About this Recording
8.571381 - FRICKER, P.R.: Serenade No. 5 (J. Dickenson, Stringfellow)

Peter Racine Fricker (1920–1990)
Serenade No. 5, Op. 81 for violin and cello (1980)


Born on 5 September 1920 to parents who met during their service in the Mediterranean theatre of the First World War, Peter Racine Fricker’s interest in music took root while he was a student at St Paul’s School. He was especially interested in organ performance, studying with Henry Wilson and Ralph Downes, and he also formed an enduring friendship with fellow student Dennis Brain. Fricker entered the Royal College of Music in 1937, continuing his study with Wilson and Ernest Bullock. This training was thoroughly conservative in outlook, with reverent and obsessive attention paid to counterpoint that would forever remain a hallmark of Fricker’s musicianship, however much he may have strayed into new directions. At this time his interest in composition vied with his interest in organ performance; he continued to consider a career as a concert organist until the late 1940s.

He entered military service in 1941, maintaining his musical interests as best he could through the remainder of the war, most frequently composing piano music. An Adagio and Scherzo for string quartet remains the most thoroughly developed work from this time. They were written in the summer of 1943, and were probably intended as the central movements of a formal quartet.

With the end of his military service, Fricker set about resuming his career in music straight away. Determined now to be a composer, he sought out the fervent environment at Morley College, whose music programmes had an enviable reputation for research and experiment. It was here that he met his mentor, Mátyás Seiber, whom he later called ‘the greatest teacher of the 20th century’.

Among so many stimulating influences, the string quartet was very much in the air at Morley in the 1940s. Michael Tippett had spent the war years at Morley closely at work with the medium—his Second and Third Quartets were separated by a substantial revision of his First; he was actively contemplating a Fourth when Fricker arrived at the school. In 1945 Seiber published a well-known analytical guide to the six Bartók Quartets, and began the long gestation of his own third essay in the medium, the widely-admired Quartetto Lirico, in 1948. These alone would pose example enough to any young composer; that the quartet was a traditional medium for speculation, experiment, and demonstration of skill could only have made it more attractive.

After just a year at Morley, Fricker began producing publishable work. His first important success was the Wind Quintet, Op. 5, which took the Clements Prize of 1947; his luck was doubled when Dennis Brain—by then a wellknown horn player—took the work into his repertoire with great, and lasting, enthusiasm. Fricker arrived quite readily at the string quartet in the summer of 1948 as he sought to build a solid base for his catalogue, and successes accumulated at a breathtaking pace. It was his Op. 8—started on 14 July and finished on 5 November. He submitted it for the Edwin Evans Prize: though he lost to Elizabeth Maconchy, the committee made honourable mention of him. Meanwhile, he had turned immediately from his quartet to his First Symphony, Op. 9, completing it on 19 February 1949. In late July it was awarded the 1949 Koussevitzky Prize, and was scheduled for a premiere performance at the 1950 Cheltenham Festival. It was a career-defining win for him, setting into motion many, many opportunities to further develop his catalogue and his acumen. The timing could hardly have been more fortuitous, coming just as the mammoth festival of Britain events were being planned.

Clearly benefiting from the Symphony’s brilliant afterglow, his Quartet received its premiere performance on 6 September 1949—one day after his 29th birthday—at the Salle Erard on Great Marlborough Street, followed by the Amadeus Quartet’s performance on 11 October at the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA) Galleries. Programmed with two other works mentioned by the Evans Prize committee, it was singled out by a reviewer in the Musical Times as ‘at once the more original and the more striking. Here is a composer who neither needs nor wishes to compose “like” anyone else. He has technical fluency, plenty to say, and an inherent conviction in his ideas that allows him to present them at once effectively and in highly individual terms. The quartet is cast in one movement, but within this casing an unusual organization of three-movement form may be felt (such as Bartók employed in his Fourth and Fifth Quartets). The music is never quite atonal; there is always a feeling of key-solidarity even if common chords are not exactly the order of the day.’ The following summer brought the work to even greater notice when the Amadeus featured it in their European tour, with a well-received performance at the ISCM festival in Brussels on 24 June. Alan Frank, in reviewing the festival, felt that ‘It must ... have been a heartening experience for P. Racine Fricker, whose name was new to the majority of the audience, to find musicians of many different countries and of widely differing tastes greeting his string quartet with understanding and enthusiasm. Among the chamber works this was one of the serious successes; it showed purpose, consistency of style, and skill in exposing its ideas.’

A veritable avalanche of commissions befell Fricker in the five years following the Koussevitzky Prize, and his industrious energies were at the ready to make the most of them. Most were for concerti: one for violinist Maria Lidka (Op. 11); a Concertante for oboist Leonard Brain (Op. 13); one for violist William Primrose (Op. 18); and one for pianist Harriet Cohen (Op. 19). There was also a Second Symphony (Op. 14) and a ballet, Canterbury Prologue (Op. 16); both were occasioned by the festival of Britain, as was the Violin Concerto. By the time the festival had finished, Tippett had left Morley: Fricker succeeded him as director of music, and held that post for twelve years. The Attlee years, trying for Britain as they were, had seen Fricker’s career mature in spectacular fashion.

Christopher Husted

In 1964, Fricker accepted a one-year appointment as visiting professor at the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus. He enjoyed the circumstances of his employment so much (there numbering several excellent performers amongst his working colleagues) that he accepted a full-time appointment the following year. During the next 16 years, Fricker’s output more than doubled and in 1980 he wrote his Serenade No. 5, Op. 81 for violin and cello. The work is typically Frickerian in its appealingly modern expression, juxtaposing atmospheric and disquieting harmonies with a vital energy. Couched in an intricate sound world, the Serenade is in five movements: it begins with a contemplative Prelude, which leads to an oscillating Scherzino. An opaquely harmonic Serenata follows, then a mournful Elegy brimming with lyrical melancholy, and finally an intensely refined Postlude. The work was premiered on the final day of Fricker’s 60th birthday festival in November 1980 in Santa Barbara. Peter Racine Fricker died on 1 February 1990 in California.

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