A Blog about the Wardour Castle Summer Schools 1964, 1965


Detailing the Wardour Castle Summer Schools

Caroline Mustill:

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Harrison Birtwistle:

(LS100061 1’20”)

(LS100060 25’40”)

Bayan Northcott:

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This paper details the two Wardour Castle Summer Schools that occurred in 1964 and 1965, and outlines some of the research’s methodology. The Wardour Castle Summer Schools underwrite contemporary music in Britain in the 1960s and their legacy is enduring. Yet no detailed accounts of the events have been published, and although the events are referred to throughout the literature on composers working in that decade, rarely have they received more than passing mention.

The Wardour Castle Summer Schools were attended by over one hundred participants, many of whom were composers. Each school lasted a week, and included a concert series, with performances by the Melos Ensemble, Peter Maxwell Davies, Margaret Kitchin, the Wardour Ensemble (Lucy Bertoud and Michael Thomas), Susan McGaw, Gabrieli Ensemble, Stephen Pruslin, Bethany Beardslee, Leonard Stein, Barbara Elsy, Pauline Stevens, Ian Partridge, Geoffrey Shaw, Composers’ Ensemble (Roger Smalley, Brian Dennis, John White, William York); the conductors John Carewe, Edward Downes and Lawrence Foster were also there. Throughout the week were masterclasses for composers and performers, discussions, lectures and classes of analysis. They were attended by a diverse range of composers, including Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Nyman, and Michael Tippett.

The WCSSs have been written about most extensively by Michael Hall, not himself a participant, in his book Between Two Worlds: The Music of David Lumsdaine (Hall 2003). Even Hall devotes less than two pages to the events, which he nevertheless considers seminal:

Never before had so many young composers living in Britain been gathered together in one place. In retrospect, it epitomised the vitality of the British musical scene in the sixties. (30–31)

Hugh Wood, writing in Sing Ariel, a collection of essays for Goehr’s 70th birthday, and who was teaching at the events, is similarly convinced of their significance:

The spectacles through which one views the past often become tinted with rose. Nevertheless (and I think anyone who was there would agree) this succession of frantic days amid idyllic surroundings provided an experience hard to come by anywhere today: its idealism and optimism were entirely typical of the 1960s and have vanished with them. Goehr, whose brainchild it had been, was the guiding spirit for the whole operation. (Wood, Hugh (2003) ‘On music of Conviction… and an enduring friendship’ in Sing, Ariel (Aldershot: Ashgate) 328.)

These quotes raise the two aspects of the events that this paper will pursue:

  • The first is the gathering of composers into a collective, by which I mean both the literal attendance of composers at Wardour Castle, as well as the contemporary process of defining this collective. These two conceptions are, perhaps inevitably, intertwined, and exist as such in Hall and Wood’s description: of the possibility that events might ‘epitomise’ a ‘scene’; Wood explicitly attributes the direction of such gathering to Goehr – the WCSSs were his ‘brainchild’ where he was the ‘guiding spirit for the whole operation’ – and Hall suggests the same idea implicitly when he writes that the composers had ‘been gathered together’.
  • The second aspect to be pursued is the process by which accounts of these events are recorded. Hall qualifies his enthusiasm with the words ‘in retrospect’ and Wood similarly with his reference to ‘rose tinted spectacles’, which are both tactics that separate recollection from what happened. Only a few accounts were written in the mid‑1960s, with the rest written well after the events. The WCSSs were important for the participants because they were participating, and although my research has uncovered various written accounts contemporaneous with the events, the scholarly literature makes no explicit reference to them. Of those who attended, only Wood has written about the events with more than a passing mention. Nevertheless, written mentions of the events are frequent, and typically give them weight as a formative experience.

For Mike Seabrook, whose book Max: the Life and Music of Peter Maxwell Davies (1994) contains the most detailed writing on the topic, the schools were ‘important for a number of reasons’ (93): for the ‘crystallization’ of Davies’s ‘expressionist period’ (93); because it ‘presaged Max’s whole exploration of the world of music theatre’ (94); for the end of the collaboration of the ‘“Manchester School” of composers’ (94). For Seabrook it was a watershed event:

The younger generation of budding, composers, performers and musicologists clearly identified the Manchester group as the new axis in British music, and they came to the schools in large numbers: there were around 150 students at each. (94)

Seabrook’s version of the WCSSs has served as material to which others have readily responded. For example, Philip Grange (2009, 228) follows Seabrook, attributing Davies’s direction at Dartington to his experience at Wardour.[1]

The making of a collective, such as characterises the accounts from Grange, Seabrook, Wood and Hall, is explicitly recurrent. Given that published first-hand accounts of the WCSSs are so scant, the challenge for the contemporary writer is to detail and flesh events that took place over fifty years ago, and to bring together fragmentary knowledge in a useful manner. These challenges are increased by the mismatch between the number of people who attended the events and the number of those who have participated in the discourses by which the events have been recorded in books, articles and reviews: those who have been prominent in writing about the events contribute much to the collectivising process, due in part to the brevity with which they have sought to summarise the events. Most accounts have being published in texts explicating the music of a handful of composers whose prominence has rallied interest, such that the problems of synecdoche are close to hand, with the success of the events[2] equated with the subsequent success of those who organized the schools.


It was Anthony Gilbert who in various ways first prompted this research. Hall’s understanding of the WCSSs in his book on Lumsdaine derives in no small part from his interview with Gilbert. My PhD researched Lumsdaine’s music and I had the opportunity to talk with Gilbert, Lumsdaine’s close friend since they met at Wardour Castle, a number of times. Gilbert’s look of incredulity at my lack of knowledge of the WCSSs spurred me to undertake this study. He couldn’t believe that I didn’t know about the events, yet how could I know? So little is written them and no one had ever discussed them with me.

Their significance for Gilbert is clear in this example:

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I asked Bayan Northcott, who kept detailed diaries of this period, about this discussion:

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Davies, on the other hand, out of reticence or having forgotten, commented:

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I asked Caroline Mustill (CM) and Stephen Pruslin (SP) about the legacy of the events:

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Pruslin’s play with tense presents another dimension to Wood’s ‘retrospective’ account, since it is possible to read both accounts as struggling with the problems of recollecting events now decades past. The scarcity of other accounts, compounded by the widespread acceptance of the significance of the events in the careers of many of Britain’s ‘leading’ composers, poses particular problems of recollection for those who participated.

These problems are identified by Jeffrey Olick in his work on collective memory, which he suggests pose particular methodological issues for the researcher:

Powerful institutions clearly value some histories more than others, provide narrative patterns and exemplars of how individuals can and should remember, and stimulate memory in ways and for reasons that have nothing to do with the individual or aggregate neurological records. Without such a collective perspective, we are […] unable to provide good explanations of mythology, tradition, heritage, and the like either as forms or in particular. (1999, 343).

On one hand the WCSSs are remembered because they were significant in the lives of many interconnected composers who are leaders of their field. On the other hand, few written histories of the events exist, and the events are not widely discussed – in other words, there are few narrative patterns and exemplars of how the events ‘can and should’ be remembered, and so the process of recollection is highlighted. The way that I am now documenting these events focuses on the process of collecting recollections to provide explanations of the heritage of the events.

Later, I asked Pruslin and Mustill why the events were not better known:

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In seeking to expand the accounts of the events I have interviewed a number of those who were there, asking them to recount their memory of the WCSSs. My aim has been to collect their responses. A further aim has been to track the process of gathering material into a collection, ensuring that the process is accessible and accountable. In working to these aims my methodology draws on conceptions of ‘collective memory’ and makes use of a blog.

The recordings I have been playing are from conversations that contain contested information. I have also sought to make accessible the data of my research at each point in the process, which has been accomplished by way of this publically accessibly, fully cited, blog. All the material presented in the blog is either cited in the usual manner (such as used in an article), or links to JSTOR and other sources. For example, in my list of who was there  in 1964, Goehr’s listing cites 11 sources: an article on JSTOR, his publisher, an arts council archive, six books, wikipedia and an online interview. That is in addition to all the clips mentioning his attendance. All my recordings have unique identification numbers and clips are identified by the recording’s time code. Alongside posts that present the interviews are posts on my evolving methodology, ethics and much else besides.

This is a tool: that makes possible the easy revisiting of material in response to new information; that preserves the possibility of new ways of forming information; that highlights the analytical and theoretical priorities of decisions that form material; that is a place for information that is otherwise uncorroborable. The recordings of all my interviews with participants are online, and although they are edited to suit the needs of each post, as well as according to the wishes of the interviewees, most of the recorded material I have is accessible.

Roger Dean, in the introduction to the book Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts has argued persuasively for a model of research that highlights iteration and innovation within a disciplined framework:

Very important in the model […] is the concept of iteration, which is fundamental to both creative and research processes. [….] The creator must choose between the alternative results created by the iteration, focusing on some and leaving others behind (temporarily or permanently). In a research phase, this can be viewed as a selection based on empirical data or an analytical/theoretical fit; in a practice phase the choice might be aesthetic, technical or ideological, or somewhat random. (19)

This paper presents research that is formed from the analytical and theoretical demands of the musicological discipline. The aim of the blog is to use the iterative nature of research as a basis for presenting material utilizing a widely used framework, making accessible the accretion of the collective knowledge of the WCSSs, and for this process to guide other outputs.

Combing limited published resources with widespread acceptance of an events’ importance presents an ideal situation for exploring the process of collective memory in a way that preserves as much as possible the ‘constitutive temporality’ of research:

Collective memory is a process, not a thing. Collective remembering, rather than collective memory, would be more accurate. Yet even to call collective remembering a process is dangerous, for indeed “remembering” and what we mean by it quickly explode the referential container even of the verb form. Awkward as it may be terminologically, we are better off, I argue, referring to an ever-changing variety of ‘mnemonic practices’ (Olick and Robbins 1998) and, more generally, to our business as the sociology of retrospection (though even this last term, with its visual connotation, can be misleading). Ultimately, however, the real challenge is methodological: if collective memory is a process, how can sociology study it without engaging in what Elias called “process-reduction,” removing the constitutive temporality and emergence from our accounts of social life, which he (Mennell and Goudsblom 1998) conceptualized on the model of a dance (no movement, no dance)? (Olick 2007)

The blog is a medium that poses challenges to the ‘writing’ of research. More precisely, it ‘make[s] use of multiple ways of giving form to thought that embodies meaning’.

The blog is a tool that dates each post, and simultaneously enables information to be recombined into a variety of forms, it is therefore well suited to bring together diverging accounts of events. It makes use of standard software, provided online by the host, wordpress.com. When writing each post there is a section for ‘post tags’ and for ‘categories’, both of which are locations for metadata. There are multiple strategies for authoring metadata, each of which is able to be formed into flexible hierarchies, which can be altered by the visitor to the site and in the process of research. Navigation around the blog is accomplished by way of the metadata in several ways, preserving the iteration of research within a reconfigurable form. WordPress also facilitates full-text searches of the contents of all posts, which can also be accomplished with external search engines.

The methodological situation as presented here: makes available the data of research; makes freely available a wealth of details about the events; is a framework for tracking my own research; and provides space for including comments that are vital for exploring collective memories, but which are outside the principle research questions – which Pruslin identified as one of the reasons for interviewing:

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

Hall, Michael (2003), Between Two Worlds: The Music of David Lumsdaine (Todmorden, Lancs: Arc Publications).

Olick, Jeffrey (1999), “Collective Memory: The Two Cultures,” Sociological Theory 17, no. 3, 342.

Olick, Jeffrey (2007), ‘Collective Memory and Nonpublic Opinion: A Historical Note on a Methodological Controversy About a Political Problem’, Symbolic Interaction, 30/1.

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

Smith, Hazel and Dean, Roger T. (eds) (2009), Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts (Edinburgh University Press).

Wood, Hugh (2003) ‘On music of Conviction… and an enduring friendship’ in Sing, Ariel (Aldershot: Ashgate) 328.)

[1] Grange:

Such a desire is strongly reminiscent of another 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. (2009, 228)

[2] ‘Success’ here is meant in terms of numbers of attendees, and the fondness with which they recall the occasions.

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