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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 Sitwell.

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 work.

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 continuous.

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 a break.

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.

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 Scenes Ballet.

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 of fashion.

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 totally ignored.

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 Angelo Gilardino.

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 international recognition.

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 and watch.

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 character.)

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 singing.

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 character.)

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 her barrenness.

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 [47], ‘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 [65], 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 [25], and Maria’s lullaby theme at [47]. In the third act, examples of its use include the Retrograde version for the ‘fertility rite’ section at [36]; 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 shepherds.

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 in 1968.

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:-

I

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 not impressed.

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.

II

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 Poland.

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 the West.

III

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 king’.

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 working down.

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 each work.

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 variation.

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

1st period

 

1936/8

1 Chaucer Songs arr. Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica

2 ‘Alas Parting’-five songs Veneziana

3 Songs

4 Fantasia for Strings on a Song of Diego Pisador

1939

5 The Hollow Men (T. S. Eliot)

1944/5

6 Violin Sonata

7 Concertante for Clarinet, Piano & Percussion

7a Concertante for Clarinet & Orchestra (1959)

1946

8 Lorca Songs (Tr. ApIvor)

10 Estella Marina (Pierre de Corbillan)

11 Children’s Songs (T. S. Eliot)

1947

12 She Stoops to Conquer (beg. 1943)

1948

13 Piano Concerto

2nd period (12-note)

1949

14 Seven piano pieces

1950

15 Landscapes (T. S. Eliot)

16 Concerto for Violin & I5 instruments

1951

18 The Goodman of Paris-ballet

18a Piano Concertino from the ballet

19 A Mirror for Witches-ballet

19a Suite from the ballet

1952

22 Symphony No. 1

1953

23 Blood Wedding-ballet (Lorca)

24 Songs of T. L. Beddoes

25 Thamar & Amnon (Lorca)

26 Concertino for guitar & orchestra

1954

27 Saudades - ballet

1954/8

28 Yerma (Lorca)

29 Variations for solo guitar

3rd period (post-Webern)

1960

30 Seven piano pieces

31 Wind Quintet

32 Cantata (Dylan Thomas)

1961

33 Overtones

1962

34 Mutations for cello and piano

35 Twelve piano pieces- ‘Animalcules’

1963

36 Symphony No. 2

1964/5

37 String Quartet

38 Five Chorales -’The Secret Sea’ (Hugo Manning)

39 Crystals

1965/6

40 Ubu Roi

41 Harp, Piano, Piano- Harp

1967

42 Corporal Jan (Television Ballet)

43 String Abstract

44 Ten String Design

1968

45 Five piano pieces

46 Tarot - Orchestral Variations

1969

47 Neumes-Orchestral Variations

1970

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 end.

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 function.

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 is such.

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 and arranger.

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 of composition.

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 contexts.

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 20s.

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 synthesiser.

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.

These are:

a) A quiet, descending cluster (bar 2)

b) A short, dramatic gesture, ending in a cluster (bar 3-4)

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 dramatic climax.

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 drawn.

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, not English.

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 1969 a

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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