A Blog about the Wardour Castle Summer Schools 1964, 1965

Peter Maxwell Davies

On 7 June, 2010 I went to the Royal Academy of Music to interview Peter Maxwell Davies about his involvement at the WCSSs.

Was there some need that the WCSSs filled?

(LS100098, 25’50”)

The following comment about optimism goes to the atmosphere of the events:

(LS100098, 16’00”)

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Filed under: Commentary from Interviews, What music was performed?, What was analyzed/discussed?, , , , , , , , ,

Caroline Mustill (Phillips) and Stephen Pruslin

Given that the WCSSs took place in a school, this post contains important information from the perspective of Caroline Mustill, who was a student at Cranborne Chase for both events. Mustill’s significance to this project, however, goes far further than her teenage years, since, for example, she managed the Pierrot Players, and has also been close to Birtwistle, Davies and many other prominent artists since the 1960s. When I approached Mustill she suggested that I interview Stephen Pruslin too, and I am grateful to her for organising our three-way meeting.

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Filed under: Commentary from Interviews, General details of the Summer Schools, Legacy of the WCSSs, What music was performed?, What was analyzed/discussed?, , , , , , , , , , ,

Michael Nyman

Further to my earlier post about Michael Nyman’s ‘creative impasse’ (as Pwyll ap Siôn called it). This from Tom Sutcliffe in 1984:


Nyman was born in 1944 and went to school up in Walthamstow where he started making a bit of pocket money as a music copyist when he was 13 or 14. He had an excellent hand. He was at the Royal Academy of Music before becoming one of [Thurston] Dart’s musicology students. He had four or five compositions performed in the early Sixties, at least one at an Arts Council-sponsored concert. It was like a cross between Shostakovich and Hindemith.

When he went to the Warour Castle Summer School in 1965, and listened to lectures by Alexander Goehr and met the new, serially-committed generation of young British composers. He left Wardour convinced of the error of his former tonal ways of composition, sat down and started to write serial music, got as far as about 12 bars, and gave up altogether. He felt if he couldn’t be serial he couldn’t be a composer.

Dat proposed he go abroad for a year, put him in the way of a British Council exchange with Romania, and suggested he study folk music there. It was the idea antidote to Wardour. European art music was not the only kind worth taking seriously.


Tom Sutcliffe, The Guardian, July 20, 1984, 9.

Of course, all my sources for this information, though not directly citing each other, may be apocryphal. It reminds me as I am preparing to interview Davies of the importance of asking questions that have already been answered to provide alternate sources for future scholarship.

Filed under: Other information, Who was there?,

Two Reviews

Here are two reviews of the Melos Ensemble’s London performance of Birtwistle’s Tragoedia and Davies’s In Nomines, from December 1965.

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Composers at School – Meirion Bowen

The 1965 WCSS received a particularly interesting review from Meirion Bowen (written 2 years he first met Michael Tippett). The article is notable for its review of the discussions that took place at Wardour regarding drama in music. It represents an early account of the event and channels the significance of the discussion that took place, even if Bowen would have rathered composers who explored ‘objectively the various issues.’ It’s also an account that aligns with Anthony Gilbert’s comments that the WCSSs were where ‘a whole new set of conventions were drafted’, especially when Bowen comments that the discussion was a ‘search for new idioms’ and a ‘new musical language’.

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Northcott’s general comments

I asked Northcott about the motivation for starting the WCSSs, and why they were needed when Dartington and Darmstadt were already running:

(LS100049, 1:05’53”)

(LS100049, 1:12’13”)

Having gone through the concert programme, Northcott moved on to his memories of the other classes and activities from the 1965 school. Maxwell Davies’ analysis classes included Bach Inventions, Pierrot Lunaire and the first movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony, all as advertised.

(LS100049, 1:48’34”)

There are some implications of his teaching of Mahler 3 that will become apparent in my review of Peter Maxwell Davies Studies to be published in Music & Letters.

Filed under: General details of the Summer Schools, ,