Only Make-Believe

By Lewis, Geraint | Musical Times, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Only Make-Believe


Lewis, Geraint, Musical Times


With the publication of recent studies of the composer's music, GERAINT LEWIS considers the durability of Sir Michael Tippett within the pantheon of British composers

Tippett studies Edited by David Clarke

(Cambridge, 1999); xv, 232pp; L40.

ISBN 0 521 59205 4.

Tippett: A child of our time

Kenneth Gloag

Cambridge Music Handbooks

(Cambridge, 1999); ix, 111pp; L27.50 / L9.95 pbk. ISBN 0 521 59228 3 / 0 521 59753 6.

IN JANUARY 1995, the late Derrick Puffett contributed an article to this periodical in which he suggested, quite sympathetically, that the ninety-year-old Tippett had, tragically, lived too long. Dr Puffett comprehensively wrote-off most of his post-Priam output as a sad falling-away from the musical glories of the 1940s and most of the 50s, and charted what he saw as the decline of both man and musician. Ironically, the article itself gradually went off the rails - as judicious and balanced criticism degenerated into gratuitous side-swiping unworthy of such a distinguished scholar. Nevertheless, in the fullness of time, the core of Puffett's critical perspective, already shared by others, may well be confirmed and generally accepted. But is it actually too early - given Tippett's extraordinary creative longevity - to attempt such a general evaluation? And what convincing critical and analytical methodologies and criteria can be used to reach meaningful judgements in this field?

The new Tippett studies volume from Cambridge University Press touches both directly and indirectly upon such and similar questions. Definitive answers are perhaps hardly to be expected from a disparate series of shortish essays and their being few and far between here in no way invalidates the venture. The unevenness of the volume, however, may reflect its origins in a series of academic papers delivered at the 1995 International Tippett Conference held at Newcastle University, which was expertly organised by David Clarke, and where Tippett attended the concerts but understandably not the lectures! Dr Clarke has gone on to edit this book, and in so doing has contrived, in a roughly chronological survey, to present a selection of the conference papers alongside newly-commissioned articles.

The lecture sessions were sympathetically chaired by Professors Ian Kemp and Arnold Whittall, and Whittall himself contributes the most valuable chapter in this new volume - an illuminating study of relevant pitch-centres in King Priam (1958-61) as related to the opera's dramatic flow. He writes with his customary lucidity, and succeeds in turning diverse analytical methods to his own perceptive ends. One of the problems he confronts constructively is the difficulty presented to analysts by Tippett's 'post-tonal' language (for want of a better term). In Priam, however, the music is often rooted in specific tonal centres (something Tippett never really abandoned), and Whittall brings to vivid life the tonalatonal struggles involved - and sees these as part of the opera's dramatic construct.

Another enlightening essay - which untangles a similar network of tensions - is Alastair Borthwicks treatment of the Third Piano Sonata (197273), a work considered by many to be a landmark in twentieth-century piano writing. This essay manages convincingly to uncover a series of thematic interconnections, and presents analytical conclusions which seem to emanate naturally from the sound of the music itself - in other words, he has 'heard' it well and conveys this understanding in his writing. Each section of the sonata is rigorously constructed, and Tippett's inspiration is alight throughout. To begin to understand how this feat is achieved in technical terms can only deepen an appreciation of the music's gleaming and coruscating surface.

These two essays read extremely well. Others which fall more or less into the same category include a fascinating study of the folk-song origins of much of Tippett's early music - concentrating on the Concerto for Double String Orchestra (1937-38) - by David Clarke himself, and an investigation of the influence of the composer's contrapuntal studies with RO Morris in the early 1930s - with specific reference to the Fantasia concertante on a theme of Corelli (1953) - by Anthony Pople.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Only Make-Believe
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?