LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM--(Marketwire - Feb. 26, 2013) - Sir Michael Tippett, as his knighthood suggests, was one of the great British composers of the twentieth century. His life was remarkable, not just because it spanned the entirety of that turbulent epoch (1905-98), but he was a humanitarian who stood up and was counted in his pacifist beliefs. Early in his life he hiked up to the North of England and was shocked by the malnourished children he encountered. From then he became certain that somewhere 'music could have a direct relation also to the compassion that was so deep in my heart'. He joined the Communist Party in the 1930s but could not reconcile the inevitable violence of worldwide revolution. On the day the Second World War began, he started composing 'A Child of Our Time', a powerful call for peace and a rail against religious and racial persecution. His inspiration was Herschel Grynszpan, the Polish Jewish refugee who shot a German diplomat in Paris in November 1938, an act that was used as a pretext for the vicious pogrom that became known as Kristallnacht. The three-movement structure is punctuated with Spirituals, an early nod to the Civil Rights movement. (As a gay man, at a time when such a lifestyle was both illegal and frowned upon, he knew what it was to be an outsider.)
As the conflict continued, he was called up for active service. Having seen the aftermath of the previous World War, it was incompatible with his deeply held pacifist beliefs and he applied to register as a conscientious objector. Accepting a three-month prison sentence rather than take part in any form of war duties, he spent his time in Wormwood Scrubs writing his ambitious Symphony No 1 (the BBC Symphony Orchestra performs it on 17 May).
Captivated by the free rhythms of Tudor polyphonists such as William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, Tippett was inspired to notate his insistent and tricky rhythms by writing across the bar lines. This caused some musicians to declare his scores unplayable - notably the first soloist of his ecstatic Piano Concerto (played on 22 March by the BBC SO and pianist Stephen Osborne), which requires dazzling virtuosity. Similarly, most of his music is defined by its lyricism and vitality - dance being as important to him as song. Also, much of his output is shot through with eroticism and mysticism as he attempted to bridge the divide between the ordinary individual and the cosmic.
Tippett's obsession with Beethoven compelled him to write four symphonies and, as with his other musical forms, he drew inspiration from both this Classical and other pre-Classical composers. Controversy ensued at the premiere of his Symphony No 2 (1957) after the performance broke down in the first movement when conductor Sir Adrian Boult and his orchestra got lost. Half a century later, that same band, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, will have no such trouble when it plays the work on 19 April. The BBC Symphony Orchestra performs all four symphonies, in addition to the Piano Concerto, between 1 March and 17 May, in a series of concerts which include performances of the two Brahms Piano Concertos by Stephen Hough 12 April and 17 May) and a performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto by Nicola Benedetti (19 April).
Buy tickets for the BBC Symphony Orchestra's Tippett celebration at http://www.bbc.co.uk/orchestras/events/series/bbcso_tippett.