Association for the Promotion of English Composers

 

Lennox Berkeley

Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989) cultivated a keen interest in composing from childhood, yet he did not initially intend to make music his career, and, accordingly, read for an undergraduate degree in Modern Languages, graduating in 1926. Nonetheless, his compositional output was already attaining a considerable public profile, including an orchestral work (since lost) that received a BBC broadcast and a soundtrack for /The Scarlet Woman/, an amateur silent film by Evelyn Waugh. An encounter with Ravel in 1926, in which Ravel was impressed by Berkeley's work, steered the young composer towards a lengthy period of study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, which lasted until 1932. During this period in Paris, Berkeley converted to Catholicism (in 1929).

It was also during this period that Berkeley first had a work published, although the work in question predated his move to Paris: 'The Thresher', his setting to music of the poem 'D’un vanneur de blé aux vents' by the sixteenth-century French writer Joachim du Bellay, was completed in 1925 and published in London in 1927, in an edition with the words printed both in the original French and in an English translation by M.D. Calvocoressi. Despite its reasonably prompt publication, this song did not receive an /opus/ number. Berkeley's op.1 is the Violin Sonata no.2, completed in 1933, and the first work to be issued by the publisher with which he cultivated a lifetime connection, J. & W. Chester (now part of the Wise Music Group), in 1934. Also in 1934, Chester issued Berkeley's /Polka/ for two pianofortes, which would later become incorporated into his op.5, a three-movement suite comprising a 'Polka', 'Nocturne', and 'Capriccio'.

Berkeley's published output from this period also included several reports for the journal /Monthly Musical Record/, especially between 1929 and 1934. Subsequent decades saw a steady output of articles for various books, newspapers, and journals, including /The Times/, /The Musical Times/, and /The Listener/, with many of them discussing contemporaneous composers, particularly Benjamin Britten, whom Berkeley befriended at the annual festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in April 1936 in Barcelona, where both composers had a work included in the festival programme (Berkeley's /Overture/ and Britten's /Suite for Violin and Piano/). The same year also heard a notable broadcast of Berkeley's oratorio /Jonah/, op.3, a work which he subsequently withdrew, but not before an equally notable public performance at the Leeds Festival the following year (1937).

After having lived in the French Riviera in the years following his studies with Boulanger, Berkeley moved back to the UK permanently in 1937, living with Britten in Snape, with whom he collaborated in a joint composition, /Mont Juic/, a suite of Catalan dances for orchestra, which was premièred in 1938. With Britten's departure for the USA in May 1939 and the outbreak of war in September 1939, Berkeley's living arrangements soon changed again, and, in 1940, included a summer sojourn in Gloucestershire in the company of William Glock, fellow composers Humphrey Searle and Arnold Cooke, and the literary couple Dylan and Caitlin Thomas.

Although Berkeley was generally a pacifist, he regarded the Second World War as "a case where force has got to be used", and endeavoured to enlist in the Royal Navy, but was precluded by colour-blindness. Instead, he turned his attention towards broadcasting, and spent four years working for the BBC (1942-1946), initially in the French Section and subsequently in the Music Department, the latter entailing responsibility for planning the programmes for orchestral broadcasts. During the 1940s, he became involved in writing music for radio and film, beginning with his radio score /Westminster Abbey/ in 1941.

The 1940s also proved to be productive for Berkeley's concert music, with several notable performances and premières of orchestral works, sometimes combined with appearances as a performer. For instance, the world première of his concerto for two pianofortes, entitled /Introduction and Allegro/, op.11, took place as part of the Henry Wood Promendate Concerts in September 1940 at the Queen's Hall, in a programme conducted by Henry Wood and featuring a total of three pianists, including Berkeley himself (the other two were William Glock and Gerald Moore). Berkeley was also prominent as a conductor, in which capacity he gave the world première of his Symphony No.1, op.16, in July 1943, again as part of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts (but this time in the Royal Albert Hall, the Queen's Hall having been destroyed by aerial bombardment in 1941).

In 1946, Berkeley was appointed professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music, a post he occupied for 22 years, and elected to the Worshipful Company of Musicians' John Clementi Collard fellowship. Although Berkeley had left his BBC post that year, he continued to be active as a composer of radio into the 1950s, at a time when he was branching into opera, with three operas completed and premièred in the mid-1950s: /Nelson/, op.41; /A Dinner Engagement/, op.45; and /Ruth/, op.50.

The following decades marked a proliferation not only in Berkeley's /oeuvre/, but also an expansion of his stylistic lexicon (to include serialism) and a host of honours and distinctions, among them the Worshipful Company of Musicians' Walter Willson Cobbett Medal for services to chamber music in 1961, a knighthood of St Gregory conferred by the pope in 1971, an honorary professorship at Keele University in 1975, and presidency of the Performing Right Society (1975). Berkeley died in December 1989, following several years marred by dementia, resulting in several works being abandoned and incomplete.

Biography by Dr Sasha Valeri Millwood, February 2021.

Bibliography:

'1936 Barcelona: Programme information', /International Society for Contemporary Music/ [website], accessed on 09/02/2021

'Lennox Berkeley timeline', /The Lennox Berkeley Society/ [website], accessed on 05/02/2021.

Dickinson, Peter 'Sir Lennox Berkeley (British composer) by PETER DICKINSON', /MusicWeb Internationl: Classical Music on the Web/ [website], accessed on 05/02/2021.

'Proms 1940: Prom 24', /BBC Proms/ [website],
accessed on 05/02/2021.

'Proms 1943: Prom 17', /BBC Proms/ [website],
accessed on 05/02/2021.

Redding and Dickinson (2001 updated 2014) 'Berkeley, Sir Lennox (Randall Francis)', /Grove Music Online/,
accessed on 05/02/2021.

Scotland, Tony 'Lennox Berkeley biography by Tony Scotland', /The Lennox Berkeley Society/ [website], accessed on 05/02/2021.

Williamson, Malcolm (April 1990) 'Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989)', /The Musical Times/ Vol. 131 / Issue 1766, pp.197-199.

'Works by Sir Lennox Berkeley (complete listing)', /The Lennox Berkeley Society/ [website],
accessed on 09/02/2021

Worshipful Company of Musicians 'The John Clementi Collard Fellowship', /The Worshipful Company of Musicians archive/ [website], accessed on 02/02/2021

Worshipful Company of Musicians 'The Walter Willson Cobbett Medal', /The Worshipful Company of Musicians archive/ [website], accessed on 05/02/2021

 

Arthur Bliss

Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) undertook his undergraduate studies at Cambridge, graduating in 1913, after which he enrolled at the Royal College of Music, focussing on conducting, but also taking composition lessons under Charles Villiers Stanford. During his student days, his compositional development was stimulated by encounters with some of most distinguished composers of the day, including Elgar (whom he met in 1912), Vaughan Williams, and Holst. However, his studies at the Royal College of Music were curtailed after less than a year by the First World War, in which Bliss served initially as a soldier and subsequently as a commissioned officer on the Western front.

During this military service, Bliss composed several solo-pianoforte and chamber works, a couple of which were published, notably his prizewinning Pianoforte Quartet, op.5, completed in 1915. Most of these early works were subsequently withdrawn and the manuscripts lost, although the 'Pastoral' for clarinet and pianoforte, the second of two pieces for that instrumentation completed in 1916, survives. Bliss also composed several vocal works in this period, the most notable exemplar being /Madame Noy/, for solo soprano and six instrumentalists, which was premièred at the Wigmore Hall in 1920. That year saw the completion of another, more radical vocal work, /Rout/, in which a soprano soloist sings to nonsense syllables.

Bliss was demobilised from the army in 1919, whereupon his compositional activity intensified, broadening in scope to include orchestral works and incidental music, the latter initially with a focus on Shakespeare. Bliss was also cultivating a career as a performer, taking up a conducting post with the Portsmouth Philharmonic Society in 1921, and conducting the world première of his orchestral work /A Colour Symphony/ at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester in 1922.

Bliss was also in demand as a teacher, returning to the Royal College of Music as a professor of composition in 1921, but his time as professor was barely longer than his time as a student there, resigning the post the following year. In 1923, he moved to Santa Barbara, on the west coast of the USA, where he lived for a couple years, during which his career was focussed on performance work as a pianist and conductor. Nonetheless, his compositional profile elicited notice and performances, including from the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Shortly after his marriage in 1925, he returned to the UK, yet his international profile remained strong as regards commissions, performances of his compositions, and even premières.

In the ensuing decade, the roster of distinguished performers for whom Bliss composed works included conductor Leopold Stokowski, oboist Léon Goossens, clarinettist Frederick Thurston, violist Lionel Tertis, and pianist Solomon Cutner. From the mid-1930s onwards, Bliss also became active as a composer for television, starting with his score for the film /Things to Come/ (released in 1936), recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra under Muir Mathieson. In 1937, he completed a second film score, for the documentary /Conquest of the Air/, as well as a ballet score, /Checkmate/, the latter premièred the same year in Paris with choreography by Ninette de Valois.

The outbreak of the Second World War found Bliss in the USA, where he was once again in demand as a teacher -- during the 1940-1941 academic year, he held an appointment at the University of California Berkeley. However, he soon returned into the fold of the British establishment, taking up a position working for the Overseas Music Service of the BBC in 1941, before becoming the broadcaster's director of music in 1942.

Bliss left his broadcasting role shortly after the end of the war, yet he continued to compose for radio and television. Meanwhile, in 1949, he completed his first opera, /The Olympians/, to a libretto by J.B. Priestley. It was premièred the same year, at Covent Garden, but did not receive any subsequent performance until 1972, and then only in an abridged and unstaged version. Initial plans for further operatic collaborations with Priestley did not come to fruition, and Bliss made only one further venture into opera, /Tobias and the Angel/, to a libretto by Christopher Hassall, and commissioned not for the stage but for television, and first broadcast in May 1960.

Following the death of Arnold Bax in October 1953, Bliss was appointed as the successor to the prestigious post of Master of the Queen's Musick, which was then a lifetime appointment. In the same year (1953), Bliss founded the Composers' Guild, an organisation designed to place British composers on a more professional footing and advocating for them both within the UK and overseas. From this juncture until his death 1975, several further senior appointments and honours were bestowed upon him: he served as president not only of the Composers' Guild, but also of the Performing Right Society (from 1954), the London Symphony Orchestra (from 1958), and the Cheltenham Festival (from 1966).

Notwithstanding the demands and activity of these senior positions, Bliss continued to compose prolifically, with a substantial output of large-scale works, some of them commissioned for notable occasions, including many royal ceremonies, or for notable performers, including the violinist Alfredo Campoli and the 'cellist Rostropovich, each of whom premièred a concerto by Bliss.

Bliss's manuscripts and papers are to be found in multiple institutions, including teaching notes and manuscripts for two works at University of California's Hargrove Music Library (the two works are his 2nd String Quartet and for his ballet /The Lady of Shalott/, both of which were commissioned for performance there). However, the principal Bliss archive is that bequeathed by his widow to Cambridge University Library, where a bust of the composer watches over the Anderson Room, in which music reference books are housed and music archives are consulted.

Biography by Dr Sasha Valeri Millwood, March 2021.

Bibliography:

Barnett, Rob (2009) 'Review: BLISS: Violin Concerto Chandos CHAN10380', [website],
accessed on 16/03/2021.

'Arthur Bliss', /Wise Music Classical/ [website], accessed on 05/03/2021.

'Arthur Bliss Archive | Music Archives', /Cambridge University Library/ [website], accessed on 02/02/2021.

'Arthur Bliss: Biography', /Boosey & Hawkes: The Classical Music Specialists/ [website], accessed on 18/02/2021.

'Sir Arthur Bliss “ A Short Biography', /MusicWeb International: Classical Music on the Web/ [website], accessed on 18/02/2021.

Chandler, David (2014) 'Review: BLISS: Tobias and the Angel Pristine Audio PACO 096', /MusicWeb International: Classical Music on the Web/ [website], accessed on 16/03/2021.

Cole and Burn (2001) 'Bliss, Sir Arthur (Drummond)', /Grove Music Online/, accessed from on 17/02/2021.

'About the Festival >> History', /Three Choirs Festival/ [website], accessed on 05/03/2021.

'Masters of the Queen's and King's “ Music | Discover Music', /Classic FM/ [website], accessed from on 17/02/2021.

'Orchestra: History: Title holders', /London Symphony Orchestra/ [website], accessed from on 05/03/2021

Palmer, Christopher (August 1971) 'Aspects of Bliss', /The Musical Times/ Vol. 112 / Issue 1542, pp.743-745.

Routh, Francis (2020) 'The Composers' Guild of Great Britain, 1953-1989', /Francis Routh/ [website], accessed on 18/02/2021.

Tertis, Lionel /My Viola and I: A Complete Autobiography/ (London: Elek Books, 1974): p.74.

'Things to Come (1936) – Full Cast & Crew', /Internet Movie Database/ [website], accessed from on 16/03/2021.

Zhou, Xiuzhi (1998) 'Inventory of the Arthur Bliss papers, 1940-1958' [finding-aid], /Online Archive of California/ [website], accessed from on 16/03/2021.

 

 

Priaulx Rainier

Priaulx Rainier (1903-1986) was born in South Africa, where she spent her childhood studying the violin, enrolling at the South African College of Music (in Cape Town) in 1913. In 1920, aged 16, she moved to London to further her development as a violinist at the Royal Academy of Music, having won a scholarship for overseas study, and it was as a violinist that she entered the music profession, taking up a teaching post in Bristol in 1925 and performing as a chamber musician, particularly for the musical weekends hosted at Gunby Hall in Lincolnshire (then inhabited by the Massingberd family).

Rainier started composing in earnest in the 1930s, and received financial support to focus on composition from 1935. In April 1936, her duo for pianoforte and violin was performed at the Wigmore Hall by Harriet Cohen and Orrea Pernel. Other early works include /Three Greek Epigrams/ (for soprano and pianoforte) and the string quartet, on the latter of which Rainier was working when she went to Paris for lessons with Nadia Boulanger over three months in late-1937.

This quartet, completed in 1939, took some time to obtain recognition, with an approach to the publisher Boosey & Hawkes that year, as well as approaches to many string quartets, proving unsuccessful. The work eventually received a public performance by the Zorian Quartet at the Wigmore Hall, in 1944, and received favourable attention from Michael Tippett, the dancer Pola Nirenska, and the publisher Schott & Co. (which published it in 1945, and became Rainier's publisher). Performances in various European cities followed, and in 1951, the quartet assumed a new guise as ballet music with choreography by Doris Humphrey.

During the 1940s, Rainier's teaching career advanced significantly: in 1943, she was appointed a professor at her /alma mater/ the Royal Academy of Music, teaching harmony and composition, and in 1948, William Glock engaged her to coach chamber ensembles at the inaugural Bryanston Summer School of Music, and continued to engage her in subsequent years, including after the move to Dartington. Her growing profile as a composer was recognised by her election to the Worshipful Company of Musicians' John Clementi Collard fellowship in 1952. Beyond London, she became a prominent figure in the artistic life of St Ives (in Cornwall), which became a second home, following a visit in 1950 to her friend the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, who had recently acquired a studio in the town. Hepworth's studio, Trewyn (now a museum), became an important site for Rainier's artistic development, both as a composer and as a gardener. In June 1953, Rainier collaborated with Hepworth and Tippett to stage a multidisciplinary festival in St Ives, the programme for which included a bespoke fanfare from Tippett, a seaside performance of madrigals sung from a boat, an open day encompassing various art studios in the town, and a 17-minute silent film /Figures in a Landscape/, a documentary about Hepworth with music by Rainier.

By this time, Rainier's /oeuvre/ was receiving sustained attention from some of the UK's most distinguished performers, such as Peter Pears, the dedicatee of her /Cycle for Declamation/, a setting of poetry by John Donne for unaccompanied voice, dating from 1953. Pears later commissioned her Requiem, for solo tenor and choir, and performed as the soloist in the world première, with the Purcell Singers in April 1956. He also advocated for her earlier output, giving the first public performance of /Dance of the Rain/, a setting of an Afrikaans poem in English translation for singer and guitar dating from 1947, at the Aldeburgh Festival in July 1961, with guitarist Julian Bream (although the work had already been broadcast by Stockholm Radio in July 1949 by tenor Hughes Cuénod and guitarist Hermann Leeb). Another distinguished performer connected with Rainier at this time was the oboist Janet Craxton, who premièred the oboe quartet, /Quanta/, in April 1962, and who, nineteen years later, would have premièred the /Concertante/ (of which she is a dedicatee), but for her death in July 1981.

Rainier retired from her teaching post at the Royal Academy of Music in 1961, but remained active as a composer and travelled widely in the subsequent years, including multiple visits to South Africa. Indeed, the 1960s saw a burgeoning in her orchestral output, which included the violoncello concerto, premièred by Jacqueline du Pré and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in September 1964, as part of the Henry Wood Promendate Concerts. In the decades that followed, the roster of soloists involved in high-profile performances of Rainier's compositional output grew to include Yehudi Menuhin (who commissioned and premièred /Due Canti e Finale/, a violin concerto, at the Edinburgh Festival in September 1977, and performed it again at the Henry Wood Promenade concerts the following year) and clarinettist Thea King (who performed the /Suite for clarinet and pianoforte/ at the Aldeburgh Festival in June 1973, and premièred the /Concertante/, a double concerto for oboe and clarinet, at the Henry Wood Promenade concerts in August 1981).

The final years of Rainier's life were less productive compositionally, with the final work in her /oeuvre/, /Celebration/ (another violin concerto commissioned by Menuhin), dating from 1984. Despite declining health, she continued to attend performances and travel overseas, and was the recipient of conspicuous honours, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Cape Town (awarded in June 1982) and election to the rank of Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Musicians (in 1983). She died in October 1986, while on holiday in France.

The majority of Rainier's music manuscripts are housed at University of Cape Town, yet some archival papers are to be found in collections at the British Library, the Royal Academy of Music, and the Britten-Pears archive in Aldeburgh.

Biography by Dr Sasha Valeri Millwood, February 2021.

Bibliography:

Beckett, Chris (Spring/Summer 2006) 'Three Musical Lives and their archival traces: Jenny Lind, Priaulx Rainier and David Munrow', /Brio: Journal of IAML (UK & Irl)/ 43(1).

British Film Institute 'Watch Figures in a Landscape online', /BFI Player/ [website], accessed on 05/02/2021.

Kemp et al. (2001 updated 2016) 'Rainier, (Ivy) Priaulx', /Grove Music Online/, accessed on 02/02/2021.

'Priaulx Rainier', /British Music Collection/ [website], accessed on 02/02/2021.

'Priaulx Rainier -- profile', /Schott Music/ [website], accessed from on 02/02/2021.

'Proms 1981: Prom 21', /BBC Proms/ [website], accessed from on 02/02/2021.

Sheppard Skaerved, Peter (08/03/2011) 'Priaulx Rainier', /Peter Sheppard Skaerved/ [website], accessed from on 02/02/2021.

van der Spuy, Hubert 'Royal Academy of Music Library holdings: The Papers of Priaulx Rainier: Administrative / biographical background', /Discovery [a union catalogue for archival institutions in the UK] | The National Archives/, accessed on 02/02/2021.

van der Spuy, Hubert 'Rainie[r], Priaulx | Article', /South African composers | University of Pretoria/ [website], accessed on 05/02/2021.

Worshipful Company of Musicians 'The John Clementi Collard Fellowship', /The Worshipful Company of Musicians archive/ [website], accessed on 02/02/2021