Personalities | (Sir) Michael Tippett | Contemporary | Classical
Tippett’s open receptivity to a myriad of cultures and musical styles made him one of the most profoundly communicative composers of the twentieth century. His left-wing politics were to surface many times in his music and were of central importance in his life. His first acknowledged works were Piano Sonata No. 1 (1936–37) and Concerto for Double String Orchestra (1938–39). He has retained a firm belief in the formal principles of Austro-German music, particularly that of Beethoven. Alongside this lies a deep interest in early English music. The Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli (1953) is one work of many to explore the rhythmic inflections of the Baroque. The choral works A Child of Our Time (1939–41) and The Mask of Time (1980–82) and the operas all explore Tippett’s social and human preoccupations.
In a famous definition of what composers are for, Tippett said that their function was ‘to create images from the depths of the imagination and to give them form ... for it is only through images that the inner world communicates at all. Images of vigour for a decadent period, images of calm for one too violent. Images of reconciliation for worlds torn by division. And in an age of mediocrity and shattered dreams, images of abounding, generous, exuberant beauty’. Making such images was a constant in his long life’s work, together with an undimmed inquisitiveness which led him to enrich his music with elements from a bewildering variety of sources. At the deepest level they were Beethoven, jazz, Stravinsky and the English madrigal, but at the end of his life he was excitedly discovering rap and the amplified guitar, using the sound of brake-drums struck with a hammer and the recently invented rototoms (drums whose pitch can instantly be changed by rotating them).
His music often confronted contemporary issues, from the early A Child of Our Time, an oratorio prompted by the Nazi persecution of the Jews, to his late opera New Year, which deals with relationships broken by inner-city violence and racial conflict. But images of ‘generous, exuberant beauty’ occur in all of them, and in the Triple Concerto, a late work that uses many of the discoveries he had made in 50 years of composing, he also recaptures the radiant lyricism of his first opera, The Midsummer Marriage, completed 20 years earlier.
The Rose Lake, The Vision of St Augustine, LSO (cond) Sir Colin Davis (Conifer)
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