A Blog about the Wardour Castle Summer Schools 1964, 1965


My copy of Peter Maxwell Davies Studies, edited by Kenneth Gloag and Nicholas Jones just arrived and I turned immediately to the index to look for ‘Wardour Castle Summer School’. There are two entries, both in the chapter by Philip Grange ‘Peter Maxwell Davies at Dartington: the composer as teacher’. The first reference is as follows, with Grange outlining the summer schools at which Maxwell Davies has taught:

Most notable among the summer schools have been the Wardour Castle Summer School of Music, a joint venture that Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and Alexander Goehr undertook in 1964 and 1965′. (217)

Grange’s second mention of the WCSSs (228-9) is more interesting as he connects Maxwell Davies’ earlier experience at Wardour with his vision for Dartington. Grange begins by quoting Seabrook:

Max was unequivocal in his desire to turn Dartington into something much more like a serious musician’s forcing house. Indeed, he more than once expressed the desire to restrict attendance to professional musicians seeking higher tuition. (Seabrook, Max, 182) (Grange 228)

Grange then comments:

Such a desire is strongly reminiscent of another teaching venture that Davies undertook with Birtwistle and Goehr, earlier in 1964 and 1965, the Wardour Castle Summer School of Music, which can now, in retrospect, be seen as an important first indication of what were to become the defining characteristics of the Dartington experience. (228)

My understanding of the WCSSs is that they remain remarkable for the ways they differ from Dartington, and in particular that they were a gathering of disparate people that resulted in discussions, arguments, debates and shared understandings, a situation very unlike a ‘forcing house’. Certainly the initial impetus for the WCSS was to provide further extension to the students at Cranborne Chase and not for their professional advancement. The focus was not on the ‘training of professional musicians’ (Grange 228), and the teaching was highly informal. Indeed, Birtwislte describes the event as a framework within which all sorts of things might happen (see my interview with him in the previous post), and Lumsdaine and Gilbert comment specifically on the informality of the teaching and its limited role at the school. They begin with some thoughts about the differences between Dartington (in the era at least 15 years before that about which Grange writes) and Wardour:

(LS100047, 1:18’02”)

The crucial part of this (in terms of this post) is Lumsdaine’s memory of the WCSSs for the freedom it encouraged in interpretations of music, and that the discussions were participant-lead.
Grange continues:

The idea for the Wardour Castle venture initially came from Birtwistle, who at the time had a position teaching wood-wind at Cranborne Chase, a private school in Dorset which had the ruins of Wardour Castle in its grounds. Birtwistle invited his former colleagues from the so-called Manchester Group to help with the teaching, and resident professional performers including the Melos Ensemble were integrated into the programme and available to perform new works. Seabrook states of Davies’s own recollections of the Wardour Castle Summer School:

It was, Max recalls, much like Dartington, but considerably more intense, because everyone there was planning in earnest to become a professional musician. (Seabrook, Max, 88) (Grange 229)

Whilst I don’t dispute Maxwell Davies’ recollection of the events (and I have not spoken with him about them), certainly there seem to be a large number of people who attended who weren’t as driven towards furthering their professional careers as the quote suggests (I’m thinking of, for example, Northcott’s comment on why he attended: ‘why not?’.

Later, writing about the changes that Maxwell Davies brought about, Grange suggests that:

It was rather a surprise that, though, that the first composer he should invite in 1980 was Brian Ferneyhough. At that time Ferneyhough was only just emerging as a significant compositional voice, and although it was clear that Davies’s musical priorities lay in a very different direction, he was genuinely intrigued by what Ferneyhough had to say. However, Ferneyhough, already a well-established teacher on the Continent, ran his composition course in a very independent manner, so from 1981 Davies returned to the well-tried team teaching of the Wardour Castle Summer School, working alongside Anthony Payne in 1981 and Robert Saxton in subsequent years. (229)

Firstly, more research is needed on the years between 1965 and 1980 to track the influence of the WCSSs and I suggest that the relationship between Maxwell Davies and Ferneyhough is more complex than the stylistic debates of the 1980s have engendered. Secondly, it is noteworthy (at least) that Ferneyhough was at the 1965 WCSS, and Anthony Payne (see below) was there in 1964 and 1965 (according to Gilbert’s recollection). It is slightly misleading to suggest that the reality of the teaching at Dartington followed what went on at Wardour, since the former was far more structured than the latter and drew a very different kind of participant.

Grange, Philip (2009), ‘Peter Maxwell Davies at Dartington: the composer as teacher’, Peter Maxwell Davies Studies, ed. Kenneth Gloag and Nicholas Jones (CUP).

Gilbert on Anthony Payne (in response to my question about the presence of critics):

(LS100047, 1.42’47”)

Filed under: Legacy of the WCSSs, , , , , , ,

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