Luckily I was kept busy working on two scores which had to be
finished by the end of January a work for 10 instruments, Variations and
Finale, and a film about comic crooks. As it happened, the film recording
and the concert containing the first performance of the Variations took
place on the same day and with the same players, the Virtuoso Ensemble who
were the principals of the Sinfonia of London. Before this I went to stay
with my brother John and his wife Jennifer in Baron's Court, returning to
Ordnance Hill in the daytime to work on the scores. With some help from two
friends, Peter Racine Fricker and Lawrence Leonard, who wrote out some of
the scores from my indications, I just managed to finish both works in time.
Reggie Smith, the BBC drama producer, introduced me to Patrick Wymark, the
actor who later became famous for his performances in the Plane Makers,
The Power Game and other tycoon roles. Pat was then a member of the
Shakespeare at Stratford but wanted temporary accommodation in London as
he was working on a TV film during the day and playing Trinculo in The
Tempest at Drury Lane at night. I lent him the upstairs flat at Ordnance
Hill and moved into the studio. Pat and I remained friends until his early
death, aged 44, in 1970.
Sketch by Juliet Pannett
After the film recording and the concert I went to Paris to visit friends
there and then returned to more work. I was asked by the BBC to write music
for a TV film about Henry Moore, whose sculpture and drawings I had admired
for many years. In addition, since John Pritchard wanted to give the first
performance of the second symphony at Liverpool in October, I had to get
the full score finished. I also had a letter from Scherchen asking me to
write a one-act chamber opera for the Berlin Festival in October. He said
that the subject should be "rucksichtslos" -- "with no holds barred" - so
I chose Gogol’s "The Diary of a Madman”, for which I had already written
incidental music for a radio production with Paul Scofield; but I wrote entirely
different music for the opera. Scherchen gave me certain restrictions; there
were to be no more than four singing characters and an orchestra of 15, but
electronic sounds could be used, and there could be silent characters. I
had never tackled opera before and was rather alarmed at the prospect; I
nevertheless accepted the challenge.
In April I went to Amalfi with Jocelyn Brooke; it was beautiful and I enjoyed
the scenery. But my stay was cut short by a summons from Scherchen to discuss
the opera at his studio in Gravesano in the Italian part of Switzerland.
I stayed in his house and we sorted out the libretto, which in my original
version had been far too long. He seemed pleased with the final result.
In London the choreographer Peter Wright came to see me about a ballet he
was planning on the life of the Great Peacock Moth, based on the description
by the entomologist Henri Fabre. The male moth cannot eat; it can only mate
and then die. Peter heard a record of my Variations and Finale and
asked me to expand them into a ballet score for him. The ballet was performed
at the Edinburgh Festival in August, and has since been given in Stuttgart,
Tel Aviv and elsewhere.
The cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung had been giving his celebrated concerts at
the Festival Hall in which he combined music with witty repartee and visual
effects; they were invariably sold out. He asked a number of composers to
write pieces for them and I had done an absurd setting of "Lochinvar"
for speakers and percussion for the first one. The percussion included
a waldteufel, which makes a kind of farting noise, cutlery thrown into buckets,
and police whistles and sirens, and Sir Walter Scott's deathless words were
spoken by Hoffnung and Yvonne Arnaud - hardly a Scottish pair. I was on the
committee of the concerts, which met in various curious places such as the
Zoo; we visited the monkey house, where Hoffnung and Malcolm Arnold screamed
at the monkeys and the monkeys screamed back. For the second concert I had
suggested the idea of a Concerto for Conductor and Orchestra, in which
each would be at cross-purposes with the other; unfortunately, I did not
have time to write such a large piece owing to other commitments and had
to be content with writing the music for "Punkt Kontrapunkt", in which
two learned professors produce an endlessly complicated analysis of a piece
by "Bruno Heinz Jaja", after which the work itself is played, lasting 30
seconds. I did actually use "total serialisation" in this piece, i.e.
serialisation of rhythms, dynamics and orchestration as well as pitch and
it seemed to work. On the night I was going up to Liverpool for the first
performance of the second symphony, I was very sad to hear of Hoffnung's
sudden death. He was an amusing person and a good man; unfortunately he was
fond of food and was overweight, yet insisted on rushing about at high speed,
which resulted in a fatal heart attack at the age of only 34.
The ballet, the symphony and the opera all went well at their respective
premieres, and I began to think about another symphony. My friends Walter
and Hylda Beckett (the former is a musician and a cousin of Samuel Beckett)
were living in Venice at the time, and invited me to stay with them. I went
several times in 1959, and was entranced by the beauty and atmosphere of
the place. As the Becketts lived in an unfashionable part of the city, I
was able to walk around and see many parts which few tourists visit, and
found the whole scene fascinating. I sketched out a Venetian symphony, the
first movement giving the general atmosphere of the city, including the chimes
of some bells which 1 heard every day from a church near the Becketts' flat.
The second movement was originally a nocturne ("Notturno lagunare")
inspired by a boat trip at night across the Venetian lagoon, with the full
moon shining on the calm black water and the island of San Francesco del
Deserto in the distance reminding me of Bocklin's painting of The
Isle of the Dead.
The last movement, (Festa e Bora) was a tarantella, interrupted
by the stormy wind which whistles down from the Alps on to Trieste, where
one actually has to hang on to the rings in the walls in order to climb up
to the castle in winter. Later, after a visit to Greece, I changed this scheme;
I scrapped the original sketch for the first movement and replaced it with
a portrait of Mycenae, and I altered the order of the other two movements,
so that the work now ends with an adagio.
In the summer of 1959 I suffered from one of my serious nose-bleeds; on average
they can last up to 48 hours. To add to my troubles my tom cat, who had been
with me for ten years, was poisoned by a kindly neighbour. I really felt
at a low ebb and, to recuperate, went for a fortnight to Cap d’Ail on the
French Riviera where the Becketts were working at a Swedish summer school.
They left after a few days, so I wandered around the area by bus, bathing,
eating, drinking and soaking up the sun, though I am not a sun-bather. I
returned for a performance of the second symphony at the Proms under Basil
Cameron. After that things began to improve; I had not been able to look
at a woman since Lesley’s death but in October, a girl with whom I had worked
professionally rescued me from the Slough of Despond and life began to get
back to normal.
In December I paid a short visit to Greece. Having read and indeed written
so much Ancient Greek at school and at Oxford, I was fascinated to see some
of the places I had read about - Athens, Delphi and Mycenae. The latter,
even in broad daylight, still seemed to smell of the blood of the Atrides,
and it suggested what is now the first movement of my third symphony.
In the spring
of 1960 the New Opera Company gave the first British performance of
“The Diary of a Madman” at Sadler’s Wells, with Alexander Young
in the title role. The BBC made a radio version of this production, directed
by Barbara Bray, and it won the UNESCO Radio Critic’s Prize for 1960, which
meant that it was broadcast in many countries of the world.
My friend Richard Gorer had commissioned me to write a string quartet. as
I had written nothing for this medium so far. Since I did not want to write
a quartet in orthodox classical forms, I wrote three movements in contrasting
moods. These were played at the Darmstadt Summer School by the Juilliard
Quartet in the early summer of 1960. Later I was asked to write incidental
music for Peter Hall and John Barton's production of "Troilus and
Cressida" at Stratford-on-Avon, and I spent some time there seeing the
various plays. The first performance of the third symphony took place in
September at the Edinburgh Festival, again under John Pritchard.