A Blog about the Wardour Castle Summer Schools 1964, 1965

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?,

Gilbert and Lumsdaine

It was Anthony Gilbert who in various ways first prompted this research. Gilbert’s interview with Michael Hall that Hall quoted in his book* was the first mention of the WCSSs that I read, and remains one of the most significant passages on the topic in the published literature. Gilbert’s look of incredulity at my lack of knowledge of events from the 1960s spurred me to the particular research of this blog, and he had repeatedly offered to talk to me about the events. When I finally contacted him to make a date for this interview, he suggested including his old friend David Lumsdaine (who Gilbert first met at Wardour) and so the recorded conversation took place in York, with Gilbert travelling there from Manchester. This paragraph is a prolix way of saying that ‘I’m very grateful’.

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Advertisement for the 1965 WCSS

The following is the text from a flyer/booklet advertising the 1965 WCSS.



14th–22nd AUGUST, 1965



Musical Directors:




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The genesis of the Pierrot Players

[…] the formation of the Pierrot Players was already a living impulse as early as 1964. As the four principals talked further in the following summer at Wardour Castle and then later on when back in London, it gradually took on form and shape, until it finally became a reality in 1967.

(Seabrook, Mike (1994), Max: The Life and Music of Peter Maxwell Davies (London: Victor Gollancz), 101.)

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Michael Nyman

Pwyll ap Siôn on the impact of the 1964 WCSS on Michael Nyman:

When Nyman was finally formally introduced to serial techniques during a composition Summer School at Wardour Castle, Wiltshire in 1964, the pressure places upon him to adopt these methods resulted in a complete creative impasse. His reaction to serialism was to remain silent as a composer for a decade, as documented in various biographical accounts (Schwartz 1996). (Siôn, Pwyll ap (2007) The Music of Michael Nyman (Aldershot: Ashgate) 21)

Filed under: Other information, Who was there?,

Early Details

From June 1964:

The Wardour Summer School of Music, a new venture, is the idea of the group of young composers forming the ‘Manchester School’. Alexander Goehr will rehearse the choir and orchestra, take classes in analysis and composition, and lecture on 20th-century music; Peter Maxwell Davies will rehearse the choir, and lecture on early music; Harrison Birtwistle will rehearse the orchestra. Details from The Lodge, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury, Dorset. 1

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