Monday, 8 October 2012

Herbert Howells - 1912-1983

Herbert Howells was in born in Lydney, Goucestershire, on 17 October 1892. He was the youngest of eight children and his father, Oliver, owned a building and decorating business – and he played the organ at the Baptist Chapel. It was not a particularly musical family but Howells's parents were sensitive and intelligent people who encouraged their children. By the time he started school, Howells was requesting leave to go home to write music. However, the family had severe financial problems through their father's bankruptcy. Young Herbert had already acquired a reputation locally as a promising musician, and the local squire, Charles Bathurst, arranged for him to have lessons with Herbert Brewer, organist of Gloucester Cathedral. Brewer later accepted Howells as an articled pupil which ensured a thorough grounding in keyboard playing and accompaniment, harmony and counterpoint, and composition.
In 1912 Howells won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music where his teachers included Charles Stanford and Charles Wood. Within a short time Howells had written his 'Mass in the Dorian Mode' which became the first of his works to receive a public performance – at Westminster Cathedral under Richard Terry. The following year his first orchestral work, the Piano Concerto in C minor, was performed under Stanford. Howells was an outstanding student, winning most of the available prizes and being highly regarded by his teachers and his fellow pupils, who included Arthur Benjamin, Arthur Bliss and Ivor Gurney. Other works written while Howells was a student include 'The B's' – an orchestral suite celebrating his RCM friends, 3 Dances for violin and orchestra, 'Lady Audrey's Suite' for string quartet, the Phantasy String Quartet and the Piano Quartet in A minor – the first work to be published by the Carnegie Trust. Howells rarely seemed to stop working and this affected his health to such an extent that when, on leaving the RCM, he was appointed as assistant to W.G. Alcock at Salisbury Cathedral, he was compelled to resign after a few months and rejoin his family in Gloucestershire to recuperate – and to compose. With an improvement in his health, Howells was appointed to teach composition at the RCM, a position he was to hold for nearly sixty years. He was married in 1920 and in addition to teaching and composing, he was very busy as an examiner and as a highly popular adjudicator. New works were heard in London (including the 'Pastoral Rhapsody' for orchestra) and at the Three Choirs Festival ('Sine Nomine' for soloists, chorus and orchestra) and he continued to compose many solo songs and part-songs. In 1931 Howells became the first recipient of the John Collard Fellowship. An Organ Sontata (no.2) and 'A Kent Yeoman's Wooing Song' for soloists, chorus and orchestra appeared in the early 1930s, though the latter was not performed until 1953. In 1935 Howells suffered a personal tragedy through the sudden death of his nine-year-old son, Michael. For many months Howells felt unable to compose but the following year he began work on what was to become his masterpiece, 'Hymnus Paradisi' for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Incorporating some material from a 'Requiem' written in 1932, this was completed in 1938 – in memory of Michael – and first performed at Gloucester in 1950, conducted by the composer. While Howells mourned Michael for the rest of his life, he now composed continually until well into his eighties. Key works include the 'Concerto for String Orchestra' (1938), 'Missa Sabrinensis' (1954), 'An English Mass' (1955) and the 'Stabat Mater' of 1963. Howells wrote church music throughout his life. He set Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis no fewer than twenty times and these settings represent the most significant contribution to the Anglican repertoire of the 20th century. Particularly memorable are the settings for King's College, Cambridge, Gloucester and St Paul's. Howells succeeded Holst as Director of Music at St Paul's Girls' School (1936-62) and was King Edward VII Professor of Music in the University of London (1950-64). He stood in for Robin Orr as Organist of St John's College, Cambridge from 1941-1945. He was appointed CBE in 1953 and a Companion of Honour in 1972. Herbert Howells died in London on 23 February 1983.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Serenade to music

I don't normally associate Leonard Bernstein with Vaughan Williams but here he is in a wonderful performance of it. It features Adele Addison, Lucine Amara, Eileen Farrell, sopranos; Lili Chookasian, Jennie Tourel, Shirley Verrett, mezzo-sopranos; Charles Bressler, Richard Tucker, Jon Vickers, tenors; and George London, Ezio Flagello, Donald Bell, bass-baritones. Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic in a 'live' recording made in 1962.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Michael Tippett 1905 - 1998

Tippett spent his childhood in Wetherden, a small village in Suffolk where his parents moved shortly after he was born. At the age of 13, he won a scholarship to Fettes College in Edinburgh. However, he disliked Fettes, and in 1920 transferred to Stamford Grammar School in Lincolnshire. Aside from piano lessons, Tippett received no musical training in his childhood. Despite this, after leaving Stamford, he expressed an interest in becoming a composer. At first, he decided to train as a professional pianist, staying on at Stamford so that he could continue to study with Frances Tinkler. However, in the summer of 1923 he left to begin study at London's Royal College of Music. While at the RCM, he studied composition with Charles Wood and C.H. Kitson, as well as piano with Aubin Raymar and conducting with Sargent and Boult.

When he left the RCM in 1928, Tippett settled in Oxted, Surrey. In 1929, he asked to teach French part-time at the local preparatory school. Thus began a series of occupations, which gave him money to live on, as well as some freedom to compose. In 1930, he gave a concert of his own works, which he felt highlighted the relative immaturity of his technique. With this in mind, Tippett began to study counterpoint and free composition with R.O. Morris. Soon after completing his lessons with Morris, in July 1932, Tippett was asked to run the music at an annual work camp in north Yorkshire. Musically, these experiences were positive; however, for Tippett, a political leftist, the miserable conditions encountered at the work-camps inspired an even more radical commitment. Eventually, Tippett came to espouse a strictly pacifist viewpoint. He centered his activities for the unemployed in London at Morley College, where in 1933 he was asked to conduct what later became the South London Orchestra, a group formed specifically to give unemployed musicians the opportunity to continue playing. A year later he also began conducting two choirs which were run by the Royal Arsenal Cooperative Society. In the summer of 1940 the South London Orchestra was disbanded. In October, after Morley College was almost destroyed in an air raid and the director of music was evacuated from London, Tippett was asked to become director of music. In November 1940, Tippett joined the Peace Pledge Union. After he received his call-up papers he registered as a conscientious objector. His case was heard in 1942, and he was ordered to non-combatant military duties. Tippett refused to comply, believing that he could best serve his country as a musician. He was sentenced to three months imprisonment, but qualified for a one-third remission.

In 1951 Tippett resigned from Morley College. Aside from working as a broadcaster at the BBC, he devoted himself entirely to composition. Tippett was knighted in 1966, and in 1979 he was made a Companion of Honour. He died peacefully at home on January 8, 1998.

Tippett: Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage

Monday, 20 December 2010

Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto 3 Part 2

Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto 3 Part 1

Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto 2

Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto 1

Benjamin Britten: Cello Symphony IV

Benjamin Britten: Cello Symphony III

Benjamin Britten: Cello Symphony II

Benjamin Britten: Cello Symphony 1 part 2

Benjamin Britten: Cello Symphony 1 part 1