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Michael Tippett (1905-1998)
Ritual Dances from The
Michael Tippett was born in London on 2nd
January, 1905, the second son of Henry William Tippett (a retired lawyer) and
Isabel Clementina Binny Kemp, Tippett's father was of Cornish origin, his
mother from Kent. He studied for his BMus degree at the Royal College of Music
between 1923 and 1928, composition with Charles Wood and C. H. Kitson, piano
with Aubin Raymar and conducting with Malcolm Sargent and Adrian Boult.
His creative maturity came relatively late (he
destroyed all of his early works), with his first acknowledged works being the String Quartet No.1
By this time he was Director of Music at
Morley College (a position once held by Gustav Holst), a post he held from 1940
to 1951. Under Tippett's direction Morley College became one of London's most
important centres of musical activity. As well as directing the College choir
he also organised many ground breaking concerts of both early and contemporary
music, including Tallis, Purcell (thus helping to instigate the revival of
interest in Purcell's music), Monteverdi, Stravinsky, Hindemith and Britten.
These concerts featured such future stars as Peter Pears, Alfred Deller and the
The year before the premiere of A Child of Our Time, 1943, had been a
difficult one for Tippett. In 1940 he had joined the pacifist organization, the
Peace Pledge Union, and had applied for provisional registration as a conscientious
objector. When he refused to comply with the conditions of his non-combatant
military duties, arguing that he was serving the community as a musician, he
was sentenced to the minimum term of three months' imprisonment in Woffi1wood
From 1951 onwards Tippett was able to give up
teaching to concentrate entirely on composition, supplementing his income by
broadcasting for the BBC's Third Programme.
Tippett's operas formed the backbone of his
mature works: The Midsummer Marriage (1947-52),
King Priam (1958-61), The Knot Garden (1966-70), The Ice Break (1973-76) and New Year (1986-88). His other works
include four symphonies, five string quartets and three concertos. Thanks in
part to recordings of his music, his international profile (particularly in the
USA) started to grow from his sixties onwards. Several major commissions came
from America, such as the Fourth Symphony (1976-
77) for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The
Mask of Time (1980-82) for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Byzantium (1989-90) again for the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra and Carnegie Hall.
Throughout his career Tippett was the
recipient of many honours, including a CBE (1959), a knighthood (1966), a
Companion of Honour (1979) and finally the Order of Merit (1983). Other awards
included the gold medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society and honorary
membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Michael Tippett died on
8th January, 1998, one of only a handful of composers this century to achieve
both high public and critical acclaim.
Having completed his First Symphony in 1945, Tippett then spent
the next six years grappling with the problems of writing his first opera: the
result was The Midsummer Marriage, produced
at Covent Garden in January 1955. The libretto, written by Tippett himself,
concerns the problems faced by two pairs of lovers, Mark and Jenifer, and Jack
and Bella, that have to be overcome before they can marry. It was at the
suggestion of the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher that Tippett turned the four Ritual Dances from Acts II and III of the opera into a concert suite. Sacher conducted the
suite's premiere on 13th February, 1953, in Basle, a full two years before the
opera itself received its premiere. They have subsequently become one of
Tippett's best-known works.
In the three dances in Act II, female animals (hound. otter and
hawk) are shown hunting males (hare, fish and bird), with each respective dance
associated with its own element and season (The
Earth in Autumn; The Waters in Winter; The Air in Spring). The
climactic fourth dance in Act III, Fire in
Summer, symbolizes rebirth and human love, and is performed before
Mark and Jenifer and the Chorus.
The sequence of the dances is as follows. Allegro molta opening, slow movement (Adagio tranquillo),scherzo (Allegro
finale (Più mosso: allegro moderato),
whilst the tonality shifts from A minor to the final triumphant A major by way
of E flat minor and D major.
Written between 1953 and 1955, the Piano Concerto shares several
characteristics with The Midsummer Marriage,
notably its lyricism and the importance, both melodically and
harmonically, of the interval of a fourth. It was first performed in Birmingham
on 30th October, 1956 by Louis Kentner and the City of Birmingham Symphony
Orchestra, conducted by Rudolf Schwarz. Somewhat disconcertingly, the original
soloist, Julius Katchen, considered the solo part unplayable and pulled out.
(This calls to mind a remark attributed to the composer Arnold Schoenberg upon
being told that his Violin Concerto required
a soloist with six fingers. 'Very well, I can wait'). In fact the replacement,
Kentner, was able to perform the work from memory.
Tippett stated that the Piano Concerto 'proceeds directly out of
the world of The Midsummer Marriage. The
music is rich, linear, lyrical, as in that opera. But it had its precise moment
of conception years before when listening to a rehearsal of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto as played by
Gieseking on his return to England after the war'.
Formally the concerto follows a traditional
pattern: the first movement (Allegro non
troppo)is in sonata
form, whilst the third movement (Vivace)is a rondo
which, unusually, gives the main theme to the orchestra rather than
to the soloist. Instead the soloist introduces each new episode that comes
between the repetitions of the orchestral rondo.
The form of the central slow movement (Molto lento e tranquillo)is decidedly less classical and essentially rhapsodic in character.
Tippett's stated intention when composing the Piano Concerto was to make the piano sing
- when one listens to the work, and to the slow movement's arabesques in
particular, one appreciates that he has succeeded brilliantly.
Benjamin Frith has had a distinguished career.
A pupil of Fanny Waterman, he won, at the age of fourteen, the British National
Concerto Competition, followed by the Mozart Memorial Prize and joint top prize
in 1986 in the Italian Busoni International Piano Competition. This was followed
in 1989 by a Gold Medal and First Prize in the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master
Competition. Benjamin Frith enjoys a busy international career, with
engagements in the United
States and throughout Europe, as a soloist and
recitalist, with festival appearances at Sheffield, Aldeburgh, Harrogate,
Kuhmo, Bolzano, Savannah, Pasadena and Hong Kong and an Edinburgh Festival
debut in 1992. His recordings for Naxos include a release of piano music by
Schumann, followed by the two Mendelssohn Piano
Concertos and the Third Piano
Concerto of Rachmaninov.
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is
recognised as one of Britain's most adventurous orchestras, whose repertoire
includes a broad cross-section of the music of our own time as well as the
great music of the past. This spirit of adventure is reflected in its
recordings of neglected Romantic repertoire, contemporary music by composers as
diverse as Macmillan, Tan Dun and Detlev Glanert, and in its concert policy
which includes many special projects. Formed in 1935, the orchestra has become
one of the most creative and innovative bodies in Scottish musical life, with
an important role in the Edinburgh International Festival since its inception,
and a commitment to take orchestral music throughout Scotland, visiting as many
as ten Scottish towns in a season. The orchestra regularly commissions new
music from Scottish composers and from leading composers abroad. Outside
Scotland, it appears every season at the BBC Promenade Concerts in London, and
has toured throughout Europe and to the Far East and Canada. In 1996 the
Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä was appointed Chief Conductor and under his
direction the orchestra is enjoying unparalleled success.
George Hurst was born in 1926 in Edinburgh of
Russian and Romanian parentage and won early distinction in Canada as a
composer while a student at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. At the age of 21
he was appointed professor of composition at the Peabody Institute of Baltimore
and from 1950 to 1955 was concurrently conductor of the Peabody Conservatory
Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra of York, Pennsylvania, studying during
this period with Pierre Monteux. Encouraged by Myra Hess to return to England
he made his London debut in 1953 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, with
whom he served as Assistant Conductor until his appointment as Principal
Conductor of the BBC Northern Orchestra, now the BBC Philharmonic. From 1968 to
1974 he served as artistic advisor to the Western Orchestral Society, which
controls the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Bournemouth Sinfonietta. George
Hurst has conducted all the major orchestras of the United Kingdom and Ireland,
serving as Principal Conductor from 1990 to 1993 of the newly reconstituted
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, and has made guest appearances with
many of the most distinguished orchestras of Europe.