Tippett, Sir Michael (Kemp)

views updated

Tippett, Sir Michael (Kemp)

Tippett, Sir Michael (Kemp), greatly renowned English composer; b. London, Jan. 2, 1905. His family was of Cornish descent, and Tippett never refrained from proclaiming his pride of Celtic ancestry. He was equally emphatic in the liberal beliefs of his family. His father was a free thinker, which did not prevent him from running a successful hotel business. His mother was a suffragette who once served a prison term. Her last name was Kemp, which Tippett eventually accepted as his own middle name. He took piano lessons as a child and sang in his school chorus but showed no exceptional merit as a performer. He studied in London at the Royal Coll. of Music (1923-28), where his teachers in composition were Charles Wood and C.H. Kitson; took piano lessons there with Aubin Raymar and attended courses in conducting with Boult and Sargent; studied counterpoint and fugue with R.O. Morris (1930-32). He subsequently held several positions as a teacher and conductor; from 1933 to 1940 he led the South London Orch. at Morley Coll.; then served as director of music there (1940-51). Socially Tippett had difficulties even early in life. He openly proclaimed his extremely liberal political views, his overt atheism, and his strenuous pacifism. His oratorio A Child of Our Time was inspired by the case of Henschel Grynsban, a Jewish boy who assassinated a member of the German embassy in Paris in 1938. As a conscientious objector during World War II, he refused to serve even in a non-combatant capacity in the British military forces; for this intransigent attitude he was sentenced to prison for 3 months; he served his term in a Surrey County gaol with the suggestive name Wormwood Scrubs (June 21-Aug. 21, 1943). He regained the respect of the community after the end of the war. In 1951 he initiated a series of broadcasts for the BBC; from 1969 to 1974 he directed the Bath Festival. He received high honors from the British government; in 1959 he was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire; in 1966 he was knighted; in 1979 he was made a Companion of Honour; in 1983 he received the Order of Merit. He visited the U.S. in 1965, and thereafter was a frequent guest in America; his symphonic works were often performed by major American orchs. Tippett’s works have a grandeur of Romantic inspiration that sets them apart from the prevalent type of contemporary music; they are infused with rhapsodic eloquence and further enhanced by a pervading lyric sentiment free from facile sentimentality. He excelled in large-scale vocal and instrumental forms; he was a consummate master of the modern idioms, attaining heights of dissonant counterpoint without losing the teleological sense of inherent tonality. Yet he did not shun special effects; 3 times in his 4th Sym. he injects episodes of heavy glottal aspiration, suggested to him by viewing a film depicting the dissection of fetuses of pigs. A man of great general culture, Tippett possesses a fine literary gift; he writes his own librettos for his operas and oratorios. He publ. Moving into Aquarius (London, 1958; 2nd ed., 1974). M. Bowen ed. Music of the Angels: Essays and Sketchbooks of Michael Tippett (London, 1980). Tippett’s autobiography was publ. as Those Twentieth-Century Blues (London, 1991). M. Bowen ed. the vol. Tippett on Music (Oxford, 1995).


dramatic: Don Juan, incidental music to Flecker’s play (Oxted, Feb. 1930); Robin Hood, folk song opera (1934); Robert of Sicily, children’s opera (1938); The Midsummer Marriage, opera (1946-52; London, Jan. 27, 1955); King Priam,opera (1958-61; Coventry, May 29, 1962); The Tempest, incidental music to Shakespeare’s play (London, May 29, 1962); The Knot Garden, opera (1966-69; London, Dec. 2, 1970); The Ice Break, opera (1973-76; London, July 7, 1977); New Year, opera (1986-88; Houston, Oct. 27, 1989). ORCH.: 1 unnumbered sym. (1933; rev. 1934); 4 numbered syms.: No. 1 (1944-45; Liverpool, Nov. 10, 1945), No. 2 (1956-57; London, Feb. 5, 1958), No. 3 for Soprano and Orch. (1970-72; London, June 22, 1972), and No. 4 (1976-77; Chicago, Oct. 6, 1977); Concerto for Double String Orch. (1938-39; London, April 21, 1940, composer conducting); Fantasia on a Theme by Handel for Piano and Orch. (1939-41; London, March 7, 1942); Little Music for Strings (London, Nov. 9, 1946); Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage (1947-52; Basel, Feb. 13, 1953); Suite in D for the Birthday of Prince Charles (BBC, London, Nov. 15, 1948); Fantasia Concertante on a Theme by Corelli for Strings (London, Aug. 29, 1953, composer conducting); Divertimento on Sellinger’s Round (1953-54; Zürich, Nov. 5, 1954); Piano Concerto (1953-55; Birmingham, Oct. 30, 1956); Concerto for Orchestra (1962-63; Edinburgh, Aug. 28, 1963); Braint (1966; Swansea, Jan. 11, 1967); Triple Concerto for Violin, Viola, Cello, and Orch. (1978-79; London, Aug. 22, 1980); Water Out of Sunlight for Strings (London, June 15, 1988; arr. from the String Quartet No. 4 by M. Bowen); New Year Suite (1989); The Rose Lake (1991-93). Band: Festal Brass with Blues (1983; Hong Kong, Feb. 6, 1984); Triumph (1992). CHAMBER: String Trio (1932; London, Jan. 13, 1965); 5 string quartets: No. 1 (1934-35; London, Dec. 9, 1935; rev. 1943), No. 2 (1941-42; London, March 27, 1943), No. 3 (1945-46; London, March 27, 1946), No. 4 (1977-78; Bath, May 20, 1979), and No. 5 (1990-91); 5 fanfares for Brass: No. 1 (Northampton, Sept. 21, 1943), No. 2 (St. Ives, June 6, 1953), No. 3 (St. Ives, June 6, 1953), No. 4, Wolf Trap (Vienna, Va., June 29, 1980), and No. 5 (1987); 4 Inventions for Descant and Treble Recorders (London, Aug. 1, 1954); Sonata for 4 Horns (London, Dec. 20, 1955); Praeludium for Brass, Bells, and Percussion (London, Nov. 14, 1962); In memoriam magistri for Flute, Clarinet, and String Quartet (1971; London, June 17, 1972); The Blue Guitar for Guitar (1982-83; Pasadena, Calif., Nov. 9, 1983); Prelude: Autumn for Oboe and Piano (1991). KEYBOARD: Piano: Jockey to the Fair (1929-30; Oxted, April 5, 1930); 4 sonatas: No. 1 (1936-38; London, Nov. 11, 1938; rev. 1942 and 1954), No. 2 (Edinburgh, Sept. 3, 1962), No. 3 (1972-73; Bath, May 26, 1973), and No. 4 (1984; Los Angeles, Jan. 14, 1985). Organ: Preludio al Vespro di Monteverdi (London, July 5, 1946). VOCAL: A Child of Our Time, oratorio for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Chorus, and Orch., to a text by the composer about a Jewish boy (Henschel Grynsban) who, in 1938, assassinated a Nazi member of the German embassy in Paris (1939-1; London, March 19, 1944); The Source for Chorus (1942; London, July 17, 1943); The Windhover for Chorus (1942; London, July 17, 1943); Boyhood’s End, cantata for Tenor and Piano, after W.H. Hudson (London, June 5, 1943); Plebs angelica for Double Chorus (1943-44; Canterbury, Sept. 16, 1944); The Weeping Babe for Soprano and Chorus (London, Dec. 24, 1944); The Heart’s Assurance, song cycle for Voice and Piano, after Sidney Keyes and Alun Lewis (1950-51; London, May 7, 1951; arr. for Voice and Orch. by M. Bowen, 1990); Dance, Clarion Air, madrigal for 5 Voices, after Christopher Fry (1952; London, June 1, 1953); Bonny at Morn for Unison Voices and 3 Recorders (Trogen, Switzerland, April 1956); 4 Songs from the British Isles for Chorus (1956; Royaumont, France, July 6, 1958); Crown of the Year, cantata for Chorus and Chamber Ensemble, after Christopher Fry (Bristol, July 25, 1958); Lullaby for Alto and Chorus (1959; London, Jan. 31, 1960); Music for Voices, Strings, and Piano (Tunbridge Wells, April 26, 1960; also for Voices and Piano); Music for Words, Perhaps for Narrator and Chamber Ensemble, after W.B. Yeats (London, June 8, 1960); Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for Chorus and Organ (1961; Cambridge, March 13, 1962); Songs for Achilles for Tenor and Guitar (Alde-burgh, July 7, 1961); Songs for Ariel for Voice and Piano or Harpsichord or Chamber Ensemble (1962; London, Sept. 21, 1963); The Vision of Saint Augustine for Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1963-65; London, Jan. 19, 1966, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau soloist, composer conducting); The Shires Suite for Chorus and Orch. (1965-70; Cheltenham, July 8, 1970, composer conducting); Songs for Dov for Tenor and Small Orch. (1969-70; Cardiff, Oct. 12, 1970); The Mask of Time for Soprano, Mezzosoprano, Tenor, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1980-82; Boston, April 5, 1984); Byzantium for Soprano and Orch. (1989-90; Chicago, April 11, 1991).


I. Kemp, ed., M. T.: A Symposium on His 60th Birthday (London, 1965); M. Hurd, T (London, 1978); E. White, T. and His Operas (London, 1979); D. Matthews, M. T: An Introductory Study (London, 1980); M. Bowen, M. T. (London, 1982); A. Whittall, The Music of Britten and T: Studies in Themes and Techniques (Cambridge, 1982; 2nd ed., 1990); I. Kemp, T: the Composer and his Music (London, 1984); N. John, ed., Operas of M. T (London, 1985); G. Lewis, ed., M. T O. M.: A Celebration (Tunbridge Wells, 1985); G. Theil, M. T.: a Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1989); M. Scheppach, Dramatic Parallels in M. T.’s Operas: Analytical Essays on the Musico-Dramatic Techniques (Lewiston, N.Y., 1990); R. Jones, The Early Operas of M. T.: A Study of The Midsummer Marriage, King Priam, and The Knot Garden (Lewiston, N.Y., 1996); M. Bowen, M. T. (N.Y., 1998); D. Clarke, T. Studies (Cambridge, 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire