
Another graduate of Oxford University, and thirteen
years Naylor’s junior, Geoffrey Bush also follows the established tradition;
like Naylor he did not fully achieve a sense of musical direction until
comparatively late, with his Dialogue for oboe and piano (1960). But
he had begun to write down notes at the age of ten, when he was a chorister
at Salisbury Cathedral; this, and the teaching of John Ireland, formed
his background. Bush is a scholar as well as a composer and, like Vaughan
Williams, is concerned to find out for himself something of the past
legacy of British music. His historical assessment of the past leads
him to the conclusion that influences from France and Italy have generally
been beneficial to British music, as can be seen in the Madrigalists
and Purcell; while those from Germany (Handel, Brahms, Mendelssohn,
Wagner, Schoenberg) have been almost entirely destructive of the endemic
His music is light and direct. His orchestral scores,
which are easily approachable, and usually within the scope of amateurs,
include two symphonies, several concertos for cello, oboe, piano and
trumpet, and three overtures. His Concerto for Light Orchestra was written
for a B.B.C. Light Music Festival, while his Music for Orchestra (1967)
was written for the Shropshire County Youth Orchestra.
Directness of approach also characterizes his operas,
which are all short, and of one act. The Blind Beggar’s Daughter is
a ballad opera, very much in the Vaughan Williams tradition, ‘for young
people of all ages’. If the Cap Fits, with a libretto by the composer
from Moliere’s ‘Les Precieuses Ridicules’, is a satirical comedy; his
next libretto, The Equation, from John Drinkwater’s ‘X=O’, is a tragedy.
But if Bush remains on the fringe as far as opera is
concerned, his most characteristic work is undoubtedly in the smaller
chamber music forms, such as the two piano Sonatinas, and particularly
the songs. These range from the simply diatonic, Five Spring Songs (1944),
to the more freely declamatory and chromatic, Greek Love Songs (1964),
and include three settings with various orchestral groupings. Bush’s
style is aptly suited to the comparatively short form of a song, and
in them he combines freedom with a simplicity of effect. The piano is
integrated into the voice part, and is not an independent entity.
Born in 1921, the year after Bush, Adrian Cruft also
derived his earliest musical experience as a chorister in an English
cathedral-in his case, Westminster Abbey. English polyphony is part
of his fibre. He is one of a distinguished musical family, who have
been orchestral musicians for five generations [His elder brother John
is now Music Director of the Arts Council of Great Britain]; and after
learning the double bass from his father, Eugene Cruft, he played this
instrument in several orchestras. Though his orchestral output includes
three overtures, and a Divertimento for strings (1963), most of Cruft’s
work is choral, and predominantly religious. His use of the diatonic
vocabulary has become progressively more refined, and he is particularly
inclined towards the use of triads with conflicting tonality. His church
compositions are largely intended for liturgical use; particularly characteristic
are the two settings of the Te Deum, The Magnificat, and the Mass for
St. Michael, which was written in 1962 for Coventry Cathedral. But a
work which derives extra expressive power from the additional dimension
of drama, as well as from the use of mediaeval words, is the chamber
cantata, Alma Redemptoris Mater (1967). In this, the choral writing
is simpler, and the harmony more static, than in earlier works, and
the effect is of a stark grandeur, at a slow-moving pace. The scoring
(contralto and baritone solo and choir, accompanied by flute, oboe,
violin, cello and organ) is similar to that of the cantata Crucifixus
pro nobis by Cruft’s teacher, Edmund Rubbra.
Representative composers of this tradition, belonging
to the next generation, are Bryan Kelly, who was born in 1934, and Christopher
Brown, who is nine years his junior. Kelly was a choirboy at Worcester
College, Oxford, before proceeding to the Royal College of Music. His
technique is that of a Kapellmeister, whose function is to oblige with
whatever is requested: a church service, a light overture, something
for a choir to sing at a festival, a children’s opera. One of his most
performed works is the Evening Service, based on Cuban rhythms.
Christopher Brown attended Westminster Abbey Choir
School, and later was at King’s College, Cambridge, and the Royal Academy
of Music. His work so far has been predominantly choral, in direct line
from Naylor and Cruft.
The adoption, and the adaptation, of a traditional
idiom, based on tonality, has tended in the case of several composers
already mentioned towards some of their most effective scores being
written in a lighter vein, with none of the more portentous and weighty
implications of different, less readily-accessible idioms. It is a most
natural tendency; and there is also a considerable number of composers
whose work is quite unashamedly intended as entertainment.
Among the best known is Malcolm Arnold, who after a
period of study at the Royal College of Music, and service in the army
during the war, was principal trumpeter in the London Philharmonic for
eight years. He has been notably successful in his film scores, of which
he has written over eighty; and in addition to the immediate, and by
no means irrelevant, financial reward for his labours, he was awarded
a Hollywood Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai, and an Ivor Novello
award for The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.
The style of his symphonic and chamber music is unassailably
diatonic, and if not always subtle or profound, it has a direct simplicity,
coupled with a humorous touch. This finds its niche in such a work as
A Grand Grand Overture, Op. 57, which started the Hoffnung Musical Festival
on 13th November 1956 [see p. 139]. This was the occasion when long-suffering
London musicians released some of the pent-up tension of the previous
fraught and agonized decade, and let down their musical hair in an orgy
of musical jokes some, it must be admitted, funnier than others, and
some whose point could only be detected by the connoisseur. Arnold’s
piece, for three vacuum cleaners, one floor polisher, and full orchestra,
enshrines the Song of the Hoover into an orchestral texture; no mean
feat, and one unsurpassed before or since. Moreover, his Concerto for
two pianos (1969) delighted the Prom audience for whom it was written.
He is a polished popular entertainer.
Arnold lives in Cornwall, and detects in the Cornish
a highly-developed sense of humour. It is, he says, ‘the land of male-voice
choirs, brass bands, Methodism, May Days, and Moody and Sankey hymns’;
also of the deserted engine-houses of the tin and copper mines, which
‘radiate a strange and sad beauty’. All this is reflected in his Four
Cornish Dances, light and brilliant pieces which show the essence of
Arnold’s music; as do his earlier Scottish Dances, and the two sets
of English Dances, which are his best-known works among a huge output.
John Addison is a contemporary of Arnold, born one
year earlier in 1920, and one who is also primarily concerned with film
work. His light film-style has been used in several concert scores,
such as the ballet suite Carte Blanche, and a Serenade for wind quintet
Another contemporary, Denis Blood, is an Irish composer,
born in Dublin, who describes himself, with appropriate Irish sophistry,
as a ‘serious light composer’. His overture Bravade, and his Capriccio
for piano and orchestra, are just that. After studying at Oxford, where
he was an organ student, then at the University of South Carolina, Blood
was associated with Muir Mathieson and the Rank Film Organisation, before
setting out on a nomadic career.
If his output is slender, and unpublished, the same
cannot be said of Ernest Tomlinson, who was first a Manchester Cathedral
choirboy, and studied the organ, piano, clarinet and composition at
Manchester before, and immediately after, the war. His light orchestral
pieces aim to be unpretentious and tuneful’, and he has written a large
number of orchestral works in this vein-suites, dances, overtures, and
light opera. His best-known tune is Little Serenade, which has often
been used as a signature-tune for radio and television programmes; the
sort of tune few can identify, but most can hum. Tomlinson has also
written several works which integrate jazz groups with the symphony
orchestra-Sinfonia ‘62, Symphony 65; and Concerto for 5 (concerto for
five saxophones and orchestra). His most recent concern is with electronic
music, and he is now building up a studio at his home near Preston in
Lancashire. His underlying purpose is ‘to communicate with ordinary
people by any means available’. With this end in view he founded in
1969 a Northern Concert Orchestra, which is intended to be a popular
orchestra for the concert hall, to fill the gap between the majority
of people to whom ‘serious’ music signifies little, and the minority
who can derive pleasure from the standard symphonic repertoire, and
the even smaller minority who are sympathetic to the avant-garde.
If the term ‘light music’ can be taken by different
musicians to have several shades of meaning, each of them somewhat pejorative,
the style of Joseph Horovitz is perhaps better described as witty and
ingenious, rather than light. Like Tomlinson, he uses jazz idioms where
it suits him; like Arnold he found a niche in the Hoffnung concerts.
Though born in Vienna, Horovitz has lived in this country
since 1938. After studying at Oxford, he went to the Royal College of
Music, and thereafter for a year to Nadia Boulanger. His name first
became known in the 50s with his light ballets, such as Les Femmes d’Alger
and Alice in Wonderland. Other notable successes in this unusual genre,
which he has made peculiarly his own, are Concerto for dancers and Let’s
make a ballet. Horovitz himself conducted performances, such as those
of the Ballets Russes and the Intimate Opera Company, for whom he wrote
the comic operas The Dumb Wife and Gentlemen’s Island.
Musical wit is notoriously elusive; one man’s joke
is another man’s poison. Horovitz brings to bear not only great technical
accomplishment, which raises his work above the level of incidental
music, but, even more important, the appropriate limitation of musical
material, so that the listener's attention is not diverted and aroused
by too weighty and complex possibilities of development. Too much thematic
contrast would imply symphonic development, which is not appropriate
in such a style; too little variety, however, can very quickly induce
boredom. Humour and timing go together, and a score such as the Four
Dances for Orchestra (from Femmes d’Alger), with its dramatic sparkle,
or the Jazz harpsichord concerto, with its absurd juxtaposition of two
entirely opposed traditions, derive from these extra dimensions a vitality
which is lacking from the other more conventional pieces, such as the
various concertos, and chamber works.
For the Hoffnung concerts, where you had to be funny
at all costs if you were to survive, Horovitz collaborated with Alistair
Sampson in a series of parodies; first, Metamorphoses on a Bedtime Theme,
which presented a television commercial (‘Sleep sweeter-Bournvita’)
in the style of Bach, Mozart, Verdi, Schoenberg and Stravinsky; second,
Horroratorio, which ridiculed the old oratorio style in a work which
celebrated the wedding of two delightful characters, Master Frankenstein
and Miss Dracula. Like a true comic, Horovitz builds his musical jokes
on a serious foundation; the audience will laugh more if they can laugh
away something that they recognize as being inherently real, yet stupid.
If Horovitz is a frequent performer of his own works,
this applies to a number of other musicians. However incapable some
of the most eminent composers may be of directing an orchestra, or playing
what they themselves have written, there are also those whose music
is first conceived from the point of view of the executive artist. The
theatre has produced several. Marc Wilkinson is one, whose eighty plays
include The Royal Hunt of the Sun. Christopher Whelen is another, whose
starting-point was his work as Musical Director of the Old Vic; he was
also assistant conductor with the Bournemouth and Birmingham orchestras.
He is almost exclusively a theatre composer, with I50 productions to
his credit in theatre, ballet, television and radio. Two other highly
practical musicians of the theatre are Thomas Eastwood, and the Australian
Malcolm Williamson. Eastwood, who was a pupil of Boris Blacher, and
then of Erwin Stein, is best known for his opera Christopher Sly (1960);
he has also set sail on the comparatively uncharted waters of television
opera, with his contemporary interpretation of the Good Friday story,
set in East Berlin, The Rebel (1969). His idiom fits Rudolph Reti’s
definition of 'pantonality’ [see Reti, Tonality, Atonality, Pantonality].
On the other hand, Williamson, another Stein pupil, fills a need mainly
in the field of more conventional opera. The style of his compositions,
which include numerous orchestral and chamber works as well as opera,
varies according to the audience; he is also much in demand as an organist
and pianist, as well as a composer.
Another most prolific pianist/composer is Ronald Stevenson,
whose best-known composition so far is his Passacaglia on D.S.C.H. (D-E
flat-C-B). His links with the grand, romantic age of piano-playing of
Liszt or Busoni are both explicit and implicit in this monumental work,
as indeed in Stevenson’s work as a whole. He is of Scottish and Welsh
ancestry, born in 1928, and strongly aware of the Celtic side to his
nature, as well as of his working class origin. This, and an acute social
conscience, have given his music a thrust, an edge, which is highly
distinctive. Stevenson sets out both to win an immediate rapport with
the ordinary listener, wherever he may be found (which his first performance
of the Passacaglia, in Cape Town in December 1963, certainly achieved),
and also, somewhat more remotely, to seek an ideal of a ‘world music’,
a universal language of understanding. If the world-weary Westerner
may smile ruefully at such a hopelessly unattainable goal, many artists
and composers have attempted to take at least the first steps towards
it, however faltering; notably Busoni, who has been the chief model
for Stevenson, whether as pianist, as man, or as artist in the widest
Stevenson’s output includes numerous choral works and
songs, many of which are settings of Blake, with whose visionary qualities
he finds himself in close affinity. But pride of place must be given
to the piano works. The Busoni influence is all-pervasive on Stevenson.
He researched for many years into Busoni’s life and work, and after
1955 he continued this, while also studying orchestration in Rome with
a Busoni pupil, Guido Guerini. This research and study culminated in
a massive study of Busoni [so far unpublished]; and the Passacaglia,
written 1960/62, which is the most important of his hundred compositions
so far, represents the consummation of these Busoni-orientated years.
The parallels with the latter’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica are quite
The work forms in contemporary music what biologists
would call a ‘sport’. It runs contrary to evolutionary trends; it is,
logically and rationally speaking, impossible. Whereas the commonest
trend today is towards a fragmentation of both style and content, Stevenson
builds his eighty-minute structure on the proven capacity of the piano
for architectural growth, and on a wide-ranging technical basis which
extends from Bach’s contrapuntal style to the extravagant gestures of
the high Romantic period, and including certain more experimental devices
of today. Other composers, such as Kenneth Leighton, have been directly
influenced by Busoni’s famous Fantasia; or, such as Robert Sherlaw Johnson,
have explored pianistic experiment. Those who have derived inspiration
from Bach are legion. But Stevenson has sought to combine all these
traditions, with a few others for good measure, into one enormous structure.
Moreover, he has successfully avoided the ever-present
tendency of performer-composers, to slip into derivative gesture; as
he does in certain other works, such as the later harpsichord sonata,
The Passacaglia is based on the musical letters of
the name of D. Shostakovitch (D.S.C.H.) Stevenson was greatly impressed
by the Russian composer’s works [he presented an incomplete copy of
the Passacaglia to Shostakovich during the 1962 Edinburgh Festival.
It was first played in this country by John Ogdon in 1966, at the Aldeburgh
and Cheltenham Festivals], particularly the Eighth String Quartet, the
Tenth Symphony and the First Violin Concerto.
His work is in three parts, of which the first is built
round the classical concepts of sonata and suite; the second is concerned
with the primeval ideal of ‘world music’ (Tippett would call it archetypal),
and introduces a picture of ‘emergent Africa’; the third forms the dramatic
climax of the whole work, with a ‘tribute to Bach’ and a triple fugue.
Stevenson’s views as a composer are perhaps best summed
up in his own words:
My main interest in music is in the epic. This is an
epic age, it seems to me, and only epic forms can fully express its
aspirations. I absorb in my music elements from the East and from Africa,
as well as from Western culture. In my future work, I hope to find points
of coalescence in world music; there are musical forms which are common
to all nations (for instance variation, and the relationship between
Hindu and European music of such forms as Kirtanam and Khyal, comparable
with sonata and rondo structures respectively); and although there are
many nations, there is only one human race. I’ll use any technique which
will enable me to achieve these objectives. My aim is to base my music
in reality, and to allow it to tend towards abstraction, but never to
take abstraction as a premise and so lose all connection with life,
which is so much larger than the musical world.
22 Lennox Berkeley and Priaulx Rainier
A traditional idiom has been used in highly contrasted
ways by two senior composers, both pupils of Nadia Boulanger: Lennox
Berkeley and Priaulx Rainier.
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 (1928-1933) under
Nadia Boulanger, when he also met some of the French composers of this
period-Poulenc, 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 Berkeley’s 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 Fauré and Poulenc; with
Fauré particularly in the songs, though Berkeley’s harmonic style
is piquant and without Fauré’s subtlety; with Poulenc in his
melodic and harmonic style. The second set of Ronsard Sonnets was dedicated
to Poulenc’s 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 song-writing; a similar interest in
opera, and particularly chamber opera-Lennox Berkeley’s 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. Berkeley’s style has not evolved as much as
Britten’s has; he has written little if any Gebrauchsmusik for the less
talented or amateur performer-indeed, 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 Bernard’s 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.
Berkeley’s 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 Britten’s
in this respect. Berkeley’s 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.
Paul’s 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 Dehn’s libretto, Berkeley found the perfect foil. The short-winded,
ridiculous plot, and its total lack of innuendo or intricacy, ideally
suited Berkeley’s 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 ship-wrecked 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 reflected-again some twenty years later-in the work of
Priaulx Rainier was born in 1903 in South Africa, and
spent her childhood in a remote region of Natal. Her first indelible
musical impressions were the indigenous sounds of African life: children,
birds, animals; primal sounds, heard as if from a great distance. She
came to London to study at the Royal Academy, and has stayed ever since.
She began to compose comparatively late, and was under Nadia Boulanger
just before the outbreak of war in 1939; it is from this year that her
first important work - though not her first work, dates - the First
String Quartet. Over the next period of about twenty years her output
consisted mainly of chamber music and songs, in which she pursued her
characteristic idiom: simple melodic and rhythmic patterns used repetitively
and cumulatively, with frequent use of unison and octaves; an absence
of counterpoint, and a harmony built on an individual use of triadic
tonality, not simply diatonic. The rhythmic style of the String Quartet
is extended in the Sinfonia da Camera, which Walter Goehr performed
in 1947, and which belongs within the same ‘Morley College’ genre as
Tippett’s works for string orchestra, or Seiber’s Besardo Suite.
Her songs are short, and directly effective; two of
them, Ubunzima and Dance of the Rain, are for voice and guitar. Ubunzima,
written in 1948, is a setting of a Bantu poem; Dance of the Rain (1947),
adapted by the Afrikaans poet Uyo Krige, evokes memories of the Zulus
and the rhythm of Africa. The material is largely pentatonic, with sharply
defined verbal rhythm. The later Cycle for Declamation (1953) is also
a study in verbal rhythm, for solo voice.
The Barbaric Dance Suite (1949) for piano similarly
uses percussive piano texture; its basis was the sound of African marimbas-discs
played with hammers, with dried gourds underneath acting as resonators.
The Five keyboard pieces (1951) are more abstract.
Rainier has been closely associated with the singer
Peter Pears. He commissioned Cycle for Declamation (1953) as well as
The Bee Oracles (1970); he also gave the first performance of the Requiem
(1956) at the Aldeburgh Festival that year. This remarkable twenty-minute
piece, is a setting, for tenor and unaccompanied choir, of a text by
David Gascoyne, whose qualities of intense vision, coupled with a chilling,
declamatory rhetoric, are matched in every nuance by the composer. The
work is prefaced by two quotations, which give its clue. One, from Pierre
Jean Jouve, reads: ‘Grant that we may first taste thee on the day of
our death, which is a great day of peace for souls at one; the world
full of joy, the sons of men reconciled.’
The Requiem falls into four sections, and these are
shared between soloists, semi-chorus and full chorus. The text was specially
designed for a choral setting, with alternate sections for choir and
soloist. The choral writing is homophonic, not polyphonic, and stark
in its rhythmic strength. The solo part is partly integrated, in concertante
style, partly providing structural links with passages of dramatic recitative.
The work has a strange grandeur, and stands among the distinctive pieces
of unaccompanied choral music of the contemporary period, and without
any of the traditional English influences.
In the unfolding of Rainier’s style, it represents
the end of a period; in it she uses the triad for the last time to any
great extent. From this point onwards her work changes, and by the late
50s a development of style took place. In response to the trend of the
time, her works became much more abstract, though their idiom is still
tonal, not serial; and also in the 60s she wrote several large orchestral
works. The change can be detected in two chamber works for the oboe,
written for Janet Craxton; the Pastoral Triptych (1960) for solo oboe,
and the oboe quartet Quanta (1962).
An absence of thematic material was nothing new to
Rainier; her music had from the start been athematic. Now the rhythmic
patterns became more sophisticated, the tonality more chromatic, based
on semitones more than on triads, and the texture more varied. The title
Quanta, which was given to the piece only after it was finished, and
the composer realized that it could have no conclusion, derives from
quantum theory in physics, and indicates the structure of the work-and
indeed of other works from now on. Energy exists in space, independent
of matter; particles bunch together, and fly off; so the work has no
orthodox form, and it springs from one initial impulse. Interchanging
textures alternate, and build up to a long slow section; a final ‘spinning’
texture leaves the work quite unresolved.
The first of the large orchestral works was first heard
the previous year, 1961. Phalaphala is built on interlocking orchestral
rhythms and textures, much as Cycle for Declamation had been a study
in verbal rhythm. The material of both works has a certain primitive
The occasion of Phalaphala was Boult’s tenth anniversary
with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1960), and the programme of
the work, therefore, is one of celebration. It is based on the ceremonial
horn used when the African chief summons the tribe.
Two major orchestral works followed: the Cello Concerto
(1964) and the orchestral suite Aequora Lunae (1967). The Cello Concerto
was written for a 1964 Promenade Concert, and fulfilled a long-standing
wish to write for the instrument. Rainier had a sister cellist, and
also a cousin who played in public at the age of eight; she was thus
very acquainted in early life with the sound of the instrument.
Her scheme for solving the problem of enabling the
solo instrument’s expressive but not penetrating quality to be heard
against a background of orchestral tone was to avoid the conjunction
of soloist and orchestra, except when the textures, instrumentation,
colour and disposition were such that the cello could penetrate or interplay
with the orchestral groups in juxtaposition without strain, and without
reducing the proper volume of the orchestral dynamics.
Nevertheless, the concerto contains certain contradictions.
In many ways, the traditional conception of a solo concerto is irreconcilable
with an abstract idiom. Though, at least visually, the score contains
a prominent solo line, it is not a virtuoso concerto in the traditional
sense. The solo part is difficult, but the unsuspecting soloist who
expects the satisfying rewards of a showpiece concerto, like the Dvorak
or the Elgar, will be disappointed.
Rainier’s concerto is in two movements, Dialogue and
Canto; and though the cello writing is more cantabile and legato than
in other works of this period, the overall mood is sombre, elegiac and
slow-moving. In the first movement, as the title implies, unfinished
cello phrases are taken over by the orchestra, and vice versa. The middle
section of the movement is slower. In the Canto movement, the scoring
is much lighter and the material quite different; it is more in the
nature of a free rhapsodic solo with orchestral interjections and comments.
The work ends with a Cadence and Epilogue, where the pace quickens.
The Cadence takes the place of a formal Cadenza. Here the instruments
interplay, solo wind or strings and solo cello, in lighter, gayer, florid
passages, all on an equal footing. This brief section resolves into
the Epilogue, which is reminiscent of the Canto, but here the orchestral
voices are reduced to the slightest sounds between the long-drawn phrases
of the solo instrument, which bring the movement to a pianissimo close.
The solo cello, with its power of rhetoric, dominates
the concerto as a whole. Though the orchestra is never merely accompanying
the solo instrument, after the introduction there are no long tuttis;
but it plays its important part in the work in comment, in opposition,
and finally in acquiescence to the final statement of the solo part.
Groups of instruments are characteristic of the work, but the percussion
is used primarily to sharpen sounds at moments of tension, and as a
means of extending resonances, not as a body in itself.
But her largest work of this period is the orchestral
suite Aequora Lunae. Rainier worked at St. Ives in Cornwall, and she
not only knew Barbara Hepworth, to whom Aequora Lunae is dedicated,
but shared something of her abstract aesthetic. It is by no means far-fetched
to compare what Rainier expresses in terms of abstract musical sounds
with what Hepworth expresses in abstract sculpture.
Rainier finds St. Ives an excellent environment for
work; and she first made the acquaintance of Barbara Hepworth and Ben
Nicholson when she stayed one summer, using a fisherman’s loft as a
studio. She was the only musician in this community of artists, though
Tippett was also associated with her, and Barbara Hepworth, in the arrangements
for the St. Ives Festival in Coronation year (1953). The years leading
up to this were taken up in preparatory work for it, and so Rainier
composed little during this period (1951-53).
But the spirit of the place infected her; how could
it do otherwise? The form of land and sea; space; the identity of the
human with the natural; the purity of life, unfiltered by city-living.
The basis of her work was profoundly affected through this contact with
Hepworth and Nicholson. She concentrated on essentials of technique,
and eliminated all unnecessary parts of a work; she attempted in a composition
not to capture the whole of an experience, but to state just enough
to ‘open the doors of experience’ for the listener; she sought a purity
of aim, and the avoidance of everything banal and obvious. ‘The music
and rhythm of lines created by light and shadow, and by the boundaries
where form and space meet’ [quoted from Rodin, The Dilemma of Being
Modern, pp. 128-134: ‘Barbara Hepworth -The meaning of abstract art’]
were interpreted in sculpture by Barbara Hepworth - and in music by
The musical content in Ben Nicholson’s work is even
more explicit than in Hepworth’s; Hodin compares his still lifes with
the construction of fugues-subject, counter-subject, episodes and so
on. To quote Nicholson’s own words: ‘the kind of painting which I find
exciting is... both musical and architectural, where the architectural
construction is used to express the musical relationship between form,
tone and colour.’
This was the background for Rainier’s later abstract
Aequora Lunae is a continuous piece in seven sections,
each one descriptive of one of the moon’s seas. The abstract patterns
of this uninhabited world give rise to small particles of sound, which
in turn generate further patterns, or molecules. Rhythm is the pulsating
energy which surrounds all matter, only waiting to be released; different
particles move at different speeds, and set up varying degrees of rhythmic
patterns. In a sense, as is the case with a serial style, such abstraction
can only produce static music; each particle is a thing in itself, as
it reacts on its surrounding matter, before giving way to the next.
So it inevitably follows that this score lacks the overall drive of
a dynamic continuity which comes from contrapuntal writing, or from
thematic development. In place of themes, Rainier substitutes textures;
in place of the melody that thematic composition implies, she gives
correspondingly greater importance to rhythm.
The seas chosen as titles for the seven parts form
a metaphysical Cycle of Fertility, which could be described in a figurative
way as follows:
Mare Imbrium: Rain-the contribution, the beginning.
Mare Fecunditatis: Fertility-the potential in all existence.
Mare Serenitatis: Tranquillity-the calm before movement.
Mare Crisium: Crises-releasing of activity.
Mare Nubium: Clouds-the vapours transcending and forming.
Oceanus Procellarum: Tempest - chaotic disturbances.
Lacus Somnorum: Dreams - the sea sleeps in lakes and
moves in deep.
The orchestra is often divided into two parts: one
half of the string body attached to the brass and hard sounding percussion,
the other to the woodwind and dulcet percussion. This division creates
acoustical opportunities. Dense chord clusters move as composite sounds
with frequent changes of colour through their transfer from one instrumental
group to another. The opposition of dark and light-coloured instrumental
tone plays a large part in the structures of the work.
A special feature is the number of solos for wind instruments.
These form linear movements between chord clusters, and sometimes are
the link between parts, either as conclusions or introductions. The
percussion is enlarged with three steel plates, high, low and medium,
and a set of antique cymbals, tuned to specific pitches. Each of the
parts has its distinctive orchestration.
After these large-scale instrumental works, Rainier
returned to vocal composition, for the first time since the Requiem,
with The Bee Oracles (1969). This setting of Edith Sitwell’s poem ‘The
Bee-Keeper’, commissioned by Peter Pears, was first sung publicly at
the Aldeburgh Festival in 1970. The scoring is for tenor soloist, with
flute, oboe, violin, cello and harpsichord. The choice of text is usually
the first and strongest guide to a vocal composition; this, like that
of the Requiem, is a powerful structure, rich in mystical imagery.
The poem is a recognition and an affirmation of the
mystery and hope of all creation. In the music are embodied two rhythms,
one represented by the instrumental writing, forming particular rhythms
linking and unlinking, always moving towards and in support of the second
and fundamental rhythm, represented by the vocal line. The syllabic
repetitions upon which the vocal line is based create a pulsation, flooding
in and out of the instrumental textures. This continuous interplay,
such as is found in Rainier’s earlier works, produces a structure perpetually
forming and re-forming; a kind of ‘honeycomb’ in sound.
The introduction to the ‘Hymn of Being’ is used as
an incantation in the form of a chant, which recurs in shortened versions
between the verses, each of which is a paean to the elements, Earth,
Water, Fire, Air, Sun and Thunder.
This was the song that came from the small span
Of thin gold bodies shaped by the holy Dark...
The greatly increased interest in music in this country
since 1945, concomitant with a growing tradition, is actively reflected
at the educational level in schools, universities and colleges. Several
new universities have opened their doors to music students since 1960,
and they have brought fresh thinking to bear, each in their own way,
on the basic principles governing that perennially controversial issue,
musical training and education. Some of the more idealistic and experimental
ideas bear little or no resemblance to the traditional practices carried
on in the older-established institutions. Among the new universities,
Sussex and York have already established an identity, while the younger
Surrey still remains to be proven. [1. See p. 375, App. II.]
It is a long-established practice in this country to
separate the performer from the non-performer. If you are a performer,
you attend one of the conservatory institutions in London or elsewhere;
if you are a non performer you attend a university. It is an unfortunate
dichotomy, with its roots firmly in the past, and one which is in sharp
distinction to the American practice, which includes performance as
a perfectly respectable and, indeed, most important academic discipline.
In this country the dichotomy has an important and unfortunate corollary,
which dictates that what a composer is called on to teach in an academic
institution is, generally speaking, limited to academic subjects. Moreover,
it is the traditionally established practice in this country that teaching
appointments are made primarily on academic qualifications, not on executive
or creative ability. The two do not necessarily go together, though
they often may. But a composer who is also a noteworthy musicologist,
such as Wellesz, is a great rarity.
Whereas in America, learning about music, and learning
the performance of music, go hand in hand as part of the same essential
discipline, in this country, generally speaking, they do not. There
are, however, certain indications that this long-established impediment
to the free evolution of the contemporary musical tradition is at least
being called in question. A very considerable number of composers are
occupied, directly or indirectly, with the business of teaching; and
though many would perhaps consider teaching as primarily a convenient
economic haven, there is no question that a great deal is being achieved
within a (broadly defined) teaching environment.
York University, for instance, under the direction
of Wilfrid Mellers, is an active performing centre, which boasts no
fewer than six composers on its staff, who cover a wide range of sympathy.
David Blake’s work has been so far largely choral, culminating in Lumina,
written for the Leeds Festival, 1970; while the more experimental, avant-garde
side of the spectrum is represented by Richard Orton and Bernard Rands.
Rands, like Mellers before him, acquainted himself with American procedures
during a two-year Harkness Fellowship in that country, which he spent
at Princeton and Illinois, and his compositions, such as Actions for
Six, are in the main Western avant-garde tradition; some are intended
for the classroom, such as Sound Patterns, I and II, for Young Players.
His colleagues John Paynter and Peter Aston have also
concerned themselves with musical education at classroom level; Aston’s
compositions represent the more conservative side of the spectrum, and
he has done musicological research into the manuscripts in the library
of York Minster. Robert Sherlaw Johnson, on the other hand, is One of
the most enlightened, if single-minded, advocates of Messiaen’s music,
which he frequently plays. As a composer, he developed a form of serial
technique with his First Piano Sonata (1963); but his was a French rather
than a Viennese serialism; it was derived from Boulez more than from
Webern. At this time (1963), the fashion of serialism was reaching a
sophisticated stage. He pursued Boulez still further (particularly the
latter’s Third Piano Sonata) in the First String Quartet (1966) and
Improvisation I, II and III for violin and piano (196617). Indeterminacy
and improvisation, which together constitute aleatoricism, were pursued
in Improvisation V (1968), though Johnson sees in the admittance of
a Cage-derived ‘chance’ element an unacceptable challenge to both composer
and performer. Instead, he pursues the Messiaen-Boulez path of sound
organisation: highly complex but strictly logical, with the elements
of music (pitch, rhythm, duration and so on) graded into various relationships.
The Second Piano Sonata is not only a development of this type of serialism;
it also introduces a new type of ‘graphic’ notation, and various new
playing techniques (such as the use of the fingers directly on the strings).
In addition to these avant-garde instrumental works, Johnson’s output
also includes some shorter sacred vocal pieces.
At the other end of the country, Southampton University
includes among its staff the highly active and prolific composer Jonathan
Harvey, whose formative works so far reflect a wide range of diverse
influences, from Britten to Stockhausen, from Messiaen to Maxwell Davies.
Tonality is for him the background against which he composes, and his
aesthetic is a blend of technical enquiry and religious idealism. As
a result of this, his commissions have come from widely differing groups;
from Maxwell Davies’s Pierrot Players, for whom he wrote Cantata III
for soprano and six instrumentalists (1968), which exploits the relationship
between pitch and tempo, as expounded by Stockhausen; and from the more
venerable Three Choirs Festival, for whom he wrote Cantata IV, Ludus
Amoris, for speaker, soloists, choir and orchestra; a mystical work,
with seventeenth century Spanish text, moving gradually from the absence
to the presence of God.
Another centre of active music-making is at Cardiff
University, under the energetic direction of Alun Hoddinott. His colleagues
in other Welsh colleges include William Mathias, who is on the staff
at Bangor, and Ian Parrott, the Professor of Music at Aberystwyth; both
belong in the traditionalist camp.
Hoddinott’s compositions are predominantly orchestral
and instrumental. Extreme practicality marks all his work, whether as
a composer, or as an arranger of concerts for Cardiff University, or
for the Cardiff or Dynevor Festivals. His output numbers over fifty
works: early pieces such as the Clarinet Concerto, Op. 3, are diatonic,
but later, starting with the Nocturne, Op. 5, he developed a total chromaticism.
He has also attempted to use serial methods in a melodic way, to unify
a piece. His extrovert style is best represented in all its varied aspects
in his orchestral output: the Second Symphony, for instance, contains
dramatic, romantic gestures, and is pronouncedly more conservative than
Variants; moreover, he is by no means averse from writing in a lighter
vein. He played the violin from an early age, and this is reflected
in his strong leaning towards chamber music.
Birmingham is served by two much contrasted musicians.
John Joubert is a South African, whose music, like Hoddinott’s, is approachable
and practical, but differs from Hoddinott’s in that it is more sturdily
traditional, and predominantly for voices. His cantatas include three
unaccompanied motets Pro Pace, and his operas range from Silas Marner
to Under Western Eyes.
Peter Dickinson is a versatile musician of wide interests
and sympathies; he is as much a writer as a composer, as much concerned
with introducing British composers to a public at Birmingham [at the
Birmingham and Midland Institute, through the University of Birmingham
Department of Extramural Studies] as with lecturing and performing.
Three seasons in the U.S.A. served to widen his musical horizon, when
he met Varese, Cowell and Cage, and his fifty odd works, which have
been played as much in America as in this country, reflect his diverse
Technical craftsmanship marks the work of three traditionally
orientated composers centred on Oxford University. Though in no sense
of the word breaking new ground, and entirely devoid of any social,
satirical or intellectual overtones, Kenneth Leighton’s work is sure
and meticulous in its deliberate effect. His career has been marked
by the award of several international prizes: a Busoni prize at Bolzano
for the Fantasia Contrappuntistica; at Trieste for the Symphony, Op.
42; at Hanover for the Piano Trio, Op. 46. Tonality for him has been
enriched by serialism, rather than superseded by it, as the Piano Variations,
Op. 30, and the Second Piano Concerto, Op. 37, bear witness. A tendency
towards contrapuntal complexity is matched elsewhere by a strong sense
of a scherzando style. But his idiom throughout has remained remarkably
constant. Dr Leighton was appointed Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh
Malcolm Lipkin, born in Liverpool in 1932, is tutor
for the extra-mural department of Oxford University. His more conventional
works, such as the Violin Sonata (1957) and the Second Violin Concerto
(1962), both written for Yfrah Neaman, are harmonically conceived; therefore
the listener's point of reference is the standard repertoire of other
works in the same categories. In more recent works, particularly Sinfonia
di Roma (1958-1965), and Mosaics for Chamber Orchestra (1966), he uses
a more linear technique, serially derived. A short motif is submitted
to varied treatment throughout the work. Unity and variety are thus
obtained, while the single source-material ensures consistency. This
method is particularly well shown in the Sinfonia di Roma, which is
a twenty-minute piece, conceived in the form of an arch; a central scherzo,
unrestrained and fierce, introduced and followed by a slow section.
This conception was used by Panufnik in his Sinfonia
Elegiaca, and indeed Lipkin’s score bears a certain surface resemblance
to Panufnik’s, though his (Lipkin’s) sonority is more diffuse, his material
less economically used.
The twenty-five works that make up Christopher Headington’s
output, though they include a Violin Concerto, are primarily for small
chamber music combinations or voices. Though he attempted to escape
from a diatonic style, according to the trends of the time, by experimenting
with serialism in one work, Three Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (1960),
he uses a traditional idiom simply to communicate and to give pleasure.
He is Staff Tutor in music of Oxford University Department of Extra-mural
Studies, and has written several educational articles and books.
The Professor at Cambridge University, predominantly
the birthplace and home of the new choral tradition, is the Scottish
composer Robin Orr. He was appointed in 1965, in succession to Thurston
Dart. After a conventional training at the Royal College of Music, and
later at Cambridge under Dent, he went to Siena to study under Casella,
and thereafter to Nadia Boulanger. His output is slender, and apart
from functional pieces for organ and choir (he was the organist at St.
John’s College), some chamber music and songs, centres chiefly on two
works, the Symphony in One Movement, and the one-act opera, Full Circle.
Both had Scottish premieres; moreover, Orr is also chairman of the Scottish
Opera. Teaching and administration take away his time from composition.
1. He was appointed in 1965, in succession to Thurston Dart.
Music in the North of England is focused on Newcastle,
the home of the Northern Sinfonia, where the first Arts Festival took
place in 1969. David Barlow, who has held a lectureship there since
1951, is a composer whose output is small but distinctive. His basic
romanticism, derived from Ireland, Bax and Vaughan Williams, was most
apparent in his two early symphonies, written in 1950 and 1959 respectively.
A period of re-thinking in 1962, at the time when the serial trend was
at its height, led to his adoption of a modified form of serialism,
first in two chamber music works, the Concertante Variations for oboe
and string trio, and the Introduction, Theme and Variations for string
trio; then in two orchestral works, Microcosms for string orchestra
(1964), and Five Preludes after The Tempest (1965) for chamber orchestra.
Microcosms uses an alternation between lyrical and secco playing, while
the Five Preludes are serially based on a 3-note cell (E-C-F).
Barlow’s comparatively few works over the following
years include some pieces for chamber orchestra, Homage to John Clare
(1966), November 1951 (1968), and a String Quartet (1968), which is
in the form of variations for cello and strings; but his culminating
work so far is his opera David and Bathsheba, which was first seen at
the Newcastle Festival in 1969. This work, with a libretto by Ursula
Vaughan Williams, is simpler and less cerebral than Barlow’s work of
the previous years. It is directed at a wider public. Uriah the Hittite
is even allowed a popular tune, but against the accompaniment of a 12-note
The text is taken from Samuel II (II, V.2, and 12,
V.24), and tells the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, and the
sending of her soldier-husband, Uriah, to the hottest part of the fighting,
thus ensuring his death. Nathan, the prophet, enters at a dramatic moment,
and angrily upbraids Dand, telling him the parable of the rich man taking
away the one possession of the poor man; David gives judgement, and
is self-condemned. As a ‘punishment’ Bathsheba’s child was to die, and
David repents in sackcloth and ashes, and by fasting. But when the child
eventually dies, he calls for fresh robes, saying that while the child
lived there was hope, but that after his death there was none. The opera
ends, as it began, with a kind of catharsis; the ever-returning spring
after a cold winter is symbolic of new birth.
The opera is in one act, with a Prelude which is a
thematic storehouse. The biblical story is concerned with David’s guilt,
and the ‘conscience motif’, first heard in the Prelude, is a sequence
of three notes (C-D-B), pursued upwards or downwards. Muted strings
at the close signify the acceptance of their child’s death by David
The composers who devote a proportion of their time
to teaching at the many London institutions represent, as might well
be expected, a wide range of musical sympathy. Of those already mentioned,
Humphrey Searle has taught at the Royal College since 1965, and Lennox
Berkeley at the Royal Academy since 1946. The doyen of traditionalists
is Gordon Jacob, whose long list of compositions is predominantly instrumental,
and entirely diatonic and straightforward. The younger Richard Stoker,
on the other hand, is an enquiring musician, who assimilates ideas from
His elder colleague John Gardner, who has taught at
the Royal Academy since 1956, is a highly active and versatile musician.
Like Alwyn, Chagrin, and many other composers, he commutes, as it were,
between the ivory tower and the market-place. He studied at Oxford before
the war, and after serving in the R.A.F., he was a repetiteur at Covent
Garden, 1946-1952. He was at Morley College after 1952, and in 1965
became Director of Music. Since 1962 he has taught at St. Paul’s Girls
School; he has also taken more than his share of committee-work.
He attracted attention with an early work, the Symphony
No. 1, Op. 2 (1947); a direct work, straightforward in tonality and
structure, and owing a good deal to the Sibelius movement of the romantic
thirties-as, indeed, was expected of British symphonists at this time.
This work was played under Barbirolli at a Cheltenham Festival concert
in 1951, and repeated in London the following year. It was followed
the next year by another work for Cheltenham, Variations on a Waltz
by Carl Nielsen, Op. 13, and a choral work, Cantiones Sacrae, Op. 12,
for the Three Choirs Festival. Here Gardner’s characteristically extrovert
style, and direct, confident choralism, are unimpeded, right from the
D major opening chorale ‘Ein feste Burg’. The final Magnificat is taken
from an earlier Nativity Opera, Op. 3, that he wrote with Tyrone Guthrie.
1952 was a busy year for Gardner, and he also wrote
a ballet, Reflection, Op. 14, for the Sadlers Wells Theatre Ballet,
from which he later took an orchestral suite. This was followed five
years later by his opera The Moon and Sixpence, which was a remarkable
first venture into the just-unfolding world of repertory English opera.
Gardner’s ability to write for voices, coupled with his considerable
operatic experience, ensured for his work a practical success.
But his career reflects the swing of the pendulum of
taste at this time. He rejected dodecaphony, preferring instead a directly
exciting music, which can more easily be memorable and become known.
He was thus compelled to seek outlets other than those of the prevailing
He has a considerable penchant for jazz piano playing,
which he once put to effective use in the tavern scene from Wozzeck.
This lighter side of his work is shown in the Suite of Five Rhythms
(Rumba, Waltz, Pizzicato Blues, Sentimental Song, Five-beat Boogie)
written for a B.B.C. light music concert in 1960; also in the Five Hymns
in Popular Style, which were written for school choirs at the Farnham
Festival in 1963. This is perhaps the most performed of all his compositions;
it is his Pomp and Circumstance, the work by which he is most widely
known. Because it also represents a movement towards experimentation
in church music at this time, Gardner’s comments on it are relevant:
Lowering the brow of the Church is all the rage these
days, and it is probable that many of the attempts to bring the atmosphere
of the Espresso bar to the chancel are as hypocritical as they are misguided.
The fact remains, however, that until the nineteenth century, the styles
of secular and sacred music tended to go hand in hand. Thus we find
composers using the same turns of phrase to express both erotic love
and pious adoration, a practice condemned by some, but one which undoubtedly
arose from an attitude towards life which saw it whole, and which allowed
God to be praised for having endowed us with the pleasures of the senses
as well as with the delights of the spirit.
In these five hymns I have been inspired particularly
by the example of Malcolm Williamson, to whom they are dedicated, and
by the wonderful poetry of Bishop Heber, Henry Lyte and Mrs. Adams,
so full of simple profound thoughts, expressed in language which is
both noble, evocative and memorable. Popular art in the best sense,
The tunes are my own except in the case of the second
hymn, which is based upon E. J. Hopkins’ famous melody ‘Ellers’, associated
by me always with the last Evensong of the school term. I can still
feel, as I play or sing this lovely tune, my boyish pleasure in being
swept this way and that, in a state of mingled ecstasy and anguish,
upon the contrary currents of expectation and nostalgia that flow so
strongly from both words and music.
Gardner sees in a jazz or popular style the possibility
of achieving something of that common touch which is so conspicuously
lacking from the
more cerebral contemporary techniques, and which reached
such heights in the American Musical in the hands of George Gershwin,
Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and others of that tradition.
Most of Gardner’s main works since the late 50s have
been for voices. He returned to the Farnham Festival in 1967 with Proverbs
of Hell, Op. 85, a setting for unaccompanied chorus of Blake’s writings,
assembled by John Ormerod Greenwood, who had earlier arranged an anthology
of Shakespeare texts for The Noble Heart, Op. 59, which was Gardner’s
contribution to the 1964 Shakespeare anniversary festival. The Herrick
Cantata, Op. 49 (1961), is a suite of independent poems, like the early
Cantiones Sacrae, and the Seven Songs, Op. 36 (1957) by various poets.
Only once has he set a long narrative-The Ballad of the White Horse,
Op. 49 (1959), and in that case he has divided up Chesterton’s vast
poem into eight short, interlinked sections, like a suite.
Later choral pieces include the Four Wanton ballads,
Op. 81 (1965), light-hearted and pseudo-modal; and the Cantata for Christmas,
Op. 82 (1966), traditional yet individual; also simply felt, unquestioning,
yet rhythmically fresh, after the new choral tradition.
Three traditionalist composers, who are on the staff
of the Royal College, use a tonal idiom in highly contrasted ways. Bernard
Stevens has very clear views on the place and function of music, and
has deliberately kept his style in conformity with his Marxist aesthetic
[see his article The Soviet Union in European Music in The Twentieth
Century]. He has no wish to write for a small coterie. He sees ‘the
crisis in contemporary art-music’ [the title of a paper (1948)] as threefold:
1. The limited performance of art-music;
2. The isolation of contemporary art-music from contemporary
3. The simultaneous existence of contradictory idioms
in contemporary art-music.
There can hardly be a composer anywhere who would not
agree at least with the first of these points, certainly as far as his
own work is concerned. In Stevens’s case it is undeservedly all too
true, and at least three of his most important works, the Piano Concerto
(1955), the Second Symphony (1964) and the Variations for Orchestra
(1964) have not been performed at all. One of his earliest works is
also one of his most characteristic, the Violin Concerto (1943), written
for Max Rostal. Wedge-like harmonic movement over a pedal G immediately
sets the mood of serious intensity, which is a marked feature of his
style, with a certain Elgarian luxuriance of melody. His harmony is
often subtle, though a fondness for pedal points occasionally gives
the music a somewhat static quality. He has certain musical affinities
with the Tudor madrigalists (a legacy from R.O. Morris), with Shostakovich,
and, among British composers, with Rubbra.
An absence of theory is a source of strength in Stephen
Dodgson’s music, coupled with an unfailing desire to write gratefully
for a performer the sort of phrase that will reveal the true characteristics
of his instrument. Such an idea may be said to be common to many composers;
but Dodgson’s art is also refined, gentle, aristocratic. The underlying
elements of tonal music-rhythm, harmony, melody-are in his case uncomplicated
in essence, though capable of considerable complexity in detail. These
themes are simple, not naive, and are recognizable as much from their
rhythmic as their melodic contours. He is not concerned to explore technical
innovations which may lead to an aesthetic cul de sac; his is no life-task
to map out uncharted musical territory. In his desire to write music
that gives spontaneous pleasure, his temperament is more Mediterranean
than Germanic. His melodic line is continuous, not fragmented. He is
no pursuer of musical systems, and has no desire to explore The attenuated
rhythms or the cluttered and complex technique that he sees as the characteristics
of so much German-influenced music. The simplicity of the diatonic scale
he sees in historical perspective, as a basic source of strength, while
chromaticism is a basic source of decadence or weakness, whether it
is used by Dowland, Gesualdo or Wagner.
Dodgson is not influenced by systems, though he is
conversant with that of Hindemith. His cantata The Soul’s Progress is
scored like Hindemith’s Apparebit repentina dies. But those composers
with whom he has a particular affinity are Debussy, Shostakovitch, Janacek,
in whose work he admires power, subtlety, and economy. He is particularly
fond of quoting Verdi’s dictum, when he said he was not a learned composer,
only an experienced one.
He was written extensively for the orchestra. His early
work received scant attention and only occasional performance, and it
was not until the Serenade for viola and orchestra that he began to
achieve success. This work was hastily revised in the space of about
one week, just prior to a broadcast in May 1956. This year also saw
the masterly Guitar Concerto, which was not performed until March 1969.
This work has not only chiefly established his reputation, but it is
also a fine example of his mature style. He has written of it:
I have been writing for the guitar on and off for fifteen
years. Like Rodrigo, I don’t play the instrument. In fact, a direct
confrontation with its formidable technique would be far more likely
to inhibit than assist my developing sense of its resources. My tutelage
began with Julian Bream, and has continued under John Williams - as
fortunate a combination of teachers as any composer could wish for.
I had written this concerto (in 1956) during an August
spent in a deserted farmhouse in a steep Wiltshire valley of startling
beauty. The farmhouse’s reversion from manor to nature extended at the
time to a top storey full of birds (I was alarmed to meet an owl on
the staircase the day I arrived), and the house is now declined into
irreparable ruin. During intervals of writing the concerto, I rode the
shepherd’s Welsh pony, followed the straw-baler, collected giant mushrooms
and hacked the nettles. I’ve never written a work, the circumstances
of whose composition stand out more vividly in my mind. I’ve since learned
that Hippenscombe, as this intensely romantic spot is called, had previously
inspired another English composer to an orchestral tone poem.
Looking back at the atmospheric environment, I am surprised
at the classicism of the concerto. I’ve always believed that the exact
placing and timing of the orchestral tutti is the paramount consideration
in any concerto’s design. With the guitar, it is, of course, vital to
avoid confusion in anyone’s mind about when the soloist should be heard
and, conversely, where the orchestra may be given its head. I have tried
to make a virtue of this necessity. The slow movement, for example,
depends for its architecture on the span and precise point of arrival
of its single passage for the whole orchestra.
The orchestra contains no oboes, but three clarinets
instead; chosen for their complete tonal contrast with the guitar (whose
ponticello effects do have some affinity with the double-reed sound).
The pair of horns also have their moments, very simple ones, when they
prove their suitability as a tonal foil.
The first movement (Allegro comodo) has a central episode
in place of the standard development section, but the principal ideas
of the movement, with their tendency to irregular accentuation, gradually
invade this episode and so graft it onto this overall design. The slow
movement (Lento) is a free variation on the opening wind music-tune
in the flute. The finale (Molto vivace) is a rondo with two very clearly
defined episodes, and although the argument is closely knit as between
soloist and orchestra, the latter is allotted definite architectural
points where it may speak up boldly. This movement makes considerable
use of pizzicato strings as a propulsive partnership for the soloist.
The musical idiom-which is not consciously of any adherence
is largely based on the age-old triads (which, unlike Hippenscombe,
will never crumble) and the concerto does not quibble about being in
Dodgson’s fondness for the Czech composer Janacek is
revealed in certain of his later orchestral works. The Nocturne for
strings (1960), which is a short movement lasting some six minutes,
is an act of direct homage, based on Goodnight from Janacek’s Piano
Pieces (first set), On overgrown tracks. The Sinfonietta (1964) is an
indirect homage; it is scored for the largest orchestra that Dodgson
has ever used, and its sinfonietta character, as with Janacek’s work
of the same title, comes from the shortness of the movements, of which
there are six, some with reduced orchestration. Like Janacek’s, Dodgson’s
Sinfonietta begins with open fifths in the wind. As with so many of
Dodgson’s works, this had to wait several years before being performed.
[It was first played on 18 June 1970, by the Bournemouth Orchestra.]
The chamber music style is inherent in Dodgson’s intimate
and precise musical personality. All his chamber works are written for
specific performers. His acquaintance with Philip Jones at the R.C.M.
led to two works for brass instruments for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble;
the same principle applied to other works. The bassoon concerto was
for Martin Gatt, the guitar works for John Williams, the cello sonata
for Anna Shuttleworth. The proportion and the overall sonority are finely
judged in all the ensemble works, to allow each individual instrument
to be heard to fullest advantage.
He has written comparatively few vocal works, mainly
because there has been no occasion for them. A recent work, Cadilly,
is a ‘narrative entertainment’, written for the Grosvenor Ensemble:
a miniature concert opera, with text by David Reynolds, which could
well form the basis of a television puppet show. Dodgson’s ability to
enter into a lighter metier was well illustrated when he wrote a new
overture for The Mikado [this is recorded on HMV CLP I592], when it
was produced at Sadler’s Wells, following the expiry of the Gilbert
and Sullivan copyright. In the words of an unwitting tribute which appeared
in The Times: ‘the woodwind especially were on their best form, and
the overture emerged with a lightness and charm which it too rarely
Philip Cannon, born in 1929 of mixed English and French
parentage, his mother Burgundian, his father English), is five years
Dodgson’s junior, and like Dodgson has bent his traditional idiom to
a personal style, independently of any system. His starting point is
unimpeachably respectable: the Symphony Study: Spring (1949) dates from
his period of study at the Royal College of Music. Similarly, the early
Concertino (1951) is light, readily approachable in its largely pentatonic
material, and undemanding on the listener. It is in direct line with
Walter Leigh’s famous harpsichord Concertino of 1934. Like Leigh, Cannon
has written extensively for voices, and his output includes an opera
Morvoren (1963) and a choral work Son of Science (1961). This ‘cantata
for the machine age’ calls for various choral effects shouting, hissing,
muttering. Moreover, Cannon explores a more experimental idiom in his
String Quartet (1964); but his true style is a simple, somewhat slender
lyrical modalism. One of his most characteristic works is Cinq Chansons
de Femme (1952) for soprano and harp, settings of old French ballads,
which unpretentiously, and effectively, exploit the dramatic potential
of different folksong styles.
Not only in universities and colleges has there been
a marked increase of musical activity in recent years. In schools also
there has been a much greater level of music-making by schoolchildren-the
performers and music-lovers of the future. In many cases composers are
also involved, and benefit in a most direct way. One of the most striking
examples is the boys’ choir of Wandsworth School, which their Director
of Music, Russell Burgess, has built into a highly effective musical
ensemble, and which has excited the interest of at least one familiar
Another marked feature of recent years is the spread
of County Youth Orchestras, who frequently surprise and impress audiences
by their high standard. There can be few more direct ways of interesting
school-children in music than by assembling those who wish to play in
an orchestra, drawn from the schools in a county. Many counties have
achieved excellent results, taking their example from the National Youth
Orchestra. Those counties whose achievements are particularly interesting,
and who have also commissioned works from British composers, are Essex,
Shropshire and Leicestershire. The last named, which formed its Youth
Orchestra in 1948 through the infectious enthusiasm of the County Music
Adviser, Eric Pinkett, is perhaps particularly deserving of mention
because of its association with Michael Tippett. Every member of the
orchestra has been taught in a Leicestershire school, by a peripatetic
staff. Since 1965 Tippett has frequently conducted the orchestra in
this country and abroad, and composed for them the Shires Suite. In
1969, for a German tour, he conducted a characteristic repertoire, including
music by Bryan Kelly, Butterworth, Delius, Copland and Charles Ives.
For Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue the orchestra was joined by Richard
Bennett as piano soloist. Tippett also arranged for the orchestra to
appear at the Bath Festival. Other composers who have directly benefited
from the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra are Alan Ridout,
William Mathias and Malcolm Arnold.
The combination of pupils from different schools in
a district can often lead to most worthwhile results; the combined talents
of several schools is more than any one school can achieve alone. An
instance of this was shown in February 1970, when sixteen schools in
the Richmond area were brought together through the Richmond-upon-Thames
Schools’ Music Association for the performance of a specially commissioned
work-Panufnik’s Thames Pageant-a work with strong local connections,
as the composer lives nearby.
Contemporary Music Societies formed since 1945
Outside the teaching environment, the great increase
in activity since the war has been matched, to some extent, by the formation
of several small societies and ensembles, mainly in London, whose concern
is the performance of new music.
The senior of these is the Society (originally Committee)
for the Promotion of New Music (S.P.N.M.). This was the brain-child
of a remarkable musician, who describes himself as ‘Roumanian by birth,
British by nationality and cosmopolitan by inclination’-Francis Chagrin.
As well as a composer of orchestral and chamber works, music for films,
radio and television, and some pieces in a lighter vein, Chagrin in
1951 was also the founder and conductor of his own ensemble, which became
known for performing the lesser known repertory, and works of the serenade
or divertimento category.
The necessity of a society which would adopt as its
policy the encouragement and professional performance of music by young,
untried composers came to Chagrin in December 1942, at the darkest moment
of the war. Such a society would be a service provided by more senior
composers to help their younger colleagues, whose work was unknown or
unperformed. Professional performers of repute would be invited to give
their services. Chagrin thus nailed his colours firmly to the mast of
But the anomaly inherent in the public performance
of unknown works had been already brought into focus by the Patron’s
Fund concerts at the Royal College of Music in 1919 (see p. 18), when
Hugh Allen, in order to counter public indifference, changed their status
from public concerts to public rehearsals. This distinction between
a workshop, or studio, recital, and an unqualified public concert has
always been recognized by the S.P.N.M., whose primary purpose was from
the start to give a hearing to new works. By definition, programmes
would consist almost entirely of first performances: the performance
would be followed by discussion, led by a ‘first speaker’, who was usually
a composer or musician of some note, drawn from the ranks of the Committee,
whose comments would, theoretically at least, be respected by the hopeful
young tyro. At the first such studio recital, on 2nd April 1943, the
discussion was led by Michael Tippett.
In this respect Chagrin’s S.P.N.M. differed markedly
from the L.C.M.C., which Dent had founded some twenty years earlier,
and whose concerts were inclined more to European than to British composers.
Whereas the older society presented balanced, public concerts of contemporary
works from all countries, including some British ones, the S.P.N.M.
gave in effect public rehearsals, followed by discussion, of untried
works. In many cases, inevitably the first performance was also the
It is hardly surprising that this somewhat cumbersome
procedure came under heavy criticism in the course of the following
years. The chief anomaly lay in the relegation of the audience to the
role of unnecessary, even superfluous, and occasionally embarrassed
spectators. If the unknown works, and unknown composers, were not alone
enough to daunt all but the hardiest and most curious of the very limited
public, it was hardly to be expected that they would pay to hear works
played, only to be informed afterwards, perhaps, that the music was
of questionable value. Inevitably, audiences were frequently very small,
and funds very low. Moreover, if the L.C.M.C. was afflicted by committee
problems, these were as nothing compared with the S.P.N.M., whose enormous
committee read like a musical Who’s Who, and over the years contained
most of the warring factions of musical London. A serious financial
problem in 1965 produced the disturbing suggestion from one committee
rebel that, as the composer’s situation had improved, the S.P.N.M. should
cease to exist. This, however, was not agreed. Then, quite unexpectedly
in 1967, the Society was left a legacy from one of their audience [Arthur
Paul, a keen amateur, once a pupil of Matyas Seiber] of over £100,000.
From this stemmed problems of a different sort for
the hard-pressed committee. How was this money to be used? Recital-discussions,
workshop performances and public orchestral rehearsals of new works
had always been their pattern; but now, particularly with the advent
of other societies, it did not see its purpose primarily as a concert-giving
organization. The ‘service to the young composer’ which Chagrin originally
visualized, could be given in other ways, such as weekend seminars.
It is only to be expected that the policy-direction
followed by any committee should be the common denominator of the views
of its more articulate and vociferous members; and the S.P.N.M. has
always attracted the avant-garde into its ranks, who have naturally
tended to promote works of an experimental nature, particularly electronic
or jazz-derived. This trend has been particularly noticeable since about
1968, and indeed is shared by other societies such as the Macnaghten
Concerts and the Park Lane Group. This appeared to be where the popular
mood lay. This mood also led to the formation of two instrumental ensembles:
the Pierrot Players, formed by Davies and Birtwistle, mainly for the
performance of their own works; and the London Sinfonietta, formed for
the performance of avant-garde music of all countries.
The Park Lane Group, named after Park Lane House where
the first meetings took place, is a society begun in 1956 by three students
of the Guildhall School of Music, chiefly to provide a platform for
young performers. The intention thus differs from the S.P.N.M., though
their chamber music recitals frequently include British works. The recitals
fall under two main headings, ‘Young Artists and Twentieth Century Music’,
and ‘Music Today’, which consists mainly of avant-garde works.
The principle of a performer/composer partnership was
followed by another highly gifted musician, the pianist Ian Lake. Finding
himself in 1959 at that awkward point at the beginning of his artistic
career when his student days were over but his engagement diary disarmingly
empty, he decided to make his London debut and introduce the works of
new composers at one and the same time. The critics would be sure to
pay attention if contemporary music were played; there might be other
young instrumentalists who would join with him, who were also faced
with the same barriers in the London concert world; perhaps even composers
might welcome the idea. So was born Music in our Time; small recitals
beginning in November 1960 in out-of-the-way halls. Composers from the
start were found to be not only interested, but eager to co-operate;
their problems were similar to Lake’s, if not more pressing. For his
first series Lake obtained the co-operation of John White, Ronald Lumsden,
Donald Street, Edwin Roxburgh and Duncan Druce. Other players and composers
joined the enterprise in the years that followed-and benefited mutually.
The Redcliffe Concerts of British Music were formed,
officially, in 1964, though the formation of the society followed some
concerts which were given over a number of years before then. These
first took place in a church in Redcliffe Square, London, from which
the name of the society is taken. Later they were given in the Arts
Council Drawing Room at 4, St. James’s Square. Most societies already
mentioned gave recitals in this room up until the mid-60s; they could
be described collectively as the ‘St. James’s Square Concerts’. The
Redcliffe Concerts gradually evolved into an annual season, which since
1967, and the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room,
has taken place on the South Bank. The policy governing this Society
is that the problem of performing the work of the contemporary British
composer is best solved by matching it, in a programme, with other works,
mainly British, but not necessarily exclusively so, which will serve
to bring it into focus. Orchestral and chamber concerts blend first
performances with more established works; and no one trend is followed.
As Ian Lake found with his Music in our Time Festival, the clearest
and most reliable advocate of a score is often the composer himself,
and the Redcliffe Concerts have invited several composers to co-operate
directly, either by contributing works, or by performing, or, in the
case of better established composers, by directing programmes of their
own works. Peter Maxwell Davies, Rubbra and Fricker have contributed
to these ‘composer’s choice’ concerts. Among other composers who have
directly contributed are Geoffrey Bush, Anthony Milner, Peter Zinovieff,
Tristram Cary and Andrzej Panufnik.
There can be no conclusion to an account of a tradition
which is so varied, and growing so fast. This is a story that has a
beginning and a middle, but no end. The evolution that Vaughan Williams
foresaw has gathered pace in recent years to an extent unparalleled
in the musical history of this country. That London is now the musical
capital of the West is due to a combination of many factors, social,
historical and geographical. Out of the enormous range of music-making,
there has emerged what is perhaps the most important, certainly the
most lasting, thing of all: an environment in which the British composer
can work; an active tradition, for which these pages are an attempt
to present some of the evidence.
VII Appendices - not scanned in
Index - not scanned in