I met with Roger Smalley in Glebe, Sydney, 7 April, 2010. I interviewed him partly for his recollections as a participant at the WCSS and partly to find out more about his performance there in 1965. As a member of the Composers’ Ensemble he performed in one of the last concerts on the 1965 programme, which was a substantially different to the other concerts. It consisted of Cage, Feldman, Cardew, Messiaen, Stockhausen and one of Smalley’s compositions, Two Poems of D. H. Lawrence.
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’.
I gave the following talk at the RAM’s seminar on Friday 6 November 2009. This is the text used. The line in the middle indicates the place where I spoke about my other methodology, which was drawn from my earlier posts here about methodology.
This blog seeks to incorporate diverse materials from published and unpublished sources, alongside opinion, anecdote, analysis, and music to ‘compose’ an account of the WCSSs. My understanding of this notion of ‘composition’ derives from two sources. Firstly (and my first encounter with it as an idea that made sense), from an (unpublished) interview between Michael Hall and David Lumsdaine in which Lumsdaine used the term to describe what the listener does in making sense of a performance, drawing ‘resonances’ of other moments in the music, other musics, and much else besides.
With this second Wardour Castle school the venture came to a somewhat premature end. Premature because this 1965 school ended with a riotous party that went on all night, featured large numbers of people being sick in interesting places, and, most unfortunately, involved a fair amount of minor damage to the Cranborne Chase premises. It is interesting, though, of course, idle, to speculate on how different the course of recent British musical history might have been had the Wardour Castle experiment been able to continue for a few more years. (Seabrook, Mike (1994), Max: The Life and Music of Peter Maxwell Davies (London: Victor Gollancz), 93.).
The end of the WCSSs provided the impetus and the space needed for Gilbert, Lumsdaine and Banks to start the SPNM Composer Weekends, where composers continued to gather and which are of vital significance to understanding British music in the latter years of the 1960s. Although this blog is concerned with the two WCSSs, my wider research project seeks to detail the SPNM Composer Weekends.
Research into the Composer Weekends will also address the significant lack of literature about both series’, the scarcity of which privileges the Manchester-three.
But if the Wardour Castle schools thus saw the first germination of a phase of Max’s life and career, they also signalled the end of another: the 1965 school, with its nauseous and drunken conclusion, was the last time the so-called ‘Manchester School’ of composers did anything of any significance together.
After the second of the two events, Max, Goehr and Birtwistle had finally taken their places as fully acknowledged new leaders of British music, and were at last taken seriously as such. Max’s own last work on the school was typically generous: ‘This will be remembered’, he said, ‘for the arrival of Harrison Birtwistle.’ (Seabrook, Mike (1994), Max: The Life and Music of Peter Maxwell Davies (London: Victor Gollancz), 94.)
There is a further practical reason for no further Wardour Castle Summer Schools, since Birtwistle left in 1965 for Princeton (where Maxwell Davies had been) on a Harkness, the fellowship during which Punch and Judy was composed. 1 Stephen Pruslin had also been at Princeton until 1963.
Northcott confirms the reasons for the end of the WCSSs:
This is the blog for my research into the two Wardour Castle Summer Schools, which took place in 1964 and 1965. One of the motivations for this research came from my doctoral studies of the music of David Lumsdaine. Over the period of that study (2004-2008) I became increasingly aware of how little published material exists that details events in the music life of the 1960s. This blog charts some of the research that I am undertaking to contribute to the documentation of that time. It is one part of a research project that also seeks to detail the SPNM Composer Weekends that were founded by Anthony Gilbert, David Lumsdaine and Don Banks and which ran from 1967.
For those who took part in these events, this blog no doubt appears woefully lacking in information – addressing this issue is the motivation for the blog. So, post comments or email me with the information that you think I ought to know.