Colin Mawby, former Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, pays tribute to Sir Lennox Berkeley, the composer.
SIR LENNOX BERKELEY, one of England's leading composers, celebrates this month his 75th birthday. His compositions include four symphonies; the fourth was recently completed and will receive its first performance in the Royal Festival Hall, on May 30.
He has also written a full-length opera, several one-act operas, a fair quantity of chamber music arid a large amount of vocal and religious music. His Church music includes two Masses, one commissioned by Cardinal Heenan.
Berkeley's output remains unaffected by age, and he even expresses the wish to write yet another full-length opera. There are many instances of musicians creating well into old age: Verdi for example, who wrote his dramatic and fiery Requiem as well as several operas late in life. One of the reasons for this extraordinary continuity of inspiration lies in the sense of disciplined dedication which is an essential mark of the great artist. Sir Lennox has this quality in abundance and it governs both his music and his method of work.
Lennox Berkeley was greatly helped by the personal encouragement he received from Ravel. Berkeley studied with Nadia Boulanger (at Ravel's suggestion) and the influence of France is dominant in his music He is also inspired by his Catholicism (he was a convert in early middle age), his love of words and poetry and his successful and
happy family life.
Among the general public his music has not had the impact of that of some of his contemporaries. These days it is fashionable to write music which dwells on upon the violence of modern life; music which avoids any sense of ecstasy and beauty.
Berkeley's strong religious convictions encourage him to see music against the background of eternity rather than the immediate present; this gives his writing, particularly his Church music, a feeling of radiance, reflection and serenity — qualities which seem to have little place in much contemporary art.
Lennox Berkeley recently mentioned to me a remark of Ravel's to the effect that although a composer cannot alter his basic inspirational gifts, he can neverthless show them to everincreasing advantage if he concentrates upon the development of the craft side of his work.
This is perhaps the greatest hallmark of Sir Lennox's music: the skill, lucidity and craft of his writing, and it is this which endears him to fellow-musicians.
Lennox Berkeley is a fine teacher and friend, he is also a man of genuine humility. His family display considerable talent, and it is a source of satisfaction to him that his eldest son Michael, a Radio 3 announcer, is rapidly establishing himself as one of our better young composers.
Sir Lennox Berkeley has made a considerable impact on music, and many people owe a great deal to his patience, guidance and wisdom.