Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Lennox Berkeley: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part II



The continuation of Donald Brook's pen portrait of Lennox Berkeley published in his book Composers Gallery. 

Berkeley had a suite of Catalan dances, Mont Juic, accepted for the festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music [I.S.C.M.] at Barcelona in 1936, and it was there that he first met Benjamin Britten. [1] The two young composers found much in common and have been great friends ever since.
One of Berkeley's best efforts is the music he wrote to Frederick Ashton's ballet The Judgement of Paris, which was produced at Sadler's Wells in the early summer of 1938. Shortly afterwards his setting of the psalm ‘Domini est terra’ was given its premiere at an I.S.C.M. Festival [2] and repeated in September 1938 at the Gloucester Festival. [3]
Since 1935 Berkeley has resided in England, though before the outbreak of the Second World War he made frequent visits to Paris. He at present holds a position on the BBC Music Staff,
to which he was appointed in 1942. [4]
Due perhaps to his French training, he is a great believer in clarity and economy in composition and dislikes the dry intellectual style one finds in what is commonly called ‘composer's music,’ although in my opinion some of his own works have a strong tendency in that direction.
His Symphony, for instance, which was first performed at a Promenade concert in 1943, [5] and which is undoubtedly one of the most important of his recent works, is an interesting but rather discordant effort which abounds with intellectual chatter, entertaining though it may be. Rather more effective are his various piano works, for his percussive style seems more at home on the keyboard. Lennox Berkeley has a deep love for the classics and believes that one's form and technique should always be based on that of the great masters. Mozart is his ‘model’ composer. He is
interested in film music and has written for two productions himself: Hotel Reserve (1944), [6] and Out of Chaos, [7] a documentary film about the lives of the war artists, made in the same year.
Among other recent works we find his Serenade for string orchestra, first performed by the Boyd Neel ensemble in 1940; Sonatina for violin and piano, composed for Max Rostal [8] in 1942; a String Trio, written for the Grinke ensemble in 1943; Divertimento for orchestra, commissioned by the BBC (1943); the Piano Sonata (1945); and the Sonatina for viola and piano written for Watson Forbes [9] in the same year.
Donald Brook, Composer’s Gallery (London, Rockcliff, 1944)

Notes:
[1] Brook omits to mention that the Mont Juic Suite was a joint effort between Lennox Berkeley and Benjamin Britten. When first performed, the composers did not reveal which who wrote what in this four-movement work. Years later, Lennox Berkeley revealed to composer and musicologist Peter Dickinson that he had composed the first two movement and Britten the last two. The four movements are ‘Andante maestoso’; ‘Allegro grazioso’; ‘Lament: Andante moderato’ ("Barcelona, July 1936") and ‘Allegro molto’. Both collaborated in the work’s orchestration.
[2] The premiere of Domini est Terra (The Earth is the Lord’) op.10 was given at the Queen’s Hall during the opening concert of the 16th I.S.C.M. Festival in London on 17 June 1938.
[3] Domini est Terra was heard again at the Three Choirs Festival, in Worcester Cathedral (not Gloucester, as stated in Brook’s Portrait) on 8 September 1938.
[4] Berkeley worked as an ‘orchestral programme planner.’
[5] Berkeley’s Symphony No.1, op.16 was premiered at the Royal Albert Hall, London on 8 July 1943. The London Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by the composer.
[6] Hotel Reserve (1944) is ‘British spy thriller somewhat in the mould of 1930s Hitchcock thrillers like The Lady Vanishes. It combines suspense, some tongue-in-cheek comedy and a little romance.’ (Classic Movie Ramblings blog, 8 Jun 2010). It starred James Mason, Louise Mannheim and Charles Lom.
[7] Out of Chaos (1944) featured Anthony Gross, Kenneth Clark, Stanley Spencer, as well as Henry Moore’s drawings of London Underground during bombing raids. It is available to watch at the British Film Institute website.
[8] Max Rostal (1905 1991) was an Austrian-born violinist and a viola player. He later took British citizenship.
[9] Watson Forbes (1909-1997) was a Scottish-born violist and classical music arranger. Between 1964 and 1974 he was Head of Music for BBC Scotland.

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