Classical Music on the Web

Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Born Boars Hill, near Oxford, 12 May 1903 - Died 1989

Lennox Berkeley was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, in Norfolk, then at Merton College, Oxford. After meeting Ravel he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger from 1927 to 1932, becoming friendly with Francis Poulenc, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger and Alberts Roussel. This could explain why his music throughout has a distinctly Gallic flavour and demonstrates a fastidious attention to detail and workmanship. From 1942 to 1945 he was on the staff of the BBC Music Dept. Elected President of the Performing Right Society, he was awarded the CBE in 1957 and knighted in 1974. Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music from 1946 to 1968, his pupils included Nicholas Maw, Richard Rodney Bennett, David Bedford and John Tavener. Honours and awards include the Collard Fellowship in 1946, the Cobbett Medal in 1962, Ordre de Merite Cultural by Monaco in 1967, Composers' Guild Composer of the Year in 1973 and the Papal Knighthood of St Gregory in the same year. Appointed Hon. Fellow of Merton College in 1974, Hon Professor, University of Keele and Hon Fellowship of the Royal Northern College of Music in 1975. His son Michael Berkeley is also a composer.

see also discussion of his music by Peter Dickinson,  David Wright and Francis Routh

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'The Thresher', for medium voice and piano

ca. 1934(31)
Polka for piano

Three pieces for two pianos (Polka, Nocturne, Capriccio) (1934-8)

Jonah, Oratorio

Overture for orchestra
String Quartet No 1
'How Love Came In', for medium voice and piano
Etude, Berceuse and Capriccio, for piano

Five Short Pieces for piano

Domini est terra, for chorus and orchestra

Mont Juic - suite of Catalan Dances, for orchestra (with Britten et al.)

The Judgement of Paris, ballet

Introduction and Allegro for two pianos and orchestra

Serenade for string orchestra

Five Songs for solo voice and piano (1939/40)

Symphony No 1

Sonatina for recorder (flute) and piano
Four Concert Studies, Set 1, for piano
Five Housman Songs for tenor and piano

String Quartet No 2

Sonatina for violin and piano

Divertimento for orchestra

String Trio

'Lord, when the Sense of Thy sweet Grace', for mixed choir and

Piano Sonata

Violin Sonata
Six Preludes for piano
Festival Anthem, for mixed choir and organ

Introduction and Allegro for solo violin

Nocturne for orchestra
Five Songs (Walter de la Mare) for high voice and piano

Piano Concerto
Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila for contralto and strings
Stabat Mater, for six solo voices and twelve instruments
'The Lowlands of Holland', for low voice and piano

Concerto for two pianos and orchestra

Colonus' Praise, for chorus and orchestra

Three Mazurkas for piano
Scherzo for piano

Sinfonietta for orchestra

Elegy for violin and piano
Toccata for violin and piano
Theme and Variations for solo violin

Gibbons Variations, for tenor, chorus, strings and organ

Three Greek Songs for medium voice and piano

Flute Concerto

Four Ronsard Sonnets, Set 1, for two tenors and piano

1953(50) Suite for orchestra

ca1954 (ca 51)
A Dinner Engagement, opera in one act

Nelson, opera in three acts
Trio for violin, horn and piano
Sonatina for piano duet

Concerto for flute, violin, cello and harpsichord (or piano)

Suite from Nelson, for orchestra
Sextet for clarinet, horn and string quartet
Crux fidelis, for tenor and mixed choir
Salve' Regina, for unison voices and organ
Look up Sweet Babe, for soprano and mixed choir
Concert Study in Eb for piano

Ruth, opera in three scenes

Sonatina for guitar

'Sweet was the Song', for mixed choir and organ
1958(55) Concerto for piano and double string orchestra
Five Poems of W. H. Auden, for medium voice and piano

Overture for light orchestra

Sonatina for two pianos
'So Sweet Love Seemed', for medium voice and piano

1960 (57)
A Winter's Tale, suite for orchestra

Improvisation on a Theme of de Falla, for piano
Prelude and Fugue for clavichord
Missa Brevis, for mixed choir and organ
'Thou hast made me', for mixed choir and organ

1961 (58)
Concerto for violin and chamber orchestra

Five Pieces for violin and orchestra

1962 (59)
Sonatina for oboe and piano

Batter my Heart, for soprano, mixed choir, organ and chamber orchestra
'Autumn's Legacy', for high voice and piano

(60) Four Ronsard Sonnets - Set 2, for tenor and orchestra

Justorum Animae, for mixed choir
'Counting the Beats', for high voice and piano
'Automne', for medium voice and piano

1964 (61)
Diversions, for eight instruments

'Songs of the Half-light', for high voice and guitar
Mass for five voices

1965 (62)
Partita for chamber orchestra

Three Songs for four male voices

1966-8 (63-5)
Three Pieces for organ

Castaway, opera in one act

Signs in the Dark, for mixed choir and strings
Oboe Quartet
Nocturne for harp

'The Windhover', for mixed choir

Theme and Variations for piano duet

Symphony No 3

Windsor Variations, for piano duet

Dialogues, for cello and chamber orchestra

String Quartet No 3
Theme and Variations for guitar

Palm Court Waltz, for orchestra/piano duet

In Memoriam Igor Stravinsky, for string quartet
'Duo', for cello and piano
Introduction and Allegro for double-bass and piano
'Chinese Songs', for medium voice and piano

Four Concert Studies, Set II for piano

Three Latin Motets for five-part choir
'Hymn for Shakespeare's Birthday', for mixed choir and organ

Sinfonia Concertante for oboe and orchestra

Antiphon, for string orchestra
Voices of the Night, for orchestra

Suite for strings

Guitar Concerto
'Herrick Songs' for high voices and harp

Quintet for piano and wind

The Lord is my Shepherd, choral
The Hill of the Graces, choral

Fantaisie for organ

Bagatelles for two pianos

Mazurka for piano

Sonnet for high voice and piano
Faldon Park, opera

(Age at time of composition shown in parenthesis)
Reg Williamson Norwich Music Society

Extract form Contemporary British Music by Francis Routh (Macdonald  1972) - with Permission

Lennox Berkeley, who was born in 1903, developed a distinctive style within the traditional idiom, and has maintained it consistently. His most characteristic features are a textural lightness and lucidity, a harmonic piquancy, an eighteenth-century galanterie, and a thematic brevity; and these intrinsic qualities are more effectively realized in the more intimate forms than in the large structures; in works of limited and precise emotional range, rather than in those of broader sweep or more profound import; in such orchestral works as the Serenade or Divertimento, rather than in the symphonies; in chamber operas, such as A Dinner Engagement, or Ruth, rather than in the more heroic, grand opera Nelson; and particularly in songs and chamber music.

Berkeley spent five years in France (1928—1933) under Nadia Boulanger, when he also met some of the French composers of this period—Poulenc, Milhaud, Honegger, Sauguet. The influence of Fauré, Ravel, Stravinsky was very strong on him; his style was firmly orientated at this time towards a French logic, precision and clarity, rather than towards an English romanticism or modalism.

Many parallels can be seen in Berkeley’s music with the styles of other composers and other periods. The closest is with Mozart; the Divertimento, the Horn Trio, A Dinner Engagement, to mention just three examples, are entirely Mozartian in conception. Among French composers, he has close affinities with Faur6 and Poulenc; with Faur6 particularly in the songs, though Berkeley’s harmonic style is piquant and without Fauré’s subtlety; with Poulenc in his melodic and harmonic style. The second set of Ronsard Sonnets was dedicated to Poulenc’s memory. Among British composers, he and Britten share many qualities. A similar receptivity to literature and the poetic image, which finds its chief outlet in song—writing; a similar interest in opera, and particularly chamber opera—Lennox Berkeley’s works were performed by the English Opera Group, one of them at Aldeburgh; a similar concern for church music. Points of contrast, however, between the two composers are equally instructive. Berkeley’s style has not evolved as much as Britten’s has; he has written little if any Gebrauchsmusik for the less talented or amateur performer—indeed, though his work does not call for virtuoso performance, polish and refinement are essential ingredients in his musical personality; finally, unlike Britten, he is one of the oldest— established teachers in this country, and his numerous pupils at the Royal Academy have included Richard Bennett and Nicholas Maw.

His works cover every genre. Among the first of his orchestral works to win distinctive recognition were the Serenade for string orchestra, and the Divertimento for chamber orchestra; among chamber works, the Sonatine for violin and piano. His characteristically short-winded melodic style, aptly suited to such a piece as the Sinfonietta, which Berkeley wrote for Anthony Bernard’s London Chamber Orchestra, is not so amenable to the more sustained development and growth of the symphonies. He has also written concertos for piano and violin, and some early piano pieces; he himself is a pianist.

Berkeley’s songs include poetry from many sources, and the words, depending on their content, add a correspondingly extra dimension to his pliant style. His response to a text resembles Britten’s in this respect. Berkeley’s most intense and powerful expression is reserved for those texts with a religious significance: the Donne settings, or the Four Poems of St. Teresa of Avila. His strong religious sense finds expression in several sacred works, some of them liturgical. His early Stabat Mater (1946), dedicated to Britten, was for six solo voices and instruments; his later Magnificat (1968) was more in the grand manner of the older choral tradition, and was written for performance in St. Paul’s Cathedral during a City of London Festival.

His first opera, as in the case of Britten, was his most successful. The librettist for A Dinner Engagement was Paul Dehn, who also co-operated in the later work, The Castaway. In the brilliant writing of Dehn’s libretto, Berkeley found the perfect foil. The short—winded, ridiculous plot, and its total lack of innuendo or intricacy, ideally suited Berkeley’s style; the result was a highly successful comic opera. The story of the next opera, Ruth, was biblical, with a libretto by Eric Crozier, while The Castaway was an adaptation by Paul Dehn of the Homeric story of the ship—wrecked Odysseus and the princess Nausicaa.

It appears that, just as English composers during the inter-war years responded in a mood of romantic nostalgia to the movements that occurred on the continent of Europe some twenty years previously, so the wistfulness and the elegance that characterised the music of certain French composers in the twenties, of whom we may chiefly mention Poulenc, was reflected—again some twenty years later—in the work of Berkeley.

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