Sir Michael Kemp Tippett
(Born; London, 2 Jan 1905)died 1998. English composer.
He studied with C. Wood and Kitson at the RCM (1923-8), then settled in Oxted, Surrey,
where he taught, conducted a choir and began to compose. However, dissatisfaction with his
technique led him to take further lessons with Morris (1930-32), and he published nothing
until he was into his mid-30s. By then he was conducting at Morley College, of which he
became music director in 1940; there he performed his oratorio A Child of our Time
(1941), which uses a story of Nazi atrocity but draws no simple moral from it, concluding
rather that we must recognize within ourselves both good and evil. Earlier works, like the
String Quartet no.1 and the Concerto for double string orchestra, had married Stravinskian
neo-classicism with a bounding rhythm that came from the English madrigal, but the
oratorio added to these a Baroque concept of form and black spirituals to replace the
chorales of a Protestant Passion. It also made clear Tippett's willingness to exert
himself in the public world, which he did again as a conscientious objector in 1943 in
accepting imprisonment rather than conscription.
A Child of our Time seems further to
have released creative energy that went into a series of works - two more quartets, the
cantata for tenor and piano Boyhood's End and the Symphony no.1 - leading to the
composition of the opera The Midsummer Marriage in the years1946-52. This, at once
a pastoral, a modern morality and a mystery play of psychic growth, called for a further
extension of resources: luminous static harmony, orchestral brilliance, a bold command of
large spans of time, and a lively variety of rhythm in the largely danced middle act. The
message is again that of the oratorio: before marriage the central characters must each
accept the wedding within their personalities of intellect and carnality. The theme
relates to The Magic Flute, and Tippett's sources for his own libretto also include
Shaw, Yeats and Eliot.
The opera's musical exuberance spilt over into
succeeding works, including the Fantasia concertante on a Theme of Corelli for strings and
the Piano Concerto, but then through the Symphony no.2 (1957) came a clearing and
hardening of style towards the vivid block forms and declamatory vocal style of the opera King
Priam, composed in1958-61, which concerns the problem of free will. Once more an opera
had its offshoots; notably in the Piano Sonata no.2 and the Concerto for Orchestra, with
its distinct gestures and circular formal schemes, but followed by a new, ecstatic
continuity in the cantata The Vision of St Augustine (1965). Here the baritone's
central narrative is subverted by huge choral parentheses, representing the density of
thought and feeling embracing the simple account of the circumstances leading up to the
vision. In his opera The Knot Garden (1970) he concentrates on the emotional
substance of clashes of personality and their outcome. His unusually candid if stylized
presentation of raw human relationships and of the need to make a success of the seemingly
incompatible ones produce a score of lapidary compression, notable for its metallic
sonorities, its use of a 12-note theme (though not serial technique) to represent
fractured relationships and its revival of blues and boogie-woogie in a manner analogous
to his use of spirituals in A Child of our Time.
Symphony no.3 continues to explore the
seemingly inexhaustible flow of invention stimulated by the 'light' and the 'shadow'; the
abstract musical argument of the first part is answered by the overtly human involvement
of the second, where blues again express a basic human predicament and Beethoven's music
provides archetypal gestures. The range of reference is wider in the opera The Ice
Break, where again the blues stand for human warmth in a time of uncertainty but where
the composer alludes to diverse strands of high and popular culture in a work that depicts
and transfigures clashes of age, race and milieu. Again, the opera is composed of
fragmentary scenes in which archetypal characters confront one another, but now in a
context of global discord; the musical style is even more jaggedly kaleidoscopic, as it is
also in the Fourth Symphony, which abandons the vocal solution of the Third but finds in
purely musical development a metaphor of physical birth, growth and dissolution. Other
late works include the full-length oratorio The Mask of Time (1982), a grand
restatement of Tippett's musical and philosophical concerns, as well as a Concerto for
string trio and orchestra.
Operas: The Midsummer Marriage (1955); King Priam (1962); The Knot Garden (1970); The Ice Break (1977); New Year (1989).
Incidental music:The Tempest (1962).
Choral music: A Child of our Time (1941); Crown of the Year (1958); Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (1961); The Vision of
St Augustine (1965); The Shires Suite (1970); The Mask of Time (1982); Byzantium (1990);
motets, madrigals, folksong arrs.
Orchestral music: Conc. for double str orch (1939); Fantasia on a Theme of Handel, pf, orch (1941); 4 syms. (1945,
1957, 1972, 1977); Little Music, str (1946); Suite, D (1948); Fantasia concertante on a
Theme of Corelli, str (1953); Divertimento on Sellinger's Round (1954); Pf Conc. (1955);
Conc. for Orch (1963); Conc. vn, va, vc (1979); Festal Brass with Blues, brass band
(1983); The Rose Lake (1991-3).
Solo vocal music: Boyhood's End (1943); The Heart's Assurance (1951); Music for Words Perhaps (1960); Songs for
Achilles (1961); Songs for Ariel (1962); Songs for Dov (1970)
Chamber music: 5 str qts (1935, 1942, 1973, 1979, 1990-91); Sonata, 4 hn (1955); Wolf Trap Fanfare, 6 brass (1980).
Piano music: 4 sonatas (1938, 1962, 1973, 1984).
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