Wardourcastlesummerschool

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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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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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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Comments by Bayan Northcott on the 1964 WCSS

Speaking with Bayan Northcott uncovered a wealth of information about the WCSSs and the period in which they occurred. This post draws together some clips from the interview. The interview progressed with Northcott going through his diary.

He began with some contextual remarks about the scene, and the position of Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle and Goehr.

First a comment about the number of people in attendence:

(LS100049, 1’53”) Read the rest of this entry »

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Mike Seabrook on the significance of the WCSSs

Mike Seabrook on the significance of the WCSSs:

The Summer Schools had been importance for a number of reasons. First, as concerned Max himself, it was almost certainly at the 1965 school that the expressionist period, which was shortly to bring him with an explosion of volcanic proportions to the very forefront of the British musical scene, first crystallized in his imagination. In his composition class that summer he had dissected three works in great detail and with considerable skill: Bach’s Two-Part Inventions, the titanic first movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. The last was analysed in minute detail because at the end of the school there was to be a performance of the work by the American soprano Bethany Beardslee and the Melos Ensemble.

This performance was duly held in a concert hall bearing the homely name of The Old Kitchen, and took everyone, including Max, by storm. Beardslee’s performance was theatrical and almost certainly set the scene in Max’s mind for the similarly dramatic performances over which he was himself to preside not very long afterwards, but much more importantly than that, it also presaged Max’s whole exploration of the world of musical theatre – and it was on that, […] that the next, vital step of his career was to turn. (Seabrook, Mike (1994), Max: The Life and Music of Peter Maxwell Davies (London: Victor Gollancz), 94.)

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Opera

Some quotes about the discussions of opera at the second  Wardour Castle Summer School.

This from Meirion Bowen:

[At the] Bath Academy of Art […. Tippett met] newcomers such as the rising stars of the postwar English avant-garde, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr and Harrison Birtwistle. The latter trio organized two summer schools focussed on contemporary music at Wardour Castle, in 1965 and 1966 [sic]. Tippett once joined in a memorable seminar there at which all four of them discussed the operas they were currently engaging in writing.’ (Bowen, Meirion (1997), Michael Tippett (London: Robson Books), 40.)

Which is expanded by Michael Hall:

Even without the benefit of hindsight, one can see the direction in which all these interests and activities are going. The intensification of dramatic forms and now the involvement of the visual strongly suggest opera. And so it was. In August 1964, shortly after the first performance of Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments at the Cheltenham Festival, Goehr, Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle inaugurated the first of two summer schools of music which they held under the presidency of Michael Tippett at Wardour Castle. As it happened, the talk, certainly in private, was of opera. Unlike the situation on the continent where opera had become de trop, Britain was experiencing an operatic renaissance. Two years earlier Tippett had some approval with King Priam and was now well and truly embarked on The Knot Garden; Maxwell Davies had virtually completed the first act of Taverner, while Goehr was mulling over Arden Must Die. Both Richard Rodney Bennett and Malcolm Williamson had produced operas that year, and Britten, the doyen of them all in this field, had unveiled Curlew River, the first of his church parables. Clearly British composers, even young ones, had no reservations about the anecdotal or the referential! (Hall, Michael (1984), Harrison Birtwistle (London: Robson Books), 27.)

Did Birtwistle’s contribution to the discussion involve Punch and Judy?

Hall’s comment that there were ‘no reservations about the anecdotal or the referential’ has wide-reaching implications for the understanding of British modernism during this period. My work on David Lumsdaine suggests that these discussions of opera are important for instrumental works too: Kelly Ground, for example, is a composition that established Lumsdaine’s place within an avant-garde, in part through references to Boulez, Webern, Stockhausen and Ligeti. 1

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What was analyzed/discussed?

Music analyzed and discussed:

1964:

  • Proposed: CPE Bach Morgengesand, Gibbons London Street Cries, Gabrielli Canzonetta a 12, Peter Maxwell Davies New Choral Work1
  • ‘Rhythmical implications’ ‘Der kranke Mond’ from Pierrot Lunaire presented by Alexander Goehr. (Hall, Michael (2003) Between Two Worlds: The Music of David Lumsdaine (Todmorden, Arc Publications), 31-32.)
  • Birtwistle’s Three Movements with Fanfares. ‘Perotin, Machaut, Dufay and Dunstable’, particularly the latter composer’s Veni sancte spiritus (Hall, Michael (2003) Between Two Worlds: The Music of David Lumsdaine (Todmorden, Arc Publications), 31-32.)

1965:

  • ‘Bach inventions, Mahler III, Pierrot1, 2
  • Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, the first movement of Mahler’s third symphony, Bach Two-Part Inventions (Seabrook, Mike (1994), Max: The Life and Music of Peter Maxwell Davies (London: Victor Gollancz), 94.)

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