About this Recording
8.557324 - BERKELEY: Sonatina for Violin and Piano, Op. 17 / Six Preludes, Op. 23 / Concertino, Op. 49
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Lennox Berkeley (1903–1989)
Instrumental Music

A descendant of the Earls of Berkeley, Lennox Berkeley also had an element of French ancestry, further developed by his study at Oxford of French and his period in Paris, where, on the advice of Ravel, he became a pupil of Nadia Boulanger. During his time in Paris he became a Catholic, an important influence on his work, and continued in loyalty to the traditional Latin liturgy with various settings. Although they had been to the same school, Gresham’s School, Holt, it was not until 1936 that he met Benjamin Britten, ten years his junior, at the International Society for Contemporary Music gathering in Barcelona. The two composers collaborated on Mont Juic, an orchestral work based on Catalan dances that they had heard. The friendship proved productive, once the basis of their relationship had been clearly established. Both composers held high opinions of each other’s musical achievements, and continued to do so. In 1938 they shared the occupancy of The Old Mill in Snape. The following April Britten and Peter Pears left for Canada and the United States. Lennox Berkeley moved to London in 1940 and during the war worked for the BBC. Marrying in 1946, he served from then until 1968 as professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music, with a series of pupils then and in later years that included some of the leading composers of the next generation, the recipient of many honours, notably in England, where he was knighted in 1974, the United States and France.

Berkeley’s association with Britten, the English Opera Group, and the Aldeburgh Festival was the inspiration for a number of important compositions, notably the operas Nelson, A Dinner Engagement, Ruth and Castaway. His setting of the Stabat Mater in 1947 was dedicated to Britten, who conducted the work, and his Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila were given their first performance by Kathleen Ferrier. His literary interests elicited settings of texts by French and English poets, the latter including W.H.Auden, who, with Christopher Isherwood, had been part of Britten’s circle in the mid-1930s. His generally tonal style, more akin to French music of the period, came to be modified and fertilised by serialism, a system he used eclectically, much as Britten did.

Berkeley’s Sonatina for Violin and Piano, Op. 17, was written in 1943 and published two years later, with a dedication to his friend Gladys Bryans, with whom he and Britten had stayed during a short working holiday in Gloucestershire in 1937. As the composer later pointed out, the work is in what was then considered a modern idiom but made no excessive demands on either performers or listeners. The structure is straightforward, with a first movement that has a forthright first subject and secondary contrasting material, returning in modified recapitulation. The movement ends in hushed serenity, its final violin A major chord modified by the piano’s addition of an inversion of the chord of F sharp minor. The slow movement is in the form of a sombre melody that rises to a climax, before subsiding, its final D minor chord again modified by the piano. The third movement, in 5/4, is in the form of a theme and variations, the first of the latter slightly faster, the second capricious in its mood, the third rubato, the fourth a satirical waltz, and the fifth marked Andante, followed by the return of the original theme and metre.

The Five Short Pieces for Piano, Op. 4, were written in 1937 and dedicated to Berkeley’s friend, the Corsican José Raffalli, with whom he had shared a flat in Paris and who was killed during the war, when he was in the French Resistance. The graceful first piece opens in 7/8, with following changes of time signature that give it a certain flexibility. The Poulenc of the Promenades is not far away in the following Allegro moderato, and the third piece has a particular melodic charm. The fourth piece has accompanying figuration at first in the right hand and the melody in the left, before rôles are reversed, with the accompanying figuration then placed in a middle part. The set ends with an Allegro that starts in 11/8 and has the now expected shifts of metre.

Berkeley’s Andantino for Cello and Piano, Op. 21/2a, is a transcription by the composer of a soprano solo from his Festive Anthem, settings of George Herbert and Henry Vaughan commissioned by Walter Hussey, Vicar of St Matthew’s, Northampton, who had earlier commissioned Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb. The anthem was first heard at St Matthew’s in 1945.

The Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo were seemingly written in 1939 and published in 1983 with a dedication to the clarinettist Thea King. The first piece is dominated by the descending minor and major thirds of the opening figure, as the Lento second piece is by the returning dotted figuration. The group ends with a lively Allegro that explores the full range of the instrument.

The piano Mazurka was commissioned by the BBC among works designed to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Haydn in 1732, and was first performed in a broadcast by John McCabe in 1982, to be published by Berkeley’s publishers Chesters in the following year as a tribute to his eightieth birthday. It is among the composer’s last completed works, a composition of simple clarity, before the illness that clouded his final years.

Berkeley’s Duo for Cello and Piano, Op. 81, No. 1, was written in 1971 and dedicated to the publisher George Rizza. Improbably enough Op. 81, No. 2, is the Palm Court Waltz, arranged by the composer for piano duet from an earlier piece of entertainment music. The Duo, commissioned by the Park Lane Group for their Young Artists and Twentieth Century Music Series, is in a weightier vein, the first part dominated by the rhythmic figuration with which it opens, a triple-metre cello melody over stark piano chords, to which secondary material of contrapuntal suggestion provides a strong contrast. A strongly melodic passage marked Meno vivo leads to a development of these elements and a structural climax. The opening returns in a concluding passage, before the final Presto con fuoco.

The Six Preludes, Op. 23, were written in 1945 and first performed in that year by Colin Horsley. These pieces are further testimony to Berkeley’s interest in and idiomatic handling of the piano. There is an inevitable feeling of France in the rippling accompanying figuration of the first piece and in its characteristic final notes. The following Andante presents two poignant melodies, later heard in conjunction. The third of the set makes greater technical demands, while the fourth, with its nostalgic melody set off, as it continues, by the upper notes added above by the left hand. The tuneful fifth Prelude is introduced by a jaunty melody in 7/8, which later returns in recapitulation, after a middle section of syncopated rhythms. The set ends with an Andante of Gallic autumnal charm.

Berkeley’s Concertino for Recorder or Flute, Violin, Cello and Harpsichord or Piano, Op. 49, here using the alternative instrumentation, was written in 1955. The first movement, in sonata form, has a secondary theme based on the descending scale, a contrast with the more angular earlier material. Aria I, for flute and cello and marked Lento, is based on a ground derived from the twelve-note series, a contrast with the shorter Andantino Aria II, for violin and piano, a dramatic movement with harmonies not far from Aldeburgh. The last movement is a rondo, as finely crafted as the rest of the work.

Keith Anderson


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