Author Topic: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)  (Read 11460 times)

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Offline Dundonnell

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Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« on: October 29, 2008, 03:14:37 PM »
Christo has referred in a couple of recent posts to his liking for the music of Lennox Berkeley-so I thought that he might deserve a separate thread.

As Christo said, Berkeley rather stands apart from so many of his contemporary British composers as someone for whom the influences of his teacher Nadia Boulanger and of French composers like Ravel, Poulenc, or Milhaud and of Stravinsky were more powerful than, for example, the Folk Music influences on Vaughan Williams or the examples set by composers like Sibelius.

Berkeley's music is consistently elegant and airy, light in touch without being 'light music', eminently civilised. Sometimes, it seems to me, to be too civilised and elegant. I would welcome a degree more roughness, asperity, anger, passion-but these are obviously purely personal reactions.

Chandos brought out a six volume Berkeley edition in which they coupled some of Berkeley's orchestral music with music by his distinguished composer son, Michael. This series included the four symphonies, the piano concerto, the concerto for two pianos and orchestra, the marvellous Four Poems of St.Teresa of Avila for contralto and strings, the Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe, the Serenade for Strings, and "Voices of the Night". There were also two operatic releases- "Ruth" and "A Dinner Engagement" and a number of chamber and instrumental discs.

I was not totally convinced that pairing father and son Berkeley worked particularly well. I would certainly have preferred more of Lennox's music to provide an even fuller picture of his work(as Chandos did for Frank Bridge, for example).

The first three symphonies, the piano concerto, the concerto for two pianos and orchestra, the Serenade for strings, the Sinfonietta, the Divertimento and the Partita for Chamber Orchestra can also be found on a number of Lyrita reissues. EMI has/had a disc with the Violin Concerto but there are no recordings of the two concertante works for cello and orchestra, the Flute Concerto or a number of other orchestral and choral works.

Berkeley will never be my favourite British composer(Vaughan Williams, Havergal Brian, Rubbra, Simpson, Arnell, Bax, Arnold, Frankel and a few others are more appealing to my tastes) but his fluent music should not be ignored.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2008, 03:30:27 PM by Dundonnell »

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2008, 03:48:27 PM »
When my eMusic account refreshes again in December, I'll certainly give Lennox Berkeley a listen. I remember hearing his music 20 years ago. Time to renew my acquaintance.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2008, 04:00:36 PM »
You know that you can access any of his recorded orchestral music quicker than that, if you wish, Johan :) :)

Offline Christo

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2008, 12:51:48 AM »
As Christo said, Berkeley rather stands apart from so many of his contemporary British composers as someone for whom the influences of his teacher Nadia Boulanger and of French composers like Ravel, Poulenc, or Milhaud and of Stravinsky were more powerful than, for example, the Folk Music influences on Vaughan Williams or the examples set by composers like Sibelius.

Right. That said, there are a couple of other British composers from his generation who show similar characteristics. For me, Berkeley fits into the same category with e.g. Alan Rawsthorne, Arnold Cooke, and also in part Eugene Goossens, and perhaps Constant Lambert or even Arthur Bliss. But especially the first three (Berkeley, Rawsthorne, Cooke) forming their own school of British Neoclassicists, who in the end are recognizably "British" too, due to e.g. their typical lyricism. It is as with Havergal Brian: al the major influences are continental European, but the final result cannot be called anythging but "English/British" after all. Or am I completely mistaken?  :-\

… music is not only an 'entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #4 on: October 30, 2008, 12:59:53 AM »
As a guitarist, I appreciate Lennox Berkeley (and his son, Michael) for their contributions to the core twentieth century repertoire (Quatre pièces pour la guitare, (1928), Sonatina, op.52 (1957), Theme and Variations, op.77 (1970)). Craig Ogden has made an excellent recording of the Berkeley's solo guitar works and is available on Chandos.

I should also not forget to mention the Guitar Concerto Op.88 (also recorded by Ogden with Hickox, but I have the superlative Bream recording now I suspect OOP) which is, as stated above, elegant, light, airy without walking into Coates territory.

I am not familiar with this composer outside of his guitar works but playing the Op.88 again right now I think I should correct that.

Offline Christo

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #5 on: October 30, 2008, 01:03:52 AM »
I should also not forget to mention the Guitar Concerto Op.88 (also recorded by Ogden with Hickox, but I have the superlative Bream recording now I suspect OOP) which is, as stated above, elegant, light, airy without walking into Coates territory.

I am not familiar with this composer outside of his guitar works but playing the Op.88 again right now I think I should correct that.

Oh, yes, the Guitar Concerto! Never heard it anymore since the 1980s, but I know I enjoyed it very much in those years. The Julian Bream recording of it is OOP, but availabe second-hand with Amazon:

                             
… music is not only an 'entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #6 on: October 30, 2008, 01:53:08 AM »
Oh, yes, the Guitar Concerto! Never heard it anymore since the 1980s, but I know I enjoyed it very much in those years. The Julian Bream recording of it is OOP, but availabe second-hand with Amazon:

                             

This disc has the sonatina, not the GC, but that disc, together with the second volume of his recordings of 20th C guitar almost entirely consist of benchmark recordings (I guess you could argue that point now as many of these pieces are recorded over and over (I have so many versions of the Walton Bagatelles I've lost count). The disc with the GC is this one.



Offline Christo

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #7 on: October 30, 2008, 01:55:13 AM »
This disc has the sonatina, not the GC, but that disc, together with the second volume of his recordings of 20th C guitar almost entirely consist of benchmark recordings (I guess you could argue that point now as many of these pieces are recorded over and over (I have so many versions of the Walton Bagatelles I've lost count). The disc with the GC is this one.


Very sorry! Yes, in the meantime I discovered my mistake, but you're quicker too correct it. Many thanks and great to learn your verdict on these recordings.
… music is not only an 'entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2008, 06:10:53 AM »
Right. That said, there are a couple of other British composers from his generation who show similar characteristics. For me, Berkeley fits into the same category with e.g. Alan Rawsthorne, Arnold Cooke, and also in part Eugene Goossens, and perhaps Constant Lambert or even Arthur Bliss. But especially the first three (Berkeley, Rawsthorne, Cooke) forming their own school of British Neoclassicists, who in the end are recognizably "British" too, due to e.g. their typical lyricism. It is as with Havergal Brian: al the major influences are continental European, but the final result cannot be called anythging but "English/British" after all. Or am I completely mistaken?  :-\



No, Johan, you are certainly not completely mistaken :) One of the penalties of writing a post so late at night is that one's brain is not necessarily as fresh as one thinks it is ;D

You are quite correct to point out that there are other British neo-classicists and mentioning composers like Rawsthorne, Cooke, Lambert and Bliss is entirely appropriate. Regarding continental influences-I would say that both Rawsthorne and Cooke probably derived more from central Europe rather than France but certainly Lambert and Bliss do show a Gallic turn of musical phrase in their music. We need to hear more Cooke, of course, to judge just how good a composer he was :) Given that Havergal Brian regarded him so highly in the 1930s I think that Cooke does deserve more attention!

And yes, I should also have mentioned Berkeley's fine Guitar Concerto!

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #9 on: October 30, 2008, 06:25:18 AM »
I agree with Colin that the coupling of Berkeley, father and son, on Chandos was not entirely a Roman triumph.

My favourite works by Berkeley are Symphony No 1 and Concerto for Two Pianos (for the great pounding piano sequence in one section). I discovered these on an old Lyrita LP (now on two Lyrita CDs). I got him to sign my programme after a concert featuring some of his music many years ago. He was very courteous, asking me a bit about myself. His Serenade for Strings is a much deeper work than its title implies. Definitely a composer worth exploring.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #10 on: October 30, 2008, 06:39:10 AM »
Delighted to see that you have recovered enough from your pounding by the waves of the German Ocean(no, sorry, that's the North Sea, isn't it!) and your participation in the historic Leiden Conference to return to the board, Jeffrey! You have much to catch up with...much good, some not so good, unfortunately :( It is fantastic that you and your family enjoyed the visit so much and I was delighted to see the pictures!!

Someone at Chandos must have thought that the Berkeley Father and Son pairing was logical. I can understand the thinking behind the decision. But coupling works by different composers on the same disc is a tricky business. Some of Michael's music is effective but not all of it appeals to me and the contrasts jarred and left me feeling curiously uneasy and dissatisfied.

Very sadly, Lennox Berkeley's last years were destroyed by Alzheimer's Disease. (Copland is another great composer whose muse was-if I recall-silenced by this terrible affliction.)

Berkeley Society website for those interested-

http://www.lennoxberkeley.org.uk/


Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #11 on: October 30, 2008, 08:22:21 AM »
Delighted to see that you have recovered enough from your pounding by the waves of the German Ocean(no, sorry, that's the North Sea, isn't it!) and your participation in the historic Leiden Conference to return to the board, Jeffrey! You have much to catch up with...much good, some not so good, unfortunately :( It is fantastic that you and your family enjoyed the visit so much and I was delighted to see the pictures!!

Someone at Chandos must have thought that the Berkeley Father and Son pairing was logical. I can understand the thinking behind the decision. But coupling works by different composers on the same disc is a tricky business. Some of Michael's music is effective but not all of it appeals to me and the contrasts jarred and left me feeling curiously uneasy and dissatisfied.

Very sadly, Lennox Berkeley's last years were destroyed by Alzheimer's Disease. (Copland is another great composer whose muse was-if I recall-silenced by this terrible affliction.)

Berkeley Society website for those interested-

http://www.lennoxberkeley.org.uk/



Yes, the 'Siege of Leiden' (as Jezetha amusingly put it) is sadly over; a great evening and I very much hope that you also find yourself in that warm company in due course (although the weather in Holland was certainly not warm..at least on Tuesday when there was freezing hail). You were definitely an'absent friend' at our meal (how could you not be as the fourth member of the so-called Braga Santos experts?)

In one sense, I think, my encounter with the Johans represents the nicest possible thing about this forum...the formation of mutually respectful and rewarding friendships with people who one would otherwise never come across. I regard my encounter with you as of equal value and I hope to meet you too one day. As you say, in view of recent exchanges, for example, on the VW thread of which I have been made aware, the contacts are not always so positive, which is a great shame.

Sorry, I haven't talked about Lennox Berkeley at all  ::)

best wishes to you

Jeffrey
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline Christo

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #12 on: October 30, 2008, 08:36:39 AM »
Sorry, I haven't talked about Lennox Berkeley at all  ::) 

 ;) 
My favourite works by Berkeley are Symphony No 1 and Concerto for Two Pianos (for the great pounding piano sequence in one section).

Let me just announce then, that I'll be playing Berkeley's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra Op. 30 (1948) in the car, on my way back home, in ten minutes. A work I love for its great, often both grandiose and lyrical, melodies and rhythmic contrasts and its rich orchestral sonorities in general. Not an everage Piano Concerto!

                 
… music is not only an 'entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #13 on: October 30, 2008, 08:37:35 AM »
Yes, the 'Siege of Leiden' (as Jezetha amusingly put it) is sadly over; a great evening and I very much hope that you also find yourself in that warm company in due course (although the weather in Holland was certainly not warm..at least on Tuesday when there was freezing hail). You were definitely an'absent friend' at our meal (how could you not be as the fourth member of the so-called Braga Santos experts?)

In one sense, I think, my encounter with the Johans represents the nicest possible thing about this forum...the formation of mutually respectful and rewarding friendships with people who one would otherwise never come across. I regard my encounter with you as of equal value and I hope to meet you too one day. As you say, in view of recent exchanges, for example, on the VW thread of which I have been made aware, the contacts are not always so positive, which is a great shame.

Sorry, I haven't talked about Lennox Berkeley at all  ::)

best wishes to you

Jeffrey

Ahem...stutters in embarrassment :-[ :) :)

I shall reply by PM, Jeffrey, to avoid further digression from the post in hand :)

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #14 on: October 30, 2008, 08:46:06 AM »
;) 
Let me just announce then, that I'll be playing Berkeley's Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra Op. 30 (1948) in the car, on my way back home, in ten minutes. A work I love for its great, often both grandiose and lyrical, melodies and rhythmic contrasts and its rich orchestral sonorities in general. Not an everage Piano Concerto!

                 

Delighted to hear it. Variation IV (Adagio) is a great moment for me and a highlight of the piece. I have it on the CD player now!
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline Christo

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #15 on: December 25, 2008, 02:03:43 PM »
Delighted to hear it. Variation IV (Adagio) is a great moment for me and a highlight of the piece. I have it on the CD player now!

Inspired by this thread, I've been playing Berkeley a lot, these weeks. IMHO Berkeley was at his most inpired in the 1940s. I find this Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1948) a very inspired creation, one of the most 'grandiose' concertos that I know. It shows his true Romantic self and is a daring, often dazzling piece, even better than the more conventional - and better known - Piano Concerto (1947) that had just preceded it.

Other favourites, also from the 1940s, include his First Symphony (1940) and the lovely Divertimento (1943) as well as, of course, the elegant Serenade for Strings (1939).

From the 1950s on, his style became more abstract, probably in an attempt to cope with the ever growing demands of Modernism. I admire his Second (1957), Third (1969) and Fourth (1978) Symphonies. But none of them equals the First in its sheer life-affirming vitality, imo. I can easily love a meditative late work like Antiphon for Strings. But for me, Berkeley remains essentially a composer of the 1940s, when his creativity knew no bounds, when he forged his own type of neoclassicism and when he dared to be his very Romantic self.  >:D

The best proof of it being this Concerto for Two Pianos, with its wild quotes from Beethoven 5 and so much more. What a fantastic piece!  :D :D

Edit: Still missing among the stars in my personal little Berkeley Pantheon are the Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila (1947) that Dundonnell mentions as one of Berkeley's best creations. I overlooked it so far (it goes hidden between to many Horn Trios and other Chamber Music  :-\) but hope to play it tomorrow, to see whether it fits into my "1940s" theory.  ::)
« Last Edit: December 25, 2008, 02:19:50 PM by Christo »
… music is not only an 'entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #16 on: December 26, 2008, 08:28:36 AM »
Belated Christmas Greetings to you, Johan :)

I do agree with your analysis. Like you, I think that the best of Berkeley is to be found in his earlier works. Some of the inspiration seems to have left him as he got older.

I have recently acquired Peter Dickinson's book 'The Music of Lennox Berkeley'. I had hoped that this would shed more light on the works which I have not heard or which are less well-known but the book is selective in those works it covers in detail. There is nothing about the early Cello Concerto, the Flute Concerto or much on the 4th Symphony. Dickinson does make the point that Berkeley cannot be understood except as a 'religious composer' inspired by his faith(like Rubbra he was a convert to Roman Catholicism) and the Four Poems
of St.Teresa of Avila stand out as a shining example of that.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #17 on: February 14, 2009, 01:42:41 AM »
I've been reminding myself what a fine work Berkeley's Symphony No 1 is. His music is often described in terms of 'French - Neo-Classical' etc, but this, I think, undermines the originality of much of it. The slow movement of Symphony No 1 has great depth and the whole score is marvellous, as is the Concerto for Two Pianos and the Serenade for Strings.
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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #18 on: October 09, 2011, 08:15:37 AM »
I enjoy Lennox's music greatly, and am considering the Chandos joint Lennox/Michael edition, but first - can anybody comment on how his son's music sounds? Dundonnell's comment is enough to make me wary.
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Sir Lennox Berkeley(1903-89)
« Reply #19 on: October 09, 2011, 02:02:48 PM »
I enjoy Lennox's music greatly, and am considering the Chandos joint Lennox/Michael edition, but first - can anybody comment on how his son's music sounds? Dundonnell's comment is enough to make me wary.

If I can respond.....the idea of coupling the music of father and son must have seemed a good idea to someone at Chandos. Clearly it makes some sense commercially-it is both a good marketing ploy but also allowed Chandos to record at least some music by both composers. There were critics who hailed it as a good way to explore the contrasts between the music of father and son.

I regretted the decision however. Michael's music is obviously much more 'modern' than his father's. It is dissonant, abrasive, angry although there is lyricism in there as well. He is a composer of substance and talent. There is no use asserting that his music appeals to me because it largely doesn't. I find that if I want to listen to some of the father's music I am subconsciously slightly deterred by the fact that I shall want to hear it quite apart from that very contrast in styles. The cool, neo-classical music which Lennox composed does not, in fact, seem to me to sit easily alongside that of the son.

It is also a matter of regret that what Chandos did was record some of Lennox Berkeley's music. If a company does this it leaves me at least even more curious about other unrecorded works and frustrated that they did not go on to record them as well. Hyperion and Chandos  did this in recording respectively  the Simpson and Rubbra symphonies but not the concertos.