Michael Tippett

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Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1993), English composer of Cornish descent, studied at the Royal College of Music then privately, before starting to teach, broadcast and otherwise disseminate music to the public. What compositions he did were largely ignored until the 1941 oratorio, “A Child of Our Time” on the subject of a Nazi atrocity (with its use of the negro-spiritual to replace the chorus or chorale sections) - an overtly political but strangely non judgemental work, which became a cause celebre.

Politically, he was a socialist and a pacifist, affected greatly by the carnage of the First World War. He was imprisoned for a time in 1943 as a conscientious objector, and was a leading figure in giving assistance to refugee Central European musicians displaced by the Nazis. He was to find acceptance after the war and was knighted in 1966.

Musically, he was influenced by his Celtic heritage and, like so many composers of the English Revival, an appreciation of the late Medieval and Tudor composers - the rhythmic vigour in much of his music can be linked to the English madrigal and whilst the Celtic, almost ecstatic, lyricism of early works gave way to a later austerity, he never lost the ability to meld various forms and influences into a single work. He was never afraid to use non-“classical” forms in his music – the spiritual (whatever the modern politically correct term for it is), boogie-woogie, jazz – to give life to the essentially conservative basis of his natural style. He was concerned with the condition of man, relationships in times of good and evil and used every genre he could to further his art.

His output was extensive:

  • Five operas, (the most popular of which are “King Prium” and “The Midsummer Marriage”) plus incidental music to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.
  • Much choral music, both sacred and secular ranging from “A Child of Our Time” and other large scale works, to motets, modern madrigals, folk song arrangements and a liturgical Magnificat and Nunc dimittis.
  • He wrote four symphonies, concertos for various instruments (including more than one at once) fantasias (arrangements) on themes of Handel and Corelli, other orchestral works.
  • Four piano sonatas.
  • Chamber music, including 4 string quartets.
  • Songs and other solo vocal music.