III The Development of a Tradition
6 Humphrey Searle
Humphrey Searle’s music is coloured, and limited, by
his creative alignment with the 12-note style of Schoenberg. His was
a conscious and deliberate choice. It is only partly true to say that
his work is derivative from his Viennese models; but it is more, or
less successful in performance in proportion to the degree to which
he has assimilated the underlying artistic purposes which motivated
Schoenberg, Webern or (later) Boulez.
Born in 1915, Searle’s training was conventional, and
entirely within the academic English tradition. After Oxford, where
he read Greats, and associated with such unexceptionable figures as
Sir Isaiah Berlin and Sir Hugh Allen, he proceeded to the Royal College
of Music in London, where he studied, somewhat hesitantly, with John
Ireland. In trying to discover a sense of artistic discipline, his attention
was drawn in several directions; towards Paris, for instance, where
Nadia Boulanger was attracting large numbers of distinguished and shortly-to-become
distinguished pupils with her exposition of the neo-classical style.
Eventually, after consulting other musicians, such as Walton, Humphrey
Searle went for a six-month visit to Webern in Vienna. This gave him
an insight into that composer’s outlook, as well as a sense of purpose
for the future. Though he has not written in the style of Webern, except
for some parts of the fifth symphony, he gained an invaluable knowledge
of music from the Viennese point of view, as well as an insight into
Webern’s technique; the importance Webern laid on every note, for instance,
which is a different matter altogether from the mathematical approach
adopted by some of Webern’s self-styled successors.
During this formative period (1937) Searle had no doubt
that the path indicated by Schoenberg was the one that music was destined
to take. But the musical atmosphere in England before 1939 was, he considered,
parochial. Not till after the war did any continental influence begin
to be felt, though already in the 20s the Sitwell family had worked
towards an internationalism of music, and away from the narrowness of
the established English academic style: they associated with musicians
such as Diaghilev, Busoni, Ansermet, and the English composers who chiefly
felt the benefit of their patronage were Walton and Lambert. What appeared
first in the 20s as frivolous antics were later to be taken for granted;
the 30s, however, were a sadder period, with the shadow of fascism and
war looming ever larger.
Searle was dissatisfied with the academic traditionalism
that was rife in England at the time. Tradition was one thing, certainly;
but one could be aware of, and even respect, tradition, without necessarily
abiding by it; and the sort of Establishment attitude that was all too
often the concomitant of it could practically be relied on to stifle
artistic progress. Fresh air could only be admitted from outside; and
although Searle was to some extent swayed by the other magnetic forces
of Bartok and Stravinsky, particularly as far as rhythm and colour were
concerned, it was to the Viennese school that he turned for his most
constant and most fundamental guide-lines.
Returning to London from Vienna, he resumed study at
the College. The war then intervened, and six years’ service in the
army delayed his start as a composer, though a few works date from the
early 40s. He found early champions in his friend and colleague Constant
Lambert, as well as the conductor Walter Goehr, both of whom performed
several of his early works during the war years. Later he met Rene Leibowitz,
the chief protagonist of the 12-note style, who taught in Paris after
1945, and who asked him for a 12-note piece. The result was the Intermezzo
for 11 Instruments, Op. 8 (1946). Various small pieces followed, until
in 1949 he wrote Gold Coast Customs, Op. 15, for a radio performance.
This was his first large-scale 12-note work. It was an ambitious setting
of a poem by Edith Sitwell, for speakers, male chorus and orchestra.
It was the first piece of a trilogy for speaker and orchestra; the other
two works were The Riverrun, Op. 20 (1951), with words by James Joyce,
and The Shadow of Cain, Op. 22 (1952), with words once again by Edith
Gold Coast Customs was first performed by Edith Sitwell
and Constant Lambert. The basic series of it is built in alternating
fourths and semitones; from it two other series are derived, by taking
every third and sixth note respectively. These are used to point certain
aspects of the poetry; the lyrical content for one thing, with which
the poet occasionally interrupts the social satire, and the symbolic
and satirically treated figure of the rich Lady Bamburgher.
In this trilogy Searle used the words to supply the
inevitability of movement, and coherence of structure, that he felt
to be endangered by his chosen style. However interesting the orchestral
sounds might be, they did not necessarily have any sense of purposive
direction. Themes and structures derived from key-relationships had
been done away with; how then could the music move convincingly, and
not merely consist of a succession of static sound-patterns? In this
matter Searle anticipated very accurately an inherent quality of serialism
that Boulez and his school were later to wrestle with.
Searle sought a solution in the use of words. Word-patterns
and images supplied just that underlying movement and structure that
was needed, particularly in a large-scale work. In a sense the music
becomes secondary, like sound-effects; Edith Sitwell’s verse itself
possesses a musical structure-first idea, second idea, conflict, climax,
coda. Moreover, words are used as much for their sound as for their
meaning. Searle could hardly have chosen better for his first large-scale
The Riverrun is rather different. It is a setting of
the final section of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake; the underlying basis of
the piece is therefore literary. Joyce introduces an element that Sitwell
does not; namely, Irish humour. Anna Livia, a river, flows to her grave,
the sea; the words tell the sequence of her thoughts.
After this trilogy, Searle set about the task of applying
his style to two principal categories of work: large-scale orchestral
pieces and opera. What mattered, he felt, was not that a composer should
adopt a particular style or technique, but the use to which he put it.
It must be moulded to the particular personality of the individual composer.
There was nothing doctrinaire about Schoenberg, and Searle has had no
hesitation in admitting a tonal influence if he wishes to, as Berg did.
Five symphonies and two piano concertos are interspersed
with various smaller pieces. Of the piano concertos, the first is an
early, romantic piece (Op. 5, 1944); the second is lighter in mood,
blatant and percussive in style, somewhat reminiscent of Bartok, and
very much influenced by Liszt, for whose music Searle has always had
the greatest admiration. Indeed his study of Liszt puts forward the
hypothesis that Liszt in his later works anticipated the 12-note style.
Naturally the influence of Liszt is most markedly felt in piano compositions,
such as (apart from the concertos) the Ballade, Op. 10 (1947), and the
Sonata, Op. 21 (1951), which was written for a concert on Liszt’s anniversary.
The Second Piano Concerto, Op. 27, which was first heard at Cheltenham
in 1955, is not so much 12-note as freely atonal; its movements are
Of the symphonies, the first, Op. 23, was written in
1953 for Scherchen, and was cast in a traditional mould. The first movement,
for instance, uses sonata form. The series is that of Webern’s String
Quartet, Op. 28, and consists of a succession of rising thirds, which
give the harmony a tonal flavour. The four movements (Lento-Allegro
deciso; Adagio; Quasi istesso tempo-Allegro molto) are played without
The Second Symphony, Op. 33, followed five years later,
in 1958. Its three movements are Maestoso-Allegro molto; Lento; Allegro
molto lento, solenne. The work ends as it began, and also shows some
typical Searle characteristics, such as the gradual build-up of complex
chords, which are then sustained and repeated with increasing force.
But the contradictions and problems inherent in constructing a large-scale
form, such as a symphony, with a style such as Schoenberg’s are here
very apparent. A note-row is by no means the same thing as a theme;
there is little distinction between primary and secondary material;
and the overriding importance paid to harmony, which was Schoenberg’s
starting point, not only leads, curiously, to a monotonous chromaticism,
which makes a poor substitute for the tonal contrast of the classical
sonata form, but also makes for unrelieved heaviness of texture.
The next two symphonies followed at two-year intervals.
The Third, Op. 36 (1960), was programmatic; the Fourth, Op. 38 (1962),
was fragmentary, after the manner of Boulez Both are transitional, somewhat
exploratory works. It was not until the Fifth Symphony, Op. 43 (1964),
that Searle reached that height of achievement towards which he had
hitherto been tending. This piece, which was written continuously over
a period of three months, June-September 1964, is in memory of Anton
Webern, and its sections are illustrative of the different moments in
his career. The slow opening (Andante) recalls Webern’s youth in the
Austrian mountains, and the ensuing Allegro follows his career up to
1914. There is a short Intermezzo, from bar 148-bar 212, to depict his
war service, when he undertook a variety of jobs; this is followed by
another quick section (Allegro deciso) for that period when he resumed
work again, up till the tragic climax of his death. The symphony ends
with an Adagio epilogue, balancing the slow introduction.
The symphony succeeds because its effect is consistent
with its means. The use of pointillism makes for greater rhythmic interest
as well as lighter texture, and great contrast is provided by the serial
treatment of the parameters. The composer here exploits those aspects
of orchestral composition, particularly tone colour, which are proper
and legitimate to his serial style, an-3 avoids those that are foreign
to it. In his use of the 12-note style in orchestral composition, a
comparison of Searle with Gerhard is highly instructive. Whereas Searle
derived his style from his use of the 12-note technique, Gerhard imposed
his style on the material, within his chosen context of serialism. Moreover
Gerhard moved beyond just pitch serialism to a much greater extent than
Searle’s first ballet score, The Great Peacock, Op.
34a, was based on his Variations and finale for ten instruments, Op.
34. Each of the ten variations that make up this work shows off one
of the instruments, and was written for a particular member of the Virtuoso
Chamber Ensemble. The finale brings them together. The ballet was performed
at Edinburgh in 1958. Five years later, in 1963 at Wiesbaden, there
appeared his next ballet, Dualities, modelled to some extent on Stravinsky’s
But it is in opera that Searle’s other main achievement
lies, apart from the symphonies. His first opera, The Diary of a Madman,
Op. 35, was presented by the indefatigable Hermann Scherchen at the
1958 Berlin Festival. It has since been staged in this country. It is
in one act, after the story by the nineteenth-century Russian writer
Nikolai Gogol, whose grotesque style is in keeping with the serial idiom.
This opera is a grim fantasy, starting with a correspondence between
two dogs, and finishing in a lunatic asylum. As with his trilogy for
speaker and orchestra, Searle looks to words not just for their direct
meaning, or realism, but for their atmosphere and symbolic association.
The composer’s underlying thought in this and ensuing works is the position
of the individual in society. The effects of madness and unreality are
further achieved in this work by the use of pre-recorded sound effects.
His next opera, The Photo of the Colonel, Op. 41, is
a full-length three-act opera. The composer wrote his own libretto,
after the story by Eugene Ionesco. The work was given a radio performance
in this country in 1954, and a stage premiere in Frankfurt in June of
the same year. As in the earlier opera, there is symbolism in plenty,
though it is sometimes obscure. For instance we can assume, though we
are not told, that the killer stands either for death, or an enemy of
society, or both.
The composer’s total avoidance of key, and total chromaticism,
are consistent both in this work, and with the style of his previous
opera. He looks to the subconscious world of the imagination as a match
for the 12-note style. The words say one thing, mean another, and imply
still another. The orchestral accompaniment is entirely subservient
to, and independent of, the voices, and consists for the most part of
colourful sound-effects, supplemented by the occasional use of pre-recorded
sounds, such as breaking glass, traffic noises, water splashing, and
so on. Occasionally Searle uses directly representational music, such
as the distorted playing of the pub-pianist in the bistro scenes. He
experiments with rhythmic speech (the architect), portamento (the drunkard),
and a sort of wordless musical chuckle (the killer). The vocal lines
are angular, after the manner of serialism, and in the case of the principal
character, Berenger, monotonously so; not till the final scene with
the killer does Searle allow the 12-note series, which consists of three
groups of four adjacent semitones, to be used step-wise in this crucially
important vocal part.
Unfortunately this effect of long-awaited musical relaxation
runs directly counter to the dramatic movement, which works up to its
climax at that very moment when Berenger meets the killer; indeed it
continues its built-up momentum until after the final curtain.
His third and most ambitious opera, Hamlet, was first
seen in Hamburg in 1968. In adapting Shakespeare, Searle has made his
Hamlet into a dreamer rather than a revenge-seeker; an interpretation
derived from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister.
Clearly everyone has his own idea of Hamlet: and equally
clearly no one could turn the whole of Shakespeare’s play into an opera.
Searle has kept the main lines of the play, omitting a few scenes-the
opening ghost scene is replaced by a prelude, with the curtain up, showing
the platform-and he has also left out the scene between Polonius and
Reynaldo, and the scene where Hamlet rehearses the Players. The scene
where Hamlet appears to Ophelia and looks at her for a long time without
speaking, is shown in mime, rather than being related by Ophelia; and
the scene where Hamlet replaces the King’s letter to England, carried
by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, with one of his own, is also shown
on stage and becomes part of the scene in which Hamlet encounters Fortinbras’
army. Otherwise Shakespeare’s scenes remain as they are, though of course
much reduced in length.
Searle does not see Hamlet as mad: he pretends to be
mad to deceive Polonius and the King, and he is liable to fits of ungovernable
rage, as in the ‘nunnery’ scene and the scene where he leaps into Ophelia’s
grave and struggles with Laertes. He ranges widely in mood, for instance
from the elation of ‘The play’s the thing’ to his next appearance with
‘To be or not to be’, where he is clearly contemplating suicide, even
though he knows that the play is to be put on before the King. And from
this mood he turns to the sudden fury of the ‘nunnery’ scene with Ophelia:
Searle has followed Dover Wilson’s suggestion that in the previous scene
Hamlet has overheard the King’s plot to set Ophelia at him while the
King and Polonius watch the encounter, and this explains his rage against
Ophelia. A modern psychologist might call Hamlet cyclothymic.
Searle sees Polonius not just as a tiresome old fool
but as a dangerous man, dangerous because stupid and wholly devoted
to the King’s cause. Similarly he feels that Ophelia should be shown
with as much character as possible, and she gradually grows in dramatic
power through ‘O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown’ to the mad scene,
in which she is not just the ‘airy-fairy’ mad girl of some productions
but is attacking the other characters particularly the King and Queen,
in revenge for the loss of her father and of Hamlet’s love. Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern again are not just comic characters: Hamlet is genuinely
pleased to see them at first, and only turns against them when he realizes
that they, like Ophelia, are being used by the King.
The music is based on a single note-row, which was
suggested by The setting of ‘To be or not to be’. From this, several
themes are derived and associated with the different characters: Hamlet
has at least two, as well as a figure on the brass which appears in
his moments of rage. The Queen also has two themes, one representing
how she sees herself, and the inversion of this which shows how Hamlet
sees her, and is connected with the ideas of lechery, incest and ‘country
matters’. Hamlet’s and the Queen’s themes appear in the Prelude: the
King’s theme first appears at the beginning of the opening Court scene
on the bass clarinet, and Laertes’ and Polonius’ themes are heard soon
afterwards. Ophelia’s theme first appears on the oboe at the beginning
of her scene with Laertes: Horatio’s theme is heard on the violas in
the previous scene. It bears some resemblance to the Fortinbras theme,
though the latter is of course of a more military character. In Ophelia’s
mad scene Searle has not given her roulades and cadenzas but music more
in the style of folksongs in a modern idiom, which is more suitable
to the words. He has set the text in English, but it has been possible
to adapt Schlegel’s wellknown translation to the music without too many
changes. The language of the Play Scene, and also of the First Player’s
speech in Act I, was archaic for Shakespeare’s time, and therefore he
has written the music for these scenes in a late romantic idiom which
is different from that of the rest of the music. In general the orchestration
is restrained, with occasional outbursts, and there is little doubling.
Hamlet’s four chief monologues are each treated in a different way:
‘O that this too too solid flesh would melt’ is an outburst against
the King and Queen when Hamlet is left alone for the first time; ‘O
what a rogue and peasant slave am Ii takes the form of a triple crescendo;
‘To be or not to be’ is naturally mostly quiet; while ‘How all occasions
do inform against me’ has a more military atmosphere, with Fortinbras’
troops passing in the background. There are some moments of parody,
as in the Osric scene, and when Hamlet addresses Yorick’s skull we hear
the faint music of parties long ago.
Searle was, with Elisabeth Lutyens, the first British
composer to put into effect the 12-note teaching of the Viennese school.
In his work we see clearly the limitations of that school; particularly
the limitations of form and structure. He has never moved far beyond
the serialisation of pitch that Schoenberg put forward; other elements,
such as rhythm, remain very simple in Searle’s music; he has certainly
never been a follower of Boulez or the later Cologne School, who would
say that the style of pitch-serialism is now outmoded. Such is the price
Variations of theme and tonality, which the classical
composers practised, is replaced in 12-note music by variation of texture,
colour, instrumentation. It is in the smaller works, where the possibilities
of variety are comparatively limited, that the 12-note composer is starkly
confronted with the irreducible raw materials of his art, which admit
of no short cuts or gimmicks. A characteristic example of a smaller
work is the Three Songs of Jocelyn Brooke, Op. 25, for voice and piano.
These songs are atonal, not serial, and the melodic line has all the
appearance of a theme except the melodic content; this is a deficiency
which no amount of manipulation can disguise. Instead of the richness
of the rejected tonal idiom, with its multiplicity of devices for effect
and contrast, Searle substitutes the grey, anonymous tones of the standard
European composer of the 50s. This feature is not so obvious (though
it still exists) in the arrangement of the songs with Chamber Ensemble;
nor in other smaller works, such as Oxus, Op. 47, which is a setting
of Matthew Arnold’s poem, for voice and orchestra. In this piece the
semitonal groups which make up the series are given the extra dimension
of orchestral colour, and appear as build-up chords, or clusters, at
varying dynamic levels. But the fundamental vocal lines are remarkably
similar between the two sets of songs. They are typical of the orthodox
12-note style, and, not surprisingly, contain several points in common.
When he abandons the strict path of orthodoxy, and
admits the warmth, colour and contrast of tonality, Searle reaches the
highest level of artistry in small-scale compositions. An example of
such a work is The Canticle of the Rose, Op. 46, a setting for unaccompanied
mixed chorus of the poem by Edith Sitwell, and written in memory of
that poet, to whom he owed so much. Edith Sitwell wrote The Canticle
of the Rose when she read that vegetation was beginning to grow at Hiroshima
[Edith Sitwell Selected Letters, p. 154].
Apart from his composition, Searle has been extremely
active. Since 1965 he has taught at the Royal College of Music, and
numbers several promising composers among his pupils. He has been a
prolific writer; apart from writing three books, he has translated several
more, and contributed articles to Grove’s Dictionary on Schoenberg.
Webern and Liszt. He benefited to some extent from the swing in fashion
in the early 60s, and a number of his works have had radio performance
in mind. The theme of the individual in society, which runs through
all the operas, extends also to his latest work, a setting of Blake’s
Jerusalem; a prophetic vision of the ideal society, written during the
industrial revolution. Searle has attempted to apply the 12-note style
to every category of piece, large or small; and also, as Schoenberg
did, to bring his composition into a wider context of human experience
than a purely musical one.
7 Denis ApIvor
Denis ApIvor’s work provides a striking and dramatic
contrast to that of Walton. Like him he began his musical studies as
a chorister; like him he began to compose at an early age; like him
he benefited greatly from his friendship with Edward Clark and Constant
Lambert. But there the similarities abruptly end. Whereas Walton’s style
was gradually evolved, many-sided, and not to be swayed by the winds
of fashion, ApIvor responded readily and radically to the trends of
the moment; also to the social and political atmosphere. First he responded
to the 12-note style in the 50s, then to post-Webern serialism in the
60s. But Fashion’s reward to her most obedient servant has been, significantly,
both fickle and perverse; for whereas Walton’s music is internationally
renowned, and his popularity apparently unassailable, Denis ApIvor’s
name is scarcely known, even in this country, and his music is almost
He was born in Eire in 1916, and after starting as
a chorister at Christ Church, Oxford, he went to Hereford Cathedral
School, where his father was chaplain. His first musical experiences
were provided by the choral tradition of the Three Choirs Festival;
the instruments he studied were the organ and the clarinet. In 1935;
he entered London University as a medical student, but serious composition
study, first under Patrick Hadley [Later Professor of Music at Cambridge.]
later under Alan Rawsthorne, caused him to abandon medicine. He suffered
a serious set-back, however, in his development as a composer with the
outbreak of war in 1939; for the next six years both the study and the
performance of music were impossible, though he did start an opera libretto;
and this, just at a decisive moment in his formative phase, was a most
serious handicap to him.
His first compositions were songs, in the chromatic/diatonic
style of Warlock and Van Dieren. ApIvor is thus practically the only
successor to that remarkable group of musicians of the inter-war years,
whose activity was so intense yet whose influence has proved so far
so surprisingly slight. Their spokesman was the critic Cecil Gray, who
not only introduced ApIvor to Constant Lambert, which led directly to
his composing ballets for Covent Garden, but also helped him financially.
He was also helped by Edward Clark, who was the pioneer of contemporary
music at the administrative level, and was President of the I.S.C.M.
Through Clark he became interested in serialism.
ApIvor’s Op. 1, Chaucer Songs (1936) (dedicated to
the memory of Van Dieren, who died the previous year) and Op. 2, Alas
parting - five Elizabethan songs (1937), are scored for voice and string
quartet, after the manner of their period.
His early pre-war works reach their highest point in
Op. 5, The Hollow Men (1939), a cantata to words by T. S. Eliot, for
baritone solo, male voice chorus and orchestra. Its five highly condensed,
colourful sections betray an originality of outlook in the twenty-three-year
old composer comparable with Walton’s Facade. It was not performed,
however, until 1950, when Constant Lambert conducted a radio performance
[On 21st February 1950, when it created something of a sensation. In
the same concert Lambert also included Gerhard’s Ballet Suite Pandora.].
ApIvor introduces a high-pitched, nasal form of speech, while the harmony,
basically diatonic, is coloured by the use of the interval of the second,
and by the use of open fifths at the opening. The mood is both sad and
serious, reflecting its period, with satirical echoes of an earlier
jollity reminiscent of Kurt Weill. The very opening, for muted trumpet,
is a twisted version of ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush’; the second
section (‘Eyes I dare not meet’) is in the spirit of the Blues, based
on sequences of sevenths; this texture also provides the background
for the traditional chorale, Ein’ Feste Burg, played on three trombones
(at bar 231); the words however are anything but Lutheran:
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear, prickly pear.
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.
ApIvor thus anticipates by some thirty years the use
of children’s rhymes in an unexpected context by some of today’s avant-garde.
The choice of T. S. Eliot’s words was also remarkable; surprisingly
few composers have been drawn to this most prophetic of poets; ApIvor
was to return to him again, in Children’s Songs, Op. 11, and Landscapes,
Op. 15. Indeed he was the only composer in the 30s to be drawn to these
words, which finish with the familiar
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
He resumed composition after the war with two chamber
works; the Violin Sonata, Op. 6, which was played at an I.S.C.M. concert
in London the following year (1946), and the Concertante for clarinet,
piano and percussion, written for Frederick Thurston, and played several
times, including another I.S.C.M. concert in 1951. It was later orchestrated
in the form of a Clarinet Concerto. During these years he embarked on
the first of the stage works that form so far the greater part of his
output; this was a light, neo-classical ‘opera buffa’, with a libretto
by the composer taken from the play by Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops
to Conquer (Op. 12). It was written over four years (1943-47), and ApIvor
was thus reflecting the trend of which Stravinsky was the best known
pace-setter in his The Rake’s Progress. But the work had no performance
in mind, and has not yet been produced.
The creative impulse that triggered it off was a production
of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at the Cambridge Theatre. Van Dieren had
pointed out [In Down among the Dead Men, p. 115.] how little-known was
Donizetti’s wit; and it so happened that ApIvor was concerned at this
time with the possibilities of comic opera, and somewhat disenchanted
with the style and operatic conventions of most contemporary works,
such as Wozzeck or Doktor Faust. So, along with many another composer,
he became a pasticheur; he tried to recapture the Donizetti mood, and
the fast pace which is essential to it. This mood appears again later
in the finale of the First Symphony, in spite of the 12-note style of
that work; also another example of ApIvor’s interest in Donizetti is
his scoring of some of that composer’s pieces, under the title Veneziana
(1953). In the case of his first opera, it appeared to ApIvor that the
atmosphere of lightness and gaiety, for which he was aiming, was ready-made
in Goldsmith’s eighteenth century story.
This opera was followed by the Piano Concerto, Op.
13 (1948), first performed ten years later at a Promenade Concert in
London. Here the first foretaste of a 12-note style appears, though
very much within a diatonic context. The themes are based on 12-note
rows, but their subsequent handling is diatonic/chromatic. ApIvor suggests
a 12-note style without developing it to the full; indeed, the use of
twelve notes leads mainly to bitonality. This work, therefore, may be
said to mark the close of ApIvor’s first, formative phase as a composer.
The second phase lasted for ten years, and the works
composed during this time use a 12-note style; but tonal devices occur,
such as the use of triads derived from the row, or the rotation of parts
of the row to emphasize tonal possibilities. ApIvor was attracted more
by Schoenberg the theorist than by Schoenberg the composer, whose works
appeared to him frequently awkward, their texture opaque.
The works of this second period were heralded by the
Seven Piano Pieces, Op. 14 (1949), which were played at a Macnaghten
Concert in 1952. Apart from the First Symphony, Op. 22, the chief works
of this period are for the stage, and culminate in the opera Yerma,
Op. 28, finished in 1958.
But two guitar works written about this time are among
the very few of ApIvor’s published scores. As with Roberto Gerhard,
so with ApIvor; the guitar might be said to be ‘his’ instrument, as
apart from these works he uses it frequently elsewhere (in Overtones
and Crystals, for instance), and learnt how to play the instrument,
so that he knew at first hand how to write effectively for it. The Concertino
[Published by Schott & Co.] for guitar and orchestra, Op. 26 (1954),
is a straightforward three-movement work, in a tonal idiom, as befits
this instrument. The Variations for solo guitar are somewhat more complex,
and call for virtuoso performance. They were written for Julian Bream
[Though not played by him] who has been very largely responsible for
the recent re-introduction of the guitar as a ‘respectable’ concert
instrument in this country. Descanti was written for the Italian guitarist
Shortly before his death in 1951, Constant Lambert
had suggested ApIvor’s name to the Royal Opera House, with a view to
a ballet commission. The result was A Mirror for Witches, Op. 19, which
was first played at Covent Garden in 1952. At about this time ApIvor
also wrote another short ballet, The Goodman of Paris (Le Menagier de
Paris), Op. 18, produced in 1953 at the Princes Theatre with the same
choreographer, Andree Howard. This score was composed also as a Piano
Concertino for concert use; in the event, Andree Howard jettisoned the
dramatic content, and used the score simply as an abstract ballet, like
Symphonic Variations. From A Mirror for Witches the composer also took
an orchestral suite, Op. 19a.
The success of his first Covent Garden score led to
several commissions by the Royal Ballet. Blood Wedding [The German composer
Wolfgang Fortner has also set Blood Wedding as an opera (1969)], Op.
23, followed in 1953, Saudades, Op. 27, based on an old Portuguese legend,
in 1955. The first of these, to a scenario by the composer based on
the play of Lorca, was first played by the Sadlers Wells Ballet, whereupon
it was taken into The repertoire of many other companies, notably the
Royal Danish Ballet, several German companies, and those of Ankara,
Santiago and Cape Town. Thus with this work ApIvor achieved his first
In 1955 he was again commissioned by the Sadlers Wells
Trust, to compose his next opera Yerma, Op. 28. The libretto was by
Montagu Slater, based on the tragedy by Lorca. The work, which was written
largely in the West Indies, was finished by 1958; but in 1959 the Sadlers
Wells Theatre took the unusual step of refusing to perform the work.
This major rebuff, for which no reason was officially given, caused
very great concern to the composer, and to other musicians who spoke
for him. His only consolation was a studio performance of the work by
the BBC, at the suggestion of Edward Clark. The opera, by far the most
important of his works up to this time, marks the culminating point
of ApIvor’s second period. In choosing the work of the Andalusian poet
and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca, ApIvor was once more responding
to the influence of his environment, particularly the mood of the late
30s. He had already translated and set Lorca’s Thamar and Amnon, and
set Lorca’s songs, to say nothing of Blood Wedding. Lorca was assassinated
in the early days of the Spanish Civil War, at the early age of thirty-eight,
and his death somehow symbolised the popular movement against dictatorships,
and made an impression on the sensibility of the intelligentsia. Lorca
was more a popular dramatist than a political one. As a young playwright
he took the theatre to the people, travelling round the country with
his company of players, in a way that has few parallels today; perhaps
only Arnold Wesker invites any sort of comparison in this country, with
his ‘Centre 42’.
Lorca was closely connected with music. Not only did
he himself study it for a while, but he was associated with Falla in
folk-festivals in the early 20s, His personality was a compound of poetry
and music [See Roy Campbell, Lorca: an appreciation of his poetry];
his nature contemplative, idealistic; and the theme of death occurs
frequently in his poems, of which his best known is the lament for the
death of a bullfighter. Another was ‘on a child drowned in a well’;
this theme is used in Yerma as a background fantasy, symbolising the
child that the heroine never had. His dramatic output reached its highest
point in three tragedies. Bodas de Sangre (1933) and Yerma (1934) were
gypsy plays, which juxtaposed freedom and convention, life and antilife,
outward reputation and inner integrity; the same theme also recurred
in La Casa de Bernarda Alba (1936) [Kenneth MacMillan adapted La Casa
into a ballet to the music of Frank Martin’s Harpsichord Concerto.].
Montagu Slater adapted Yerma into an opera libretto
of three acts, each divided into two scenes. Some of the verse is in
rhyming couplets. The story was ready-made theatre, full-blooded, dark-toned,
romantic, while the poetic, slightly unreal nature of the theme made
it well suited to operatic treatment.
The first scene is set on a summer’s evening in a Spanish
village. The beautiful Yerma is awakened from her dreamy sleep by the
Angelus, to prepare a meal for her husband Juan, a hard-working smallholder
and sheep farmer, who comes home tired from work in the fields. After
two years of marriage Yerma still longs for a child; but Juan appears
indifferent, and urges her to be patient. He is preoccupied with his
work. As a street band goes by, and the bustle of village life is heard,
Juan is contemptuous of those who have nothing better to do but stand
Left alone, Yerma is visited by an old schoolfriend,
Maria, and though her apparent sterility makes her envy the child Maria
is about to have, she agrees to help make the baby-clothes. While she
starts this, another sheep-farmer, Victor, a childhood friend from the
village, comes to sell Juan a prize ram, and seeing Yerma at work happily
thinks this means a son is to be born to her. On finding his mistake
he tries to cheer Yerma by telling her she will have a child before
long. Juan overhears and mis-judges this, and threatens Yerma that his
two sisters should come to live with them to watch her. Yerma is distraught
at this bleak prospect and, left alone, she longs for the child who
fills all her dreams. (Thus we are given the first insight into Yerma’s
Scene two takes place a year later, during work in
the olive groves, some of the women are carrying food for their husbands;
others are gossiping as usual. Yerma confides to a gay old woman, who
has fourteen children, how she longs for a child, but how she feels
little or no sympathy for her husband Juan. Only Victor used to thrill
her with his embrace when they were younger. The old woman’s coarse
rejoinder is, however, repugnant to Yerma. ‘Your world, not mine,’ she
sings. (Thus we have the second insight into her character.) A crazy
girl, also childless, tells her that in the autumn she and others are
going to pray to the saint of fertility; and that her mother, Dolores,
is a woman wise in the use of herbs. Victor and Yerma then meet by chance;
they are drawing close together, and she almost offers herself to him,
but being a man of integrity he does not take the opportunity. Yerma
is then distraught by hallucinations of a drowning child (‘the child
drowned in a well’ of Lorca’s earlier poem, 'I heard a child crying’
and she clings to Victor hysterically. (This is the third insight into
Yerma’s character.) Juan enters and, suspecting his wife of infidelity,
upbraids her bitterly. They part in opposite directions.
In the second act, Yerma’s home has become a prison
to her; Juan’s sisters watch over her like wardens; her mind gradually
begins to give way under the strain. The women, washing clothes in a
mountain stream, indulge in their customary gossip about Yerma, while
Maria does what she can to discourage them. Juan warns Victor that childhood
loves are best forgotten, and says he should leave the village, where
he is causing trouble. Victor decides to go. In the distance the shepherds
are rounding up their sheep, while the women only stop gossiping to
watch Juan’s black-clothed sisters, and to greet Yerma with their ribald
In the second scene Juan, returning home in the evening,
finds that Yerma has again escaped his sisters’ watch over her, and
warns her once more of gossip. Left alone, Yerma hears Maria passing.
Maria allows her to nurse her baby. The crazy girl comes to take Yerma
to see her mother, the wise woman Dolores, with her powers of black-magic
and invocation of spirits. Victor comes to say goodbye, and Yerma tries
to remind him of the past. He has sold his flock to Juan, who sees him
on his way. Yerma then rushes out with the crazy girl to find the mother,
leaving Juan’s sisters calling for her in the empty house. In extreme
agitation they go out to find Juan.
During the night, Dolores and two neighbours have conducted
a seance for Yerma in the churchyard. The third act opens with Yerma
back at her house just before daylight. She promises that her prayers
will give Yerma a child. But just at dawn, when Yerma is about to leave,
Juan and his sisters arrive, as usual suspecting Yerma of infidelity
with Victor. She pleads her love for him, and thinks there is something
in her blood that prevents her having the children she longs for. But
Juan in a passionate scene throws her to the floor, leaving Dolores
and the two neighbours to comfort her in her wild, insane despair. ‘Now
I am entering the deepest pit’, she sings. (The final insight into her
In the second scene, an autumn fiesta takes place in
the hills, and outside the hermitage a crowd gathers, and street sellers
are standing in wait for the women pilgrims, who have come to beg the
saint for children in the coming year. But there is another less saintly
side to the celebration, with dancing and drinking, and girls being
carried off by young men, who have come for that very purpose. Maria
tells a neighbour she fears that Yerma is somewhere there; then, as
the hermit greets the pilgrims, Yerma joins them. She has come in great
distress to pray to the saint for fertility.
There follows a choral ballet, as the crowd break into
a vigorous dance, urged on by some maskers representing the Devil (or
Horned God) and his Wife, who simulate the eternal pursuit of man and
woman. As the dance reaches its climax, Yerma comes out of the chapel,
only to be accosted by the old woman (of Act I), whose advice she had
earlier rejected. She learns from her that her childlessness comes from
her husband’s family, not from her. But when the old woman thereupon
offers her own son to Yerma, if she will only leave Juan, Yerma is again
outraged. She spurns the old woman’s offer, and is in turn taunted with
Juan once again overhears this conversation, but has
no kind words for his wife, telling her to be content with childlessness.
The hallucination of the drowning child returns, the child crying to
be born. Nevertheless, he is drawn by her beauty, and goes to embrace
her so eagerly that in revulsion she grasps his throat. The thin fibre
of her sanity snaps, and in a sudden access of maniacal strength she
strangles him; and with him the child that could never be hers.
As dawn breaks, the festival ends with a hymn to the
Trinity by the unsuspecting suppliants in the background. The first
rays of sunlight reveal Yerma prostrate beside the body of Juan, trying
to raise it. She cries aloud, as with horror she realizes that in killing
her husband she has condemned herself to final sterility. ‘Do not approach
me, for I have killed my son.’
The earlier Lorca ballet, Blood Wedding, centred round
the theme of a dominating mother; the opera brings to the surface the
animal instincts and frustrations of a woman who is denied motherhood.
Latin-American society, dominated by Catholicism, is matriarchal. ApIvor
felt that the psychological depths of a character can best be explored
by means of opera, and expressed in a more complete way through music.
For instance, the water of Lorca’s ‘child drowned in a well’ symbolizes
the unconscious? the separation from someone you love-and fear. Music
alone has the quality of association to convey these depths of meaning.
Lorca’s story was ready-made opera. Only one scene
had to be interpolated which was not in the original: this was the scene
between Juan and Victor (Act II, Sc. I), which replaced a scene of anguish
by Yerma; this seemed superfluous, and indeed harmful to the movement
of the opera.
The dramatic movement of the opera is the working out
of Yerma’s private grief. She is like a female Wozzeck, and the murder
of Juan is the inevitable point of climax. ApIvor’s l2-note style, as
with other works of his second period, has a pronounced tonal bias;
the melodic lines use a composite tonality, frequently triadic. The
underlying theme of the opera is the overwhelming nature of Yerma’s
grief, and this gradually increases as the opera proceeds. It is paralleled
by the increasing chromaticism of the melodic writing. The musical centre
of the opera is the dramatic lyricism of the chief soprano line. Yerma’s
grief is shown in relation to other people: To her immediate circle,
such as Juan and Maria-the one indifferent, the other sympathetic; next,
to those less immediate, such as the old woman, and the witch Dolores;
finally, to the crowd of bystanders. For two brief moments it is shown
turned inwards towards Yerma herself, as she suffers the hallucinations
of the mentally unstable. This is suggested by the composer by means
of a shimmering texture of chromatic brilliance, rather than by specific
themes. This opera displays one of the most original and expressive
uses of a 12-note style. The idiom of Yerma derives from a highly individual
melodic use of several basic sets. The work is based on three 12-note
rows the first of which is derived thematically directly from Yerma’s
love-song with Victor (Act. I, Sc. 2), at the words ‘Why shepherd sleep
alone’. [Brilliantly sung at studio performance by Joan Hammond]. This
original form of the first row also appears at the beginning of the
opera, in the orchestral introduction, and represents Yerma’s longing
for a child. So the first scene is written round it. From the Retrograde
Inversion of this row is derived Victor’s music; for instance at ,
‘I have a ram whose horns will curl’. This is square-cut, deliberately
tonal, to distinguish Victor’s guileless, bluff nature.
Two other note-rows are then derived from the first.
The second row is a simple transmutation of the notes within the 4-note
groupings of the Retrograde of the first row. The value of this second
row lies in its properties of tension and emotion; almost the whole
opera is based on it, from the second scene onwards. In that scene,
at , the ‘music in the fields’ is given a tonal flavour by an orchestral
accompaniment consisting of a quick downward scale, which is made up
of 3-note chords from the Inversion of the second row. Examples of its
use in the second set include Juan’s ‘jealousy’ motif at , and Maria’s
lullaby theme at . In the third act, examples of its use include
the Retrograde version for the ‘fertility rite’ section at ; and
(perhaps the most expressive uses of the series in the whole opera)
notes 6-9 of the inversion depict Yerma’s obsession with the drowning
child at [I18]; while notes 4-12 of the original form express Yerma’s
despair, at the end of the opera, after the murder of Juan.
For the chorus of priests, with which the work closes,
the modal character which the composer wanted was obtained by dividing
the row into two tonally-inclined sections; the first section (notes
1, 8, 2, 11, 4, 6) starting on A (the eleventh downward transposition
of the row); the second section (notes 3, 7, 5, 9, 12, 10) starting
on E flat.
For the simpler ‘peasant’ scene (Act II, scene I) this
second row was not entirely suitable; so ApIvor manufactured a third
row by taking every other note of the first row (C-B-F-G etc.). It so
happened that the three resulting 4-note groups of this third row have
tonal characteristics, which aptly suit the pipes and horn-calls of
The chorus is carefully integrated into the action;
not only does it separate scenes from each other, but it is given a
dramatically expressive role, starting off-stage in Act I, Scene I,
gradually becoming more prominent, until with the pilgrims’ procession
and the choral ballet of Act III it occupies the stage. By this time
Yerma’s mood and character have been fully presented in their several
aspects, and the composer can therefore afford to draw the contrast
effectively between this and the fiesta mood which pervades the final
scene, interspersed like a recurring rondo theme.
In spite of the non-acceptance of this remarkable opera,
and the apparent loss of five years’ work, ApIvor pursued his composition,
and continued in the direction which seemed to him inevitable and logical.
His is a remarkable example of artistic integrity and moral courage.
The third period started in 1960. Like the second it
was also heralded by Seven Piano Pieces, Op. 30, and may be described
as post-Webern. ApIvor’s style now gradually becomes non-thematic, and
the principle of ‘perpetual variation’ is rigorously applied. ApIvor
himself considers this period to be the only logical continuation of
the second, which was in a sense formative and preparatory. The serial
works of this third period tend to be short, epigrammatic, and the orchestra
tends to consist of solo performers. The tonal bias of the works of
the second period give way, in the third, to a non-tonal, non-thematic,
but melodic counterpoint; the linear style of the opera gives way to
the rarefied pointillism of the later orchestral works. For ApIvor this
is the way forward from a 12-note style; the multimelodic counterpoint
which results from his Webern-derived technique is the contemporary
equivalent of Bach’s diatonic/ chromatic counterpoint. Indeed ApIvor
sees close parallels between the problems and the paradoxes posed by
today’s fluid situation and those which obtained in Bach’s day. He has
no time for those musicians who abandon the organisation, such as a
12-note style provides, in favour of anarchy or total aleatoricism,
which he considers to be little more than neo-dadaism, or non-art like
that of Marcel Duchamp. However much he might be attracted, politically
or instinctively, to these negative manifestations of avant-garde art,
to accept them philosophically would mean for him an end to art itself;
and ApIvor is both too intelligent and too optimistic a composer to
countenance any such conclusion. The composer, he feels, matters, and
is more important than some might suggest who tend to polarize music-thus
allotting ‘pop’ music to the low-brow, Stockhausen and Cage to the highbrow.
He rejects electronic music, though retaining a profound respect for
a composer such as Gerhard who uses electronic effects, and who has
had the courage in his late works to build an entirely new serial world,
quite different from his earlier one. This is in effect what ApIvor
has also achieved, to interpret serialism for himself. The free, aleatoric
randomness of a Cage is philosophically unacceptable to him, because
it destroys the basis of composition as such. For this reason chiefly,
he sees himself out of touch with many contemporary musicians, since
although he has always been temperamentally allied to the avant-garde,
he is not in agreement with certain developments that have been shown
by the avant-garde school of Cardew or Bedford. This may have something
to do with his nonacceptance today: ‘tous reaction est vrai’. Following
Webern, ApIvor reacted against a homophonic, harmonic style, and explored
counterpoint. Now yet another reaction has set in, more quickly this
time, against contrapuntal complexity.
Whereas the focus of his works during the second period
was on the theatre, it was widened in the third period to include more
instrumental and orchestral works. ApIvor wrote, however, two dramatic
works in this period: first, a satirical avant-garde opera in three
acts, Ubu Roi, Op. 40 (1965-6), with a libretto by the composer based
on a horror-play of Alfred Jarry [It was produced at the Royal Court
Theatre, London, in 1966]; second, a forty-five minute ballet, Corporal
Jan, Op. 42, which was commissioned by BBC Television, and screened
Ubu Roi, which was ApIvor’s third opera, summed up
the serial works in all forms composed during the preceding five years.
It married the theatrical with the musical avant-garde. The play by
the twenty-three year-old French writer Alfred Jarry, which had scandalised
audiences in 1896, is accepted today as simply the first of many works
making up the avant-garde theatre. It was a radical, satirical, anarchical,
absurd take-off of everything connected with established society, and
anything resembling theatrical convention. Pere Ubu, coarse, vicious,
pompous, entirely amoral, and extremely funny, is the prototype of the
contemporary antihero of many a present-day novel. To that extent the
work has considerable relevance now; and if Tippett is right when he
says that opera is ultimately dependent on the contemporary theatre,
then ApIvor’s choice of this work was well-judged.
The intention was the same as that which blended the
serious with the absurd in The Hollow Men; that combination of the profound
with the banal 'Ein Feste Burg’ with ‘Here we go round the mulberry
bush’ [The same intention motivates a large amount of Peter Maxwell
Davies’s work (see p. 240)]; in this case the introduction, as the chief
character of an opera, of the prototype of an anti-hero; no Boris, or
Grimes, but a popular revolutionary figure, so familiar in recent years;
ignorant, cowardly, whose rule is deceit, and whose sceptre is a lavatory
brush. Such a figure features as one of the few representative myths
of the twentieth century.
ApIvor wrote the libretto himself, and divided each
act into several short scenes, like revue sketches:-
Scene 1 Mere Ubu emulates Lady Macbeth. But it is difficult
to persuade the fat Ubu to assassinate the King.
Scene 2 & 3 The Ubus believe in doing business
over dinner. But there is something very much the matter with the dinner.
Captain Bordure agrees to join the plot. But the future looks bleak
to his men.
Scene 4 King Wenceslas makes Ubu a Count; but Ubu is
Scene 5 The plot is hatched, and everyone has his or
her own favourite method of assassination.
Scene 6 The Queen has a dream, but the King ignores
her warning. The dream comes true, and the King and his sons are all
killed, except the young Bougrelas, who escapes with the Queen.
Scene 7 The fugitive Queen and her son find a convenient
cave, where she dies. Bougrelas receives reassuring news from the Beyond.
Scene 8 Ubu is King; be the people never so ungrateful.
It is a shock to him to find that he cannot keep all the money. Some
has to be used to bribe his way to popularity.
Scene 9 He initiates the Ubu Roi Financial Stakes,
with a prize of real, free money. His reign gets off to a good start.
Ubu makes another popular move and proclaims an Orgy. Much shouting
and breaking of glass.
Scene 1 Ubu has chained up all the aristocrats, and
double-crossed his friend and co-conspirator, Captain Bordure. This
situation has Mere Ubu worried.
Scene 2 Ubu has a hangover; but he gets to work just
the same. One by one the aristocracy are fed into the patent Ubu Sausage
Machine in the basement; but not before the Financiers predict devaluation,
and the Judiciary predict chaos.
Scene 3 Ubu goes out collecting taxes. But the peasants
don’t like paying, particularly twice a year.
Scene 4 Bordure pays a short visit to the Czar of Russia,
who disapproves of him. But the Czar does not object to making war against
Scene 5 Ubu learns how things are going on the home
front. Bordure writes a threatening letter to him, and everyone is happy
that this means war; war will solve unemployment and boost profits.
But they all agree not to raise the pay of she troops. Scene 6 Ubu goes
to war arrayed in unconventional armour. But it is harder than he thought
to mount a horse. He announces a terrible fate for cowards, and takes
the key of the Treasury with him. Mere Ubu meanwhile has her own plan;
she will steal the gold from the Royal Tombs, and decamp with it to
Scene 1 Mere Ubu robs the Tomb of the Polish Kings.
A voice from the Tomb sounds very angry.
Scene 2 Bougrelas starts a counter-revolution. Everyone
agrees, and Mere Ubu is driven out of the palace by flying rubbish.
Scene 3 Ubu meets the Russian Army on the plain. He
puts his Master Plan into operation, and is instantly defeated.
Scene 4 Ubu takes refuge in a cave occupied by a bear.
He repeats the Lord’s Prayer while his friends kill the bear.
Scene 5 Retribution, in the shape of Mere Ubu, catches
up with Ubu in his cave. Soon Bougrelas and his men catch up with both
of them. Later they are seen toiling across the snows of Livonia. Ubu
is not sorry they are going; as he says, ‘It’s not much fun being a
Scene 6 Ubu attempts to teach the ship’s captain his
job, as they sail across the Baltic. Disaster is narrowly averted. No-one
knows where they are going, but it certainly will not be as nice as
Poland; besides, as Ubu says, ‘If there wasn’t any Poland there wouldn’t
be any Poles’.
Ubu is fierce satire, not pantomime or farce. The non-thematic,
12 note style of the score is therefore quite unremitting. There are
no thematic links, or expressive lines, as in Yerma. Melody does not
exist; indeed, the expressiveness of the work lies elsewhere than in
the vocal lines. The opera abounds in concerted writing and writing
for the chorus, and spoken dialogue is used to link the scenes. The
parts are more concentrated, and more strictly derived from the original
row, than in the case of Yerma; and whereas the earlier opera was intense,
tragic, melodic, Ubu is violent and uncompromising in its savagery.
Though it has not yet been performed, it is the direct precursor of
Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy [See p. 313.]
Starting in 1960 ApIvor deliberately explored abstract
serialism, in works for solo instruments as well as in works for fuller
resources. Short piano works include the Seven Piano Pieces, Op. 30,
Animalcules, Op. 35, and The Lyre-playing Idol, Op. 45, whose five sections
make up his longest composition for this instrument.
Other small solo works include Mutations for cello
and piano, Op. 34, Harp, Piano, Piano-Harp, Op. 41, and Ten-String Design,
Op. 44. The piano-harp is an upright piano with the key-action removed;
the player sounds the strings in various ways, ranging from a finger-glissando
to the use of xylophone beaters. ApIvor used this again in Corporal
Jan the following year (1967) and in Neumes (1963). Ten-String Design
is an elaborate three-movement work for violin and guitar, constructed
along very strict lines. The first movement, Antiphony, consists of
periods of 2, 4, 8, 16 and 32 bars, interlocking with periods of 32,
16, 8, 4 and 2 bars. The metre moves
ENTER DIAGRAM on p. 114
The second movement, Monody and resonances, consists
of a melodic line for the violin supported by serially derived chords,
or ‘resonances’, for the guitar. Both instruments resume their democratic
relationship for the finale, whose structure is contrapuntal and closely
organised according to the technique of perpetual variation.
More conventional chamber music compositions of this
period, though very different from each other, are the Wind Quintet,
Op. 31, and the String Quartet, Op. 37. A not-so-conventional work is
Crystals, Op. 39, which consists of six short movements for percussion
instruments, supported by a Hammond organ, guitar and double-bass.
In the four years that separate the Wind Quintet from
the String Quartet, ApIvor had moved a considerable distance along his
chosen path. The technique of athematic melody and fragmentation, that
is the goal of the post-Webern serialist, was slowly won. The Wind Quintet
is a hesitant work, and does not shake off traces of his former, more
linear, thematic style. It resembles Gerhard’s early Quintet. Moreover,
the sharply differentiated character of the five instruments does not
make for homogeneity; on the contrary, the one-ness of the material
draws attention to the disparity of the texture. This does not apply
to the String Quartet; by this time (1964) ApIvor had a clearer picture
of the sort of abstract structure that is appropriate to a serial idiom.
The tonal similarity of the four instruments also helps towards this
end. The result is that the hesitancy of the earlier work is replaced
by greater conviction, bolder strokes, and the music stands in its own
right, independent of any poetic, theatrical or architectural points
of reference. The Prologue and Epilogue, twenty-five bars long, are
each a palindrome of the other; the three central movements, about fifty-five
bars each, can be played in any order. Thus the musical ‘object’ can
be viewed from three directions. As Lambert used to say of Satie’s Gymnopedies,
the three movements are three views of the same object. This device
was also used in Mutation for cello, Op. 34. The music has no thematic
or dramatic climax, no pictorial or philosophical meaning; it simply
begins and ends, and displays a high degree of organization in between.
Apart from the opera Ubu Roi, ApIvor has written two
choral works in his third period; the Dylan Thomas Cantata, Op. 32 (‘Altarwise
by owl light’), and Chorales, The Secret Sea, Op. 38. The Cantata (1960)
was the earlier and is scored for soloists, chorus and orchestra, and
each of its ten sections uses a different combination of twelve instruments:
the selection is aleatoric. The poems are savage, the imagery terrifying,
with the universe seen as a factory of destruction; so the vocal style
is acute, and the choral writing combines speech with a syllabic vocalization
similar to that used by the Italian avant-garde, Berio and Nono. Chorales
is gentler. In Hugo Manning’s text, man discovers his divine nature;
so the style is altogether more restful.
Unlike the chamber works, some of the orchestral works
of this period have pictorial or literary points of reference. The earliest
is Overtones, Op. 33 (1961-2). This is the title of a work by Paul Klee.
In the composer’s words:
The word also indicates the relationship between
these nine short pieces and the paintings or drawings of Paul Klee
on which they are based. Most of the works are only semi-representational,
and one of them, the ‘uncomposed object in space’, completely abstract.
This forms the ninth, and last, orchestral piece. They all combine
fantasy and whimsical humour.
Fragmentary points of orchestral colour, like shafts
of sunlight, coupled with virtuosity of scoring, combine to bring these
impressionist pieces to life; contrasts of pitch, dynamics, timbre and
texture are most marked, which come easily to an operatic composer.
For instance, the very short, fragmentary first piece (‘Dance with the
veil’), built largely round string harmonics and trills, is immediately
followed by the more linear second piece (‘Dance of the sad child’),
which uses wind, with vibraphone and xylophone, and the lugubrious alto
saxophone for intensification of mood. The predominantly high pitch
of the third piece (‘Fragment of a ballet for Aeolian harp’) is followed
by the predominantly low pitch of the fourth (‘Animals at full moon’);
and so on.
The Second Symphony, Op. 36 (1963), is Webernian, though
not a ‘chamber symphony’. Scored for solo instruments with harp, piano,
guitar and mandolin, it lasts thirteen and a half minutes. The middle
movement consists of variations, with only five players in each variation-starting
with the ‘sharp’, high instruments (flute, trumpet, xylophone), and
The Concerto for String Trio and Orchestra, called
String Abstract, Op. 43 (1967), which was commissioned by, and performed
at, the Cheltenham Festival in 1968 is the prelude to his most ambitious
orchestral work so far, the variations for chamber orchestra, Tarot,
Op 46 (1968)
The Tarot is a book of ‘ageless wisdom’, said to have
originated in Alexandria and Fez in the thirteenth century. Through
its study the wise man aspired to higher things, psychologically and
spiritually; he was brought into harmony with the cosmic purpose. The
twenty-two ‘major trumps’ correspond to the twenty-two letters of the
Hebrew alphabet, and like them have a cabalistic significance.
The twenty-two variations of this work correspond to
these twenty-two ‘major trumps’, and the music employs the twenty-two
tones of an 11-note row and its inversion. Eleven of the twenty-two
performers are employed at a time, the choice being made by chance.
The work may be played with or without back-projection of the Trumps.
and choreographic interpretations of the various numbers.
Examples of the esoteric significance of the various
Trumps are shown in No. 12 and No. 13, The Hanged Man and Death. The
Hanged Man, mentioned in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, is hanging by
one foot; his personality is dependent on the All (symbolised by the
Tree from which he hangs), and in gaining psychic freedom he will be
involved in an act of surrender, and be viewed by the rest of the world
as having his values upside down, contrary to the worldly standard of
orientation. The letter Nun, of No. 13, signifies a fish, and means
movement, transformation, death of the self, leading from the narrow,
personal consciousness to a universal or cosmic consciousness. Thus
the symbolism is not one of death and ruin, but of transformation, leading
to a new life, at one with the cosmic order of things.
With this work ApIvor reached an impasse. Serialism
presented him with a profoundly disturbing choice. To continue along
its course would lead him to ever-increasing complexity and abstraction;
moreover he had the example before him of several composers, such as
Boulez, who had followed this path only to find that it could lead to
a cul de sac. Serialism without a personal sense of direction and artistic
purpose might well prove to be artistically arid; there was little point
in following that path unless you wished to discover a new sound-world;
as Gerhard had done in his later works. Moreover the use of twelve notes
does not necessarily provide the composer with a ready-made architecture
for a piece; this is also something that he needs to discover anew with
So in his next work Neumes, Op. 47 (1969), ApIvor struck
out afresh, and abandoned serial organisation as an end in itself. The
12-note row became superfluous, because by this time Schoenberg’s principle
of non-repetition, as well as the avoidance of tonal procedures of composition,
had become ingrained into his style. This work, a set of ten orchestral
variations, is based on the shape of each of the ten symbols, which
is transferred into a direction of melody, rather than on any thematic
ApIvor’s work shows an unceasing progress, a voyage
of discovery, of both style and mood; from the jazz-inspired 30s to
the abstract 60s; from the tonality of the first period to the serialism
of the third; from the sombre fatalism of the 30s, with anger rising
over Spain and Munich, to the despair of the 60s, over Cuba and Vietnam.
ApIvor is a composer who is deeply aware of all these issues; which
makes his almost total rejection by his contemporaries even harder to
understand. His output includes three operas, five ballets, songs, song-cycles,
piano pieces, chamber music, choral works, and orchestral compositions;
yet very little indeed of this considerable achievement is heard in
this country, and only- a tiny fragment is published.
List of compositions by Denis ApIvor
1 Chaucer Songs arr. Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica
2 ‘Alas Parting’-five songs Veneziana
4 Fantasia for Strings on a Song of Diego Pisador
5 The Hollow Men (T. S. Eliot)
6 Violin Sonata
7 Concertante for Clarinet, Piano & Percussion
7a Concertante for Clarinet & Orchestra (1959)
8 Lorca Songs (Tr. ApIvor)
10 Estella Marina (Pierre de Corbillan)
11 Children’s Songs (T. S. Eliot)
12 She Stoops to Conquer (beg. 1943)
13 Piano Concerto
2nd period (12-note)
14 Seven piano pieces
15 Landscapes (T. S. Eliot)
16 Concerto for Violin & I5 instruments
18 The Goodman of Paris-ballet
18a Piano Concertino from the ballet
19 A Mirror for Witches-ballet
19a Suite from the ballet
22 Symphony No. 1
23 Blood Wedding-ballet (Lorca)
24 Songs of T. L. Beddoes
25 Thamar & Amnon (Lorca)
26 Concertino for guitar & orchestra
27 Saudades - ballet
28 Yerma (Lorca)
29 Variations for solo guitar
3rd period (post-Webern)
30 Seven piano pieces
31 Wind Quintet
32 Cantata (Dylan Thomas)
34 Mutations for cello and piano
35 Twelve piano pieces- ‘Animalcules’
36 Symphony No. 2
37 String Quartet
38 Five Chorales -’The Secret Sea’ (Hugo Manning)
40 Ubu Roi
41 Harp, Piano, Piano- Harp
42 Corporal Jan (Television Ballet)
43 String Abstract
44 Ten String Design
45 Five piano pieces
46 Tarot - Orchestral Variations
47 Neumes-Orchestral Variations
48 ‘Discanti’ Five pieces for solo guitar
8 Thea Musgrave
It is an accepted datum, common to all post-Schoenberg
composers, that style is a result of choice. Instead of the acceptance
of a common tradition, Schoenberg substituted the necessity of the individual
composer’s own choosing. This is therefore the starting point from which
those younger representatives of the ‘new music’ set out whose formative
years occurred after about the mid-50s, when the newly-discovered serialism
exerted an almost irresistible force. Thea Musgrave’s style has been
one of steady and continuous movement, first towards serialism, then
away from it, and with variants of style in succeeding works. She was
born in Edinburgh in 1928, and after reading music at Edinburgh University,
where she was firmly grounded in the classical tradition under Sidney
Newman, and received early lessons under Hans Gal, she went for four
years (1950-1954) to Nadia Boulanger in Paris-one of the comparatively
few British composers to do so. Indeed the ‘Boulangerie’ was not where
you went if you wanted the very latest in serialism or avant-garde experiment.
That remarkable teacher, whose pupils include most of the best-known
American and European composers and musicians, did not indulge in such
things; she was concerned with traditions, with technique, with attention
to detail; also, perhaps justifiably, with the most distinguished horse
from her stable, Stravinsky, who had not yet defected to the serial
ranks. It was a period for Musgrave of artistic awakening.
In her search for a style that would fully suit her
idiom, Thea Musgrave tended to ‘let it happen’. The means adopted are,
after all, of less importance than the end towards which they are directed;
the finished art-work is what matters. Nevertheless, one is not possible
without the other, and her style resulted from various and continuing
influences. Her early works were tonal, and mainly vocal; songs such
as the Five Songs for baritone, which occupied six months of her student
years; the Cantata for a Summer’s Day, the Suite o’ Bairnsangs. The
exception to this was a two-act ballet A Tale for Thieves, from which
the composer extracted an orchestral suite; straightforward, Stravinskian,
abounding in ostinato figures, yet showing an unspoilt freshness.
Another influence was felt in 1953, when she attended
a Summer School at Dartington Hall, organized by William Glock. She
found Glock a persuasive lecturer and teacher, and through him became
acquainted with Schoenberg, Webern, and the American composer, Charles
Ives. So gradually her style became more chromatic; in the chamber opera
The Abbot of Drimock (1955) key signatures are dispensed with, and though
the vocal parts are still quite simple, certain complexities begin to
appear, such as Schoenbergian sprechstimme. This tendency is pursued
in the Divertimento for Strings (1957) and Obliques (1958), which feel
their way tentatively towards a 12-note style. The second of these works,
in the form of orchestral variations, happened to coincide with a visit
to Tanglewood in 1958, when her meeting Aaron Copland and Milton Babbitt
resulted in an even stronger pull towards serialism. The first works
to adopt it were the Song for Christmas (1958) and Triptych (1959) for
tenor and orchestra. In this score, which is a setting of Chaucer’s
Merciles Beautie those precise instructions, so familiar in serial scores,
are used for the first time by Musgrave; they would have been unthinkable
five years previously in the ballet suite. Also the orchestral percussion
section, swollen as it was for Obliques, becomes even more swollen to
include claves, crotales, and bongos, as well as the inevitable vibraphone.
Moreover the metre, hitherto regular, now becomes fragmented; irregular
patterns, with rapid upbeat figurations, begin to colour the score.
Another somewhat experimental work of this period was the String Quartet,
commissioned by Glasgow University, in which one idea appears in different
guises, and of which the style is an indeterminate chromaticism.
The process is pursued in Colloquy, for violin and
piano, and the Trio for flute, oboe and piano. Both were condensed pieces,
for which short motifs were appropriate; both were written in 1960.
The first is a study after the manner of Webern, while the second is
more concerned with the textural problem of academic serialism. In her
search for that style which will please her technically and aesthetically
she is highly susceptible to the influences around her that are strongest
felt; but she has not yet fully discovered that marriage of idiom, style
and structure that is the mark of mature artistry.
Nor does she discover it in the Sinfonia (1963), a
somewhat transitional piece, which was written to a commission from
the Cheltenham Festival, and in which she used a serial style for the
last time. She found the fragmentation technique, and the use of small
motives, though suitable for small-scale pieces, a limitation in a bigger
work; so the phrases become longer, more legato. This is particularly
felt in the second movement, where she harks back to that scherzando
style of A Tale for Thieves which is inconsistent with the serial principle,
but which was naturally hers, and to which she had already reverted
in the Scottish Dance Suite (1959), as well as in the Serenade (1961).
She was beginning to find herself, and to reconcile that freedom of
expression, which was instinctive, with that strictness of technique,
which she was persuaded was proper to the composer of the 60s. In The
Phoenix and the Turtle she reverts from serialism, and searches for
a more lyrical, flexible, intense quality. This was followed by two
large works. First was The Five Ages of Man (1963), a setting for choir
and orchestra of parts of Hesiod’s Works and Days. The melodic lines
are longer, more legato; though still angular and chromatic. In accepting
the commission from the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, the composer wrote
a work within the recognisable confines of the old oratorio tradition.
There are no soloists, but the choir is divided into chorus and semi-chorus.
The choice of a Greek poem of the eighth century B.C. is somewhat surprising.
It is really a treatise on farming, plentifully interspersed with moralizing
maxims about the progressive decline of the human race, as illustrated
by the social and economic distress of Boeotia, where the poet lived.
The ‘five ages’ represent this gradual declension olden, silver, bronze,
heroic, iron-with proportionately increasing gloom and misery. It is
a pagan account of the Fall of Man, and the composer found it not merely
powerful, but disturbingly relevant to the present day. Her score concentrates
on the drama and colour of the mainly descriptive text. The work, which
lasts twenty-seven minutes, is sung without a break, and the sections
fall approximately into those of a symphonic work: introduction-quick,
scherzo-slow-quick, finale. Chromatic lyricism pervades the choral writing,
and a certain rhythmic restlessness, such as an avoidance of the first
beat of the bar, which is one of Walton’s chief characteristics. Like
the text, the music is descriptive, and allows for performance by good
amateurs by means of orchestral doubling of the main leads.
The chorus also predominates in the next major work,
the opera The Decision (1964/5), which is a continuation on a larger
scale of the style and trend of The Five Ages of Man. The libretto by
Maurice Lindsay is about a miner, John Brown, who was trapped for twenty-three
days in Kilgrammie coalpit, Ayrshire, in 1833. He was taken out alive,
in full possession of his mental faculties, and lived for three days
after. The ‘decision’ was whether or not to rescue the trapped miner,
a decision which was complicated by the fact that Katie, the wife of
the pit-foreman, had been his lover, and died after giving birth to
his child. Like The Five Ages of Man, the opera shows a gradual decline
in fortune, starting with past memories of possible happiness and finishing
with Brown’s death. These memories are shown in flashback, which has
the effect of interfering somewhat with the opera’s momentum. Furthermore
the cumbersome, unwieldy nature of the plot presented the composer with
formidable problems of structure and balance. The work lacks dramatic
working-out, and consists of a succession of scenes, whose unifying
feature is their unrelieved and overwhelming gloom. Again the music
is mainly descriptive, right from the opening, where a repeated quaver
movement suggests the turning of the wheel at the head of the mine-shaft.
But after the opera Musgrave entered a new phase, and
wrote a succession of highly characteristic instrumental compositions,
which have earned her a deserved recognition. The Chamber Concertos
Nos. 2 and 3 (1966), the Concerto for Orchestra (1967), and the Clarinet
Concerto (1968). (The first Chamber Concerto dated from 1962, and is
not quite so individual a work.) It is as if, like Britten, after long
years of exploration, she has found that true style consistent with
the many requirements of her artistic personality; her need for freedom,
dramatic content, lyricism, length of phrase, continuity, simplicity,
discipline. The more chromatic and fragmented her style became, the
less memorable had been the themes; something else was needed to hold
the listener's attention, and this was provided by a dramatic content.
The opera is variable in its effect, in proportion as the dramatic tension
ebbs and flows. But in the works that follow the opera, this dramatic
content was expressed in purely musical terms, and integrated into her
style. She thinks dramatically. All these later works are in one continuous
movement, divided into sections; they are conceived as one span, in
a growing, cumulative form, with a gradual quickening of pace towards
The Second Chamber Concerto, which uses the same players
as Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, is indebted chiefly to Charles Ives,
whose music Musgrave had studied. It introduces metrical freedom for
the players. Different tempi are placed together, with cuelines to facilitate
performance; in this way rubato and lyrical playing are possible, as
well as the simultaneous playing of different speeds. Musgrave also
incorporates popular tunes, after the manner of Ives; tunes of firmly
diatonic simplicity, such as ‘The Keel-row’, ‘Swanee River’ and ‘All
things bright and beautiful’, which are in total, bland contrast to
their dissonant surroundings.
The Third Chamber Concerto uses the same instruments
as the Schubert Octet-for obvious reasons of concert-giving [Other composers
have also written octets with Schubert’s instrumentation; Howard Ferguson
and John Joubert, for instance]. It is dedicated to Nadia Boulanger
for her eightieth birthday, 16th September, 1967, and begins with a
motto, like the Berg Chamber Concerto. As it was commissioned by the
Anglo-Austrian Music Society, Musgrave had recourse to the academic
parlour-game of translating the letters of composers’ names into notes.
The first and second Viennese Schools thus appear thematic
Haydn Mozart Beethoven Schubert (on the clarinet)
H = B Arnold Schoenberg (on the viola)
B = B flat Anton Webern (on the bassoon)
S = E flat Alban Berg (on the horn)
Thus are derived the basic thematic outlines of the
material. The same freedom of construction is followed as in the Second
Chamber Concerto, but in addition the players are required in turn to
stand to play their cadenzas.
The Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned by the Feeney
Trust, extends the notational innovation into orchestral terms; thus
the vertical effect is made subservient to the horizontal lines. Different
speeds are possible, and the free repetition of fixed patterns; at the
same time control is not lost. Again, the players are required to stand
for solo passages, like jazz musicians. The work as a w-hole is a contrast
between solo and tutti sections, as different groups take over the solo
This principle is carried logically forward in the
Clarinet Concerto, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society, in
which the soloist moves from one group of the orchestra to another.
The clarinet can combine satisfactorily with all the different sections,
and by this technique not only are independent leads possible, apart
from the conductor, but the correct balance can be ensured. Also the
somewhat extrovert personality of the original soloist, Gervase de Peyer,
was a positive factor in the composer’s mind. Thus it is the dramatic
structure, more than the thematic material, which holds the concerto
together; and this is a, if not the, saving grace for a style that has
such strong links with established traditional procedures.
9 Don Banks
Numerous musicians have come from Australia since 1945
to live and work in London. Among composers, the best known are Don
Banks and Malcolm Williamson. Their work differs widely, in both achievement
and intent (though undoubtedly these two aspects are related, since
what you do is largely dictated by what you set out to do). Williamson
has the greater facility, and has directed his pieces towards the widest
possible public, with the idiom appropriate for each occasion, and with
widely varying results; now an opera, now a hymn-tune in the ‘popular
style’, now a piece for children, now something instrumental. There
are few more active or versatile composers than Malcolm Williamson.
Don Banks operates on an altogether different level;
he is more concerned with pursuing the sort of music that for him rings
true than with seeking popularity. He has worked to synthesize his style
from a wide range of influences, which makes it more durable and valid;
and to aim at nothing short of perfection, which, as Busoni once said,
is the only mark of the true artist.
A composer coming to Europe at his formative stage,
unfettered by traditions, whether good or bad, and with something of
the creative curiosity of a Stravinsky, would be in a highly advantageous
position as far as his own style was concerned. The contemporary situation
that each composer is bound to exercise choice; to
interpret the welter of conflicting idioms and influences that makes
up the musical mosaic of today, and to exercise what Stravinsky has
described as ‘creative volition’. Integrity demands of the artist that
before making this choice, and asserting his artistic personality, it
is necessary to understand the full nature of what is being chosen,
and not to be swayed by considerations other than musical ones.
Don Banks was born in Melbourne in 1923. Both parents
were Australian, though he can trace to his grandparents some Irish,
Swedish and Scottish descent. His father was a professional jazz musician,
who led his own band, and played the trombone, alto saxophone and percussion.
Thus the young Don acquired not only a liking for, and familiarity with,
jazz at an early age, but also an ability to play the numerous instruments
that lay about the house. This enthusiasm for jazz, which was his earliest
and strongest influence, has never diminished. He himself played piano
and trombone with various bands, worked in a night-club, and gained
early experience of practical music-making by acting as orchestrator
His official musical studies were of a conventional
nature, and after obtaining various diplomas, in 1949 he came to England.
Here he began detailed study of composition under Matyas Seiber, who
provided the next and decisive influence on him. As Banks has put it,
‘he opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities in composition’.
Though in his own compositions Seiber was an apostle
of Schoenberg’s 12-note style, as a teacher he did not adhere to any
one system. His many pupils included Fricker and Milner. He laid emphasis
on analysis, in depth, of music from Bach to the present day, ‘to look
at the atoms and cells, and see how a kind of life-process goes on like
in any living tissue’. He would show the possibilities of harmonic movement,
for instance in chorales; he stressed the importance of respect for
the musical material, and of economy; the need to cut waste notes, to
keep texture clean and disciplined, to keep a sense of progress and
proportion, and never to be satisfied with first thoughts. He called
for constant examination of the possibilities of any musical material.
As he said, ‘if you can’t see all the possibilities of a motif; how
can you select what are the best ones?’ He taught, in a word, the craft
So did Luigi Dallapiccola, to whom Banks went subsequently,
in 1952/3. Like Seiber, he was not concerned about what style or idiom
a composer chose; only how well he wrote within it. Banks found him
‘a most sensitive pair of ears’, and made a particular study at this
time of canonic techniques, of which Dallapiccola was such a skilled
exponent. That aspect of composition which is concerned with the minute
gradation of musical sounds, also received close attention; the effect,
on the sound, of register, weight, relationship to its surroundings,
colour and intensity; the difference between the timbre of different
instruments playing the same note; and so on. This aspect of his study
was to bear much fruit later. The intense curiosity and care lavished
on musical sound per se is a part of Banks’ technique which was fostered
by his work under Dallapiccola.
Various other external influences affected him strongly
and positively in these formative years. Chief among them was the 12-note
style, which he attempted to use in one of his earliest compositions,
the Duo for violin and cello (1951). Another was the advanced serial
thinking of the American musician Milton Babbitt, whose theory of ‘combinatorial
sets’, particularly as it affects the composer’s ability to manage and
control sound, appeals strongly to Banks.
And so, with his inquisitive, international outlook,
sharpened by years of study, Banks embarked at the age of third on his
career as a composer. His first published work was the Violin Sonata
(1953), and since then some twenty-five works have appeared, the majority
of them instrumental or orchestral, of which the largest and most important
is the Violin Concerto (1968).
His earliest published compositions include many for
conventional chamber-music groupings, which show clearly the characteristics
inherent in serialism; the Three Studies for cello and piano (1954),
for which he had Nelson Cooke in mind; or the Pezzo dramatico for solo
piano (1956), which he wrote for Margaret Kitchin. Banks is not a strict
serialist, and he allows for that element of musicianly common-sense
usually called intuition. Indeed he rejects total serialism and can
see no inherent merit in an ability to count from I to 12. On the other
hand discipline, from whatever source, is essential. The Pezzo dramatico,
for instance, only I06 bars long, is a thing of contrasts, of marked
rhythms, of concentration in depth rather than expansion in length.
Its atonal sonorities are exploited at a speed which is, on average,
slow-a general characteristic of Banks’s music.
The nature of serialism is incompatible with a scherzando
style, as he found in the Sonata da Camera for eight instruments, written
in 1961 in memory of Matyas Seiber, and played at a Cheltenham Festival
concert that year. The second of its three movements is actually marked
scherzando, but the lightness of rhythm is short-lived, and it is not
long before the music reverts to that fragmentation of the series, and
that somewhat self-conscious brooding over the sonorities, that is the
mark of the style of many a serial composer at this time. It is not
in such works as these that Banks’s individuality is most marked.
Nor, quite, in the two horn works which he has written
for his fellow Australian, Barry Tuckwell: the Horn Trio (1962) and
the Horn Concerto (1965). The first uses an 8-note cell, and is not
serially organised; the second is. But he would be a bold man who could
claim to detect any difference. Banks tends instinctively towards atonalism,
and follows his material through to whatever conclusion it may lead
him. Both works begin romantically, with a melodic legato line; this
is practically unavoidable with an instrument of such strong romantic
associations as the horn. Again, both works exploit the interval of
the fourth. But the concerto is a more developed work than the trio;
whereas the trio falls into three recognisably conventional movements,
the concerto consists of eight contrasted sections, played continuously.
The series used leads to a characteristic chord, which acts as the motto
of the whole work, and consists of a fourth superimposed on an augmented
fourth [The war-chord used by Tippett in King Priam. (see p. 287)].
This appears at the beginning of each section, differently scored and
in varying guises, which gives the piece a structural unity; it also
concludes the work. Moreover, the nature of the horn, and the different
sounds of which it is capable, are much more fully exploited in the
concerto than they are in the trio.
Already in the middle piece of the Three Studies Banks
is aware of the subtlety of sound, and his stylistic development springs
from this awareness. Style for him is the process of refining the use
of sounds; he is concerned with every aspect of the subtle nature of
their use. So his work branches out in two main directions; one is towards
an ever-increasing refinement in his use of the standard instruments
of the orchestra, in those works which call for them; the other direction
is towards the integrated use of newly-found styles and ideas, such
as jazz, avant-garde experiments, and electronic effects.
His approach to electronic sounds, as with others,
is both direct and primitive. His interest is instinctive, but he needs
to discover his own, and to work them into his own experience. He is
interested in the possibility of using instruments and tapes together,
much as Mario Davidovsky has in Synchronisms, and the first result of
this appears in Intersections for electronic sounds and orchestra (1969).
His reaching out towards these exploratory regions
has already led to some striking results, such as Equation I (1963/4)
and Equation II (1969), Settings from Roget (1966) and Tirade (1968).
The first three of these are an attempt to fuse together jazz and orchestral
music, in what the American composer Gunther Schuller has called ‘Third
Stream’. The precedent for this was provided in Seiber’s Jazzolets and
Improvisation. In Bank’s Equation the antithesis of quick-moving jazz
music and slow-moving music for orchestral instruments produces a strange
mixture of contrasted associations, of familiar effects in unfamiliar
Again, in the Setting from Roget, he mixes serialism
with jazz, notably in the first two Settings. The problem of combining
the free-feeling of jazz with the strictness of serialism is largely
overcome by his use of a 12-note series which divides into three four-part
chords with tonal implications. In the final piece a series is not used:
here he considered pitch control much less important, and it is more
of a ‘sound piece’, although an 8-note trope is used as the basis of
both improvised and written sections. In fact the characteristic vitality
of jazz, combined with the intellectual content of serialism, and the
exploration into new sounds, together produce a musical mosaic that
is both original and highly representative of the present age. It is
as much a reflection of the 60s as Walton’s Façade was of the
Banks’ reasoned explanation of the use of jazz in a
composed score is that, whereas American composers have a legitimate
jazz background against which to work, this is not necessarily shared
by composers of other traditions. But as he sees it, the charm of jazz
is that it allows for a musician’s invention over a basis that is fixed.
Take that away, and dispense with the compositional process, and the
music becomes merely repetitive. A later piece in this category is Meeting
Place (1970), for chamber ensemble, jazz group, and electronic sound
Tirade does not use jazz; it falls instead, without
any qualification, into the category of the avant-garde. Three poems
by the Australian Peter Porter set the Australian scene through three
aspects of time, present, past, and present-future. The third poem is
a protest against the commercial exploitation of the country’s natural
beauty. The work is for mezzo-soprano, piano, harp, and three percussion
players, each of whom operates about fifteen assorted instruments. Again
Banks introduces an alternation of opposites; this time speech as opposed
to a vocal line-which, by itself, is a very simple vocal line, in inverse
proportion to the complexity of the ensemble effects. The musical and
psychological climax of the piece comes in the third song.
Here the composer deliberately sets up a free situation,
since to notate such an expression of frenzy would be a most complex
and vain undertaking. All three percussion players improvise (ff); the
piano plays free forearm clusters on all keys (ff); the controlling
element is provided by an electronic siren, which gradually rises, then
falls. Only the harp abandons the unequal struggle. By this means the
climax built round the idea of frenzy is both limited in duration and
controlled in intensity
The other main direction in which Banks has progressed
has been towards the ever more refined way of handling orchestral instruments.
Tirade was written for his friend Keith Humble, who directed a French
ensemble, the Centre de Musique. When earlier Humble was appointed to
the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, he asked Banks for a piece for
the students to play; the result was the orchestral piece Assemblies
(1966), which gives the impression of being tonal in conception, but
actually uses a number of quasi-serial devices centred around the ‘polarity’
of a particular 4-part chord. Banks intended this piece as an introduction
to students of some contemporary orchestral techniques, so one finds,
for example, instruments being invited to improvise on a series of fixed
pitches grouped within boxes. His earlier Divisions for Orchestra (1964/5)
is more conventionally conceived and its musical material is derived
from a basic hexachord developed into a ‘combinatorial set’. [A term
coined by the American, Milton Babbitt].
But the culminating work of his purely orchestral output
so far, and the one which most fully represents his mature style, is
the Violin Concerto (1968). The striking originality of this work springs
from its combination of a reasonably traditional background with the
new found control of sound-complexes resulting from the composer’s individual
interpretation of serial discipline. He starts from a cell, which can
expand thematically; at the same time, all serial organization is made
subject to the musical thought. He allows the material to go its own
way, and to develop in its own right. For instance, the concerto was
originally to have been in one movement, like the Horn Concerto; but
it soon became clear to Banks that the music needed more room to move.
Also, the second movement, which he found the most difficult to write,
was more complicated than the simple opening material would suggest.
The structure of the concerto thus arose consciously, step by step,
from the nature of the material. The work contains nothing experimental;
the effects fall within the framework of normally accepted violin technique,
and the soloist is not called on to subject his instrument to any of
those experimental procedures so characteristic of the avant-garde;
nor is there any rhythmical experiment. The soloist at the first performance,
which was at a 1908 Promenade Concert, was Wolfgang Marschner, who had
asked for ‘something to play’, as distinct from something to tap, scrape,
scratch or knock. Soloists of standing, who probably own a Stradivarius
or Guarnerius, are understandably reluctant to subject their instruments
to treatment which may well result in damage or defacement.
Banks’s concerto falls broadly within the classical
concerto tradition, that is to say it has three movements, a basic tonality
of D, a cadenza, a melodically prominent solo part, which contrasts
yet integrates with its surroundings. At the same time the composer’s
individuality is apparent from the very opening bars. The soloist does
not make a dramatic entry, but instead starts with nothing more startling
than an open string D; this is then juxtaposed with a stopped D on the
G string. So begins the complex build-up of sounds; and the characteristic
of the chosen series is such that it allows for a central hexachord
which remains constant when the series is inverted, while the other
hexachord is split into two outer groups of three notes, which are re-grouped
for the second and third movements.
The two hexachords give rise to clusters, which may
appear as articulated glissandi, as rhythmic pizzicato, or as forceful
attacks in orchestral tutti passages.
Again, the work may be seen as a study in the different
relationships between soloist and orchestra. In the first movement,
which the composer has called an ‘interrupted cadenza’, the soloist
dominates. In the second movement, soloist and orchestra conduct a dialogue.
In the finale, which contains the climax of the work, the two collaborate.
First movement Lento-Allegro
Nine sections make up the first movement; four important
solo sections are interspersed with five others.
Section i (bars 1-18)
Over a static solo D, the orchestra states the three
main accompaniment figures.
a) A quiet, descending cluster (bar 2)
b) A short, dramatic gesture, ending in a cluster (bar
c) A decorative pattern, given to percussion, piano
and harp (bar 5-7)
After this the soloist opens out from the sustained
D, with a hint of the Allegro that is to come.
Section ii (bars 19-26)
First solo cadenza, leading by quiet clusters to
Section iii (bars 27-56) Allegro
The soloist is accompanied by the full orchestra, which
leads to a climax (bar 55)
Section iv (bars 56-69)
Second solo cadenza, lightly accompanied, introducing
an important semiquaver figure, accelerando.
Section v (bars 69-77)
The percussion, piano and harp figure from the first
section is developed. The violin has a static A, corresponding to the
D of the opening.
Section vi (bars 77-87)
Third solo cadenza, with echoes in the orchestra.
Section vii (bars 87-130)
An orchestral cadenza, based on the first two accompaniment
figures from the first section. The soloist enters at bar 107, and against
a glittering backdrop of harmonic clusters in the strings, has fierce
double-stoppings and attacks au talon. A final burst of protest (bar
121) gradually dissolves into the next section.
Section viii (bars 131-144)
Fourth solo cadenza, reminiscent of previous sections,
and lightly accompanied.
Section ix (bars 145-148) The soloist centres round
D, as at the opening, while the orchestra recalls previous material
retrospectively. The ending is very quiet.
Second movement Andante cantabile Allegro
Although this movement has certain rondo features (A-B-A-D-A),
it is equally as much a slow movement, a pastorale, a scherzo. It is
more harmonic in conception than the first movement, and does not contain
clusters. Moreover, to underline the structure, notes 4, 5 and 6 of
the series are allotted to bells, horns and harp, to mark the end of
the sections, of which there are six:
Section i (bars 1-15)
A repeated-semitone figure, accompanied by chords,
gives rise to flowing woodwind lines. The soloist is silent.
Section ii (bars 16-46)
The violin starts with figuration similar to the opening
woodwind passage; but this soon develops into a free cadenza, terminated
once again by bell and harp.
Section iii (bars 47-111)
Solo and orchestra combine in this central section,
which is one of movement and development, leading to a big climax. The
violin soars above the rest, then gradually sinks back, after the orchestra
has died away.
Section iv (bars 111-136)
A return to the opening semitone figure, but this time
the violin takes part. Bell and horn again mark the end, whereupon a
short bridge leads to
Section v (bars 137-162)
The metre changes to 18, Allegro, in the style of a
scherzo. The soloist is accompanied mainly by the strings.
Scction vi (bars 162-182) Coda.
The semitone figure returns. The soloist finishes the
movement, first with another free cadenza, then (for the first time)
the semitone figure. Notes 1-6 of the series appear as an afterthought.
Third movement Risoluto-Lento-Risoluto
The structure of this finale, as the tempo headings
suggest, is a simple ternary one; its nature is that of a forceful and
Section i (bars 1-45) Risoluto
Semi-clusters in the orchestra alternate with sections
of violin solo; these then combine contrapuntally, and develop. After
the tension has dropped, the music leads into the next section.
Section ii (bars 46-62) Lento
This section represents the slow movement of the concerto.
Banks wished to refer back to the first movement clusters, but with
greater subtlety. So a long, unfolding melody for the soloist is picked
out, and echoed, by bass-clarinet and clarinet; the strings also follow
the solo line, and gradually build up a four-octave cluster. The violin
continues, but pursued this time by the piano, which eventually catches
up (bar 58); whereupon, bit by bit, the string clusters dissolve.
Section iii (bars 62-112) Risoluto
A return to the mood of the beginning of the movement
is marked by semi-clusters, and another solo cadenza; thereafter soloist
and all the violins are in unison as they approach the biggest climax
of the work. A concluding solo statement, followed by quick chords in
answer from the orchestra, terminates the concerto.
An analysis such as this shows the means whereby Banks
produces a work of originality with basically traditional means. And
from his works up to this moment certain general conclusions can be
One is that his musical personality has a strong romantic
leaning, frequently apparent in his instrumental and orchestral works.
The beginning of the finale of the Violin Concerto, for instance, and
several points in the two horn works, are strongly romantic, however
much this tendency is
overlaid by serialism.
Two other features recur in his music. One is a fondness
for slow speeds. It is as though he is always anxious to give the music
time to breathe, and room to move. Moreover, not only does a complex,
contrapuntal style, such as his, preclude very swift movement, but also,
as already mentioned, the serial style itself is opposed to the light,
scherzando touch. Another feature is his habit of taking up a new phrase
on the same note on which the previous phrase finished.
His impulse to compose is absolute; his work has no
programmatic content. Moreover, although he lives in England, his outlook
is anything but narrowly English; it is international. Though he had
heard the music of Walton, Bliss and Britten in Australia, his arrival
in England introduced him to the music of the second Viennese school
and also to such pieces as Seiber’s Ulysses, which affected him deeply.
So the influences which were strongest with him were Central European,
However, he has a strong sense of the duty of musicians
to pay back into the common pool something of the assets of their experience.
He has contributed a great deal in committee work of one sort or another,
chiefly with the Society for the Promotion of New Music. His chairmanship
of this society [see p. 365] coincided with that difficult period when
their being left a large legacy meant that their constitution and function
had to be re-thought. Banks sees the function of the Society as not
only providing a platform for the performance of music by young composers,
but also helping to provide for them many of the facilities they lack
at present. With this in mind the S.P.N.M. helped to form in February
new Society-the British Society for Electronic Music-which
aims at establishing a national studio for electronic music in this
country. He is one of the founder-members of this society, and plays
an active part in its organization. In September 1968 he was given charge
of Adult Education in music at Goldsmith’s College, London.