The Music of Lennox Berkeley

The Music of Lennox Berkeley

The Music of Lennox Berkeley

The Music of Lennox Berkeley

Synopsis

Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989) was one of the leading British composers of the mid-twentieth century and his music has unique qualities which will ensure its survival far beyond transient fashions. Peter Dickinson knew Berkeley for more than thirty years and this much enlarged book places the composer in the context of his extended study with Nadia Boulanger, his friendship with Britten, and the achievement of an independent voice of remarkable distinction. The new book now benefits from interviews with Lady Berkeley, Michael Berkeley, Julian Bream, Colin Horsley, Sir John Manduell, Nicholas Maw, Malcolm Williamson and the late Basil Douglas, Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Norman del Mar. There are photographs, a full list of works, bibliographies and over a hundred musical examples. PETER DICKINSON is Head of Music at the Institute of United States Studies at the University of London and an Emeritus Professor of the Universities of Keele and London.

Excerpt

I first came across Berkeley's music as a schoolboy in the music shop at Cambridge in the early 1950s: the Piano Sonata, the Five Short Pieces, the Preludes, the Mazurkas and more. I was captivated by the composer's ear for harmony, his melodic aim and his purely personal fantasy which combine to make his music unique. For more than thirty years I have followed his development work by work, and it has been a privilege to have been in touch with him and his family for most of that time. From Berkeley's sixtieth birthday onwards I have written regular tributes, interviews or studies of his work and I have also been involved in performances, broadcasts and recordings with my sister, Meriel. I have watched the music stand the test of time.

It is a fascinating experience to follow the development of a creative artist and to try to account for his individuality. The process involves unravelling the strands of personality and exploring both strengths and weaknesses. A good composer deserves no less. After gathering material for many years I am presenting it at a time when the composer's oeuvre is complete. After this prolonged study my admiration for both the man and his music is undiminished. If anything I am even more amazed that a personality with very human insecurities in his creative make-up could win through to the achievement of Berkeley's finest works, which I have consistently found to be on the highest level of British music in this century.

Some of his challenges have been those of his time and context. As so often, England was a discouraging environment for a young composer, so Berkeley escaped to Paris. He almost over-corrected under the extended tutelage of Nadia Boulanger but eventually returned to England and the influence of Britten. As a remedy this too was extreme because Britten was unique and Berkeley immediately understood. It is enormously to Berkeley's credit that he went on to find his own path through using Britten's dominance creatively. My quotations from Berkeley's letters to Britten reveal what he felt at the time ― it must have been more intimidating than anyone realised. Other composers may now have been dwarfed by Britten ― the survival of the fittest operates ruthlessly ― but not Berkeley. His diffidence notwithstanding, his unassuming qualities both personally and artistically have shown a quiet strength and have nourished what I believe will turn out to be a lasting reputation. Somehow this achievement is the core of music, removed from egotism and self-promotion, and in the end this is what reaches musicians and audiences rather than the passing fashions of the moment. Surely this is what lies behind Mozart's G minor Quintet, which Berkeley, in a letter to Britten on 11 November 1940, called 'almost the greatest masterpiece in all music'. That understanding, allied . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.