last modified:2007-01-29

British Piano Music Series Top →
Profile of the performer and commentator→
~British Piano Music Series Ⅰ~


Lennox Randall Francis Berkeley was born on the 12th May 1903 at Boars Hill, near Oxford, into an anglo-French aristocratic family. Because of these strong French connections he became bilingual and absorbed many aspects of French culture. Berkeley's earliest musical memories and influences at this time related to the piano, as Berkeley himself remembered"....My father was passionately fond of music, he hadn't been able to learn music as a boy or hear very much music so he acquired a pianola with all kinds of rolls of classical

music,... Beethoven Sonatas and arrangements of concertos,... which I heard at a very early age on this machine, that was my introduction to music!" After attending Gresham's school (the same school that W.H.Auden and Benjamin Britten later attended.)、he then went up to Merton college, Oxford in 1922 to read french and philology, but not interestingly music!

After leaving Oxford in 1926, as Berkeley himself later remembered in an interview,"....I felt I really wanted to compose music, it was one thing I could do or stood a chance of getting anywhere with, but it was a bit difficult to know how to start....I got an introduction to Ravel who was staying in London with some friends I knew, he was very kind to me and it was he who advised me to go and work with Nadia Boulanger."During this time He made other many influential and lasting associations such as those of Stravinsky and Poulenc, the latter becoming a lifelong friend.He also met members of "Les six", (some of the French composers of this period), such as Milhaud, Honegger, and Souguet.

In 1935, Berkeley returned to London and it was shortly afterwards (1936) he met Benjamin Britten,The two of them then attended the 1936 ISCM (International society of contemporary music) festival, their subsequent friendship resulted in a rare musical collaboration, the orchestral suite" Mon Juic"based on Catalan folk tunes. Berkeley wrote the first two movements and Britten wrote the last two movements, like Debussy and Ravel or Vaughan Williams and Holst, their careers can both be followed in tandem. Berkeley was later to observe"....We met in Barcelona...it's

important to me because we became very close friends and he had a great influence on me later....I was very interested in his career because he was already a superb technical musician and I could foresee what was coming." As another critic (Desmond Shawe Taylor) was later to say".... I think that really Benjamin Britten, although such a strong musical personality, had in fact absorbed something from that particular spare delicacy of lennox's style and approach to music,....I think they probably enriched each other."

During the middle to late 1930's and throughout the 1940's (World WarII) Lennox Berkeley's reputation grew steadily as did his output, such as his Serenade for strings(1939), First Symphony (1940) and Devertimento (1943). Apart from the neo-classical works of Stravinsky and Britten, the works of Ravel and Faure were particularly influential in his music. Berkeley's personal voice was also strongly influenced by Mozart and Chopin, his music was marked by elegance, charm and masterly craftsmanship. In 1942, He joined the staff of the B.B.C as an orchestral programme planner, a position in which he brought a great deal of artistic flair. it was while at the B.B.C that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Freda Bernstein. He continued in this position until 1945. In 1946 he took up a teaching position at the Royal Academy of Music, among his pupils were Richard Rodney Bennett, John Tavener and Malcolm Williamson.

Berkeley contributed to all musical genres, including four operas and four symphonies. Among his finest achievements are the "Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila"(1947) Stabat Mater (1947), Piano Concerto in B flat (1948) "the First Gentleman"(film music 1948), the Horn Trio (1953),and the operas," A Dinner Engagement"(1954), and"Ruth" (1955). An important part of this musical legacy are his liturgical works, compositions relating to sacred texts, these were greatly influenced by his conversion to Roman Catholicism in (1928) and which had a profound effect on his life and works. In one of his radio interviews, Berkeley mentioned the importance of the religious sources of his artistic inspirations"....Music does not speak to the intellect alone, it's most important contact with the listener is of another order for it belongs first and foremost to the spiritual world and the best music is that which communicates the most strongly and most urgently on that level. One of his past pupils Malcolm Williamson (later to become Master of the Queens music) stated, "....Every work Berkeley wrote was religious and that whatever the subject, Berkeley was like Palestrina (Rennaisance composer) whom could not conceive of life in no other terms rather than religious terms."The efficiency of Lennox Berkeley's compositional and technical abilities combined with his spiritual nuances come together to produce something of an ethereal aspect in his music.


In conclusion, the major body of Berkeley's musical output was mainly between the 1940's and 1960's, and he received a knighthood in 1974 in recognition for his services to music. Lennox Berkeley died on the 26th December 1989, at his memorial requiem mass at Westminster Cathedral in March 1990, sir John Manduell in his memorial tribute stated that"No British composer has written more distinctively for the piano."

Kumiko Ida August, 2005


last modified:2007-01-29
© 2000 Schatzgraber Co.,Ltd.. All rights reserved