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The Orchestral Music of Michael Tippett

Creative Development and the Compositional Process


Thomas Schuttenhelm


Cambridge: University Press, 2014

Hardcover. 327pp. ISBN 978-1107000247. £65.00 ($99.00)


Reviewed by Oliver Soden


The jazzy hi-hat opening of the second interlude in Tippett’s Triple Concerto (1977-8) comes out of nowhere. It’s a spry tear in the soundworld, and, from a concerto that charts a day-through-night progression, a musical nod to Yeats’s ‘High Talk’ - ‘night splits and the dawn breaks loose’. (1) Thomas Schuttenhelm, in his new book, The Orchestral Music of Michael Tippett: Creative Development and the Compositional Process, describes it rather po-facedly as a ‘stylistic reference to jazz [which] represents [a] manifestation of “otherness”’ [295], and leaves it there. As often in this book, he just seems to be missing the joke. This syncopated manifestation descends like a mischievous poltergeist for a mere 50 seconds, wreaks mild havoc amidst the Concerto, and departs. ‘Otherness’ is surely right, but the impish quickness with which the piece, like a broadcast with poor signal, seems briefly to catch the frequency of another, implies more of a practical joke than Schuttenhelm is prepared to admit. He quotes Tippett’s own jotted description: ‘an “interlude of non-music?!/no break of sound!!”’ [290]. Tippett’s punctuation appears to be smiling wickedly. Non-music: music which isn’t? That jazzy interruption seems more like a Haydnesque surprise wake-up call after the dreamy airs which have preceded it; a palate-cleanser, a musical sorbet.       

And at what point does that interlude end, and the concerto’s Finale begin? Scholars and performers have disagreed with each other on this point without realising they are doing so. Even Tippett seemed cheerily confused. Is this dance to the music of Tippett just another great big joke? If so, the joke is on Schuttenhelm, who in his new study unconsciously disagrees with himself.

Previous analyses, by David Clarke, Stephen Collisson, Kenneth Gloag, Ian Kemp, and Arnold Whittall respectively, have placed the dividing line at Fig. 125 of the Schott score (ED 11860), consigning to the second interlude a dreamy passage for the three soloists which climaxes with a quotation from Tippett’s first opera, The Midsummer Marriage.(2) To my eyes and ears, the Finale quite clearly begins at Fig. 119 with the soloists’ entry, which comes after a bar’s General Pause (only a crotchet’s is called for at Fig. 125). Tippett’s own recording (Nimbus NI 5301) follows this division, as does the study by his partner, Meirion Bowen.(3) Divided in this way the second interlude remains more sensibly soloist-free (the soloists are tacet in the first interlude), and the Finale runs nearly three minutes longer, quelling those complaints which find it short to the point of imbalance.(4)

Schuttenhelm’s would at first seem to be the first analysis since 1982 correctly to divide the Concerto, accurately measuring the second interlude as containing ‘only nineteen bars including a General Pause’ and believing it to be soloist-free. He explicitly states that ‘the fifth and final movement (Figure 119) uses the cello soloist to initiate a grand recapitulation […eventually followed by] the entrance of the violin (Figure 123) quoting from The Midsummer Marriage’ [295]. But 9 pages earlier Schuttenhelm just as explicitly states that the quotation from The Midsummer Marriage does not belong in the Finale: ‘Tippett […], in the second interlude of the Concerto, […] quoted from the dawn music [of the opera].’ [286] This would make the second interlude much longer than the ‘nineteen bars’ he is soon to claim it contains, and is a particularly egregious, not to say confusing, moment in which Schuttenhelm trips over his own feet. It is sadly indicative not only of a book which might greatly have benefited from a few further proofreadings, but also of Schuttenhelm’s seeming indifference to the necessity of adding to or challenging the Tippett literature which has preceded him. His structural division of Tippett’s Symphony No 4 [265-276] proceeds without a single reference to the implications of what Edward Venn has called Meirion Bowen’s and Stephen Collisson’s ‘divergent readings’ of the work’s breakdown [Cambridge Companion to Michael Tippett, 162-166], and when telling us that the Finale of the Triple Concerto begins at Fig. 119, Schuttenhelm seems unaware that he is flying bravely in the face of numerous other divisions of the work.

The closest thing to a Tippett literature review that Schuttenhelm allows his readers is a footnote listing three monographs (by Kemp, by Clarke, and by Whittall) and most of his own work on the composer, this latest addition to which is advertised as ‘both an extension of and complementary to the existing scholarship’ [2]. But Schuttenhelm’s journeys through the ‘existing scholarship’ are curtailed in the extreme: most of his chapters contain only a few cursory footnotes to Kemp, and his Bibliography (which cannot make up its mind whether to cite individual essays in multi-authored works, or the work entire) is like Swiss cheese. The absence of thinner, introductory books by David Matthews or Michael Hurd might be expected; but Geraint Lewis’s festschrift for Tippett’s 80th birthday, Michael Tippett O.M.: A Celebration (Tunbridge Wells, 1985), which contains numerous important essays, is a surprising hole. Most worrying is the absence of David Clarke’s two-volume Language, Form and Structure in the Music of Michael Tippett (New York, 1990), which spends 54 pages on the Concerto for Double String Orchestra; 104 pages on Symphony No 2; and 167 pages on Symphony No 3 – compositions to each of which Schuttenhelm devotes an entire chapter. To embark upon a comprehensive journey through Tippett’s orchestral work with no indication of having read the longest and most thorough published scholarship on three major pieces is an odd undertaking.

Ian Kemp’s study remains the spine of the Tippett literature, but never updated its reach beyond 1977. Alongside a handful of essay collections ­­– Tippett Studies, and Tippett : Music and Literature, edited by Suzanne Robinson (Ashgate, 2002) ­­– and some detailed focus on certain pieces, there have been only three publications (two of them updates of earlier editions) which sought retrospectively to offer a comprehensive survey. Meirion Bowen’s updating, in 1997, of his Michael Tippett (first published in 1982) never ventures further than a general introduction; Tippett shares the billing in Arnold Whittall’s The Music of Britten and Tippett (2nd edn, 1990), which could not include analysis of The Rose Lake (1991-1993); and The Cambridge Companion to Michael Tippett (2013) generally balances its focus towards Tippett’s earlier work. By neatly excluding chamber, solo, and vocal works from his focus, Schuttenhelm has provided himself with the space to give us what can be called, although it is not advertised as such, the first complete survey of Tippett’s orchestral work. It comprehensively and welcomely covers all of Tippett’s orchestral music, published and unpublished, from the first chapter on the Symphonic Movement (1930-1931) and the Symphony in B-Flat (1933-1934), to the last, on The Rose Lake. In between, a chapter is devoted to each of the four symphonies, the six concertante works, and four smaller pieces. This helpfully simple structure creates an admirably complete survey, and one that was much needed.

Such a panoramic purview ought to suit a newcomer to Tippett’s orchestral work, but Schuttenhelm can appear uncertain of his readership’s foreknowledge. Francesca Allinson, Evelyn Maude, David Ayerst, and Douglas Newton are all major players in the Tippett supporting cast, and accumulate 45 index references between them, but Schuttenhelm never once explains who they are. Jeffrey Mark (alternately referred to as Jeff, Jeffrey, and Jeffery) is referenced in the Index just thrice, but is given dates and a biographical paragraph [40]. Tippett’s teacher, R.O. Morris, is mentioned twice before being introduced [28-29], and then confusingly, as the ‘noted sixteenth-century contrapuntalist’ (what a great age he must have been in 1930) [29]. The reader will need to refer to other publications. Woe betide anyone consulting this book for a particular reference: the index provided is solely, and unhelpfully, an Index of Names. Look up, for example, ‘pacifism’, ‘conscientious objector’, or ‘Wormwood Scrubs’ in vain. References to specific works do not refer to the chapters devoted to them, so a search on Fantasia on a Theme of Handel, say, creates the impression that the piece is mentioned four times, despite being the focus of a ten-page chapter.

The book has its thumb in pies musicological, psychological, and biographical. There is a survey of ‘The Orchestral Music of Michael Tippett’. The subtitle, ‘Creative development and the compositional process’ is an ominous warning of Schuttenhelm’s psychological ambitions. And nothing in the title prepares us for one of Schuttenhelm’s main aims: to piece together, from an astonishing array of archive material and research, the biographical circumstances of each work’s creation.

These three strands are linked by Schuttenhelm’s interest in Tippett’s ‘creative cycle’, which provides the chapters’ structure. This ‘cycle’ is described as a series of stages, to which Schuttenhelm gives highfalutin names: ‘Precondition-Preconception’ – ‘Einfall-Experience’ – ‘Image-Accretion’ – ‘Transformation-Notation’ – ‘Performance-Reception’, a series which is not, however, a ‘universal theory of creativity but rather a paradigm for understanding Tippett’s creative cycles’ [9]. For Schuttenhelm, Tippett did not compose the Double Concerto, he was ‘involved in [its] creative cycle’ [41-42]. ‘Cycle’ is used with unconsidered frequency. Schuttenhelm is describing a series of events or phases. It is their regular repetition from piece to piece that creates a cycle; they are not a cycle when taken by themselves, as Schuttenhelm would have it. Translate the jargon, which threads its way through the book as Schuttenhelm tries too neatly to allot his findings to each ‘phase’, and what is being described? The conditions and context in which the music was conceived; the lightbulb moment by which the work might first have been inspired; the gathering of ideas and influences; the writing down of the music, and the eventual performance and its critical and personal reception. Or, as Tippett put it, and rather better than Schuttenhelm, the role of the artist as one which creates ‘images from the depths of the imagination and [gives] them form whether visual, intellectual or musical’.(5)

What Schuttenhelm describes does appear to be a ‘universal theory of creativity’, and one that is not vastly different for Tippett than for any other artist. Schuttenhelm dresses it up in academic argot, admittedly with a good predecessor in Tippett himself, who set great store by recollecting these moments of ‘Einfall’ (he too used the word): the pounding bass Cs heard in Lugano that sparked the initial fire of the second symphony; the hearing of Boulez in Edinburgh that inspired the third; the trip to Senegal which would eventually give rise to The Rose Lake. These make for oddly anecdotal scholarship, and sometimes the story would seem to be more complex than Tippett or Schuttenhelm would have us think. Schuttenhelm quotes Tippett’s account of ‘in 1965’ hearing with Karl Hawker ‘some music by Boulez’ and knowing that ‘“The Third Symphony [had] begun”’ [233]. Ian Kemp, who wrote his book in consultation with Tippett, has reported this music to have been Boulez’s Piano Sonata No 2 [Kemp, 439]. Schuttenhelm thinks it was Pli selon pli, and if he has evidence for knowing better, does not produce it. We know that Tippett heard Pli selon pli with Meirion Bowen in May 1969 – Schuttenhelm refers to this as Tippett’s second hearing of the piece – by which time the Third Symphony was already in mind. And Schuttenhelm, with needless repetition, twice dates Tippett’s hearing of the piece to 1965 [11, 233], but then, for its third mention, the concert jumps to 1963 [290]. In the early 1960s, as Schuttenhelm elsewhere points out, ‘Tippett’s relationship with Hawker was in serious decline [and they] shared very little’ [234]. But they went to Edinburgh together, at a time when Tippett had already started his affair with Bowen? The truth of the symphony’s Einfall moment, sieved through faulty memory and faulty scholarship, is clearly more complicated. So who knows? And does it matter? It would be interesting to know what Schuttenhelm (who is rarely sceptical in his analyses), or for that matter Tippett, would say in response to Harrison Birtwistle’s recent statement: ‘I don’t believe in inspiration. When people say, “Oh, that was my moment of inspiration”, it usually means they’ve lifted the idea from someone else. If they found a toad and then painted a picture of a sunrise – now, that would be inspiration’.(6)

A biographical approach to Tippett’s notes certainly has precedent, not least in the composer’s own analyses. So here, amongst other inferences, are the predictable but always unconvincing links between ‘otherness’ in Tippett’s music (gamelan influences, jazz, atypical structure) and his sexuality, as well as the more workable links between Tippett’s music and his political and humanitarian concerns. But these take Schuttenhelm only so far before he becomes, by turns, over-dependent on the word ‘perhaps’ (a pervasive tick, with three instances in as many paragraphs on page 29), and, in contrast, unjustifiably certain, his tenses indicative rather than subjunctive. The quotation from The Midsummer Marriage in the Triple Concerto ‘is a symbolic acknowledgement’ [286, my italics] of a letter sent to Tippett by Hawker. Or, in the slow movement of Symphony No 1, ‘the dynamic arc of the ground bass carries with it […] conceptual association as it proceeds from fortissimo to pianissimo in just five bars, a brevity and intensity that parallels the accelerated psychological decay that afflicted [Francesca] Allinson at the end of the war’ [91]. The structure of the movement, ‘a ground bass as the foundation for a set of free variations that appear above it’ is also used explicitly to link Francesca Allinson’s fate with that of Dido, whose ‘Lament’ by Purcell is structured similarly. None of these conclusions is evidenced with statements of such intent by Tippett.

For this reader, they are flimsy straws for the scholar to grasp at, though others might be more convinced. The ‘intentions’ in Tippett’s music are only readable to a certain extent; and knowing them is only useful to a certain extent. Schuttenhelm concedes in his blurb that he only ‘attempts to recapture the circumstances under which Tippett’s orchestral works were created, to document how his visionary aspirations were developed and sustained throughout the creative cycle, and to chart how conception was transmuted from idea through to performance’ [i]. The book here offers its own intentions in three main verbs (‘to recapture…, to document…, to chart’) but bleaches them with a rather faltering concession. Then again, it is an attempt that is worth making; but the border between even well-informed supposition and legitimate recourse to circumstance should be delineated. The series in which the book is published (‘Music since 1900’, general editor Arnold Whittall) explicitly states that ‘the importance given to context’ will be reflected in some of its catalogue; and Tippett was, more than most, a composer who did not write in a vacuum. Tastes will vary as to the merits of a determinedly biographical method; I would have preferred fewer programmatical estimates of the pieces’ emotional, autobiographical, or even psychotherapeutic arcs, and more close reading of the dots and spaces on Tippett’s scores, at which Schuttenhelm is often very good. In his defence he quotes Scott Burnham, whose approach self-professedly ‘involves acknowledging the poetic content and applicability of our analytic assumptions, as well as the analytic utility of our poetic observations, allowing the poetic and the analytic to mingle freely, as mutually enhancing perspectives’ [3]. I question Burnham’s use of the word ‘poetic’, but if his claim is taken by Schuttenhelm to mean that musicological close-reading should be combined with contextual flights-of-fancy, to the mutual benefit of each, then it could be read as a particularly Tippettian linkage of supposed opposites that, at his best, Schuttenhelm can put to good use.

Musicologically, Schuttenhelm proceeds clearly and carefully. Analysis is pitched at readers who will not need definitions of, for example, ‘syzygy’ [45], ‘C-sharp Mixolydian’ [56], and ‘cuivre horn’ [191], but is for the most part gratefully navigable. Schuttenhelm is adept at sniffing out links between Tippett’s pieces, which is helpful when discussing the work of a composer who composed so horizontally, often creating satellite works around his operas. A helpful music example identifies shared material between the Piano Concerto and The Midsummer Marriage [145], and illuminating links are made between that opera and the Handel Fantasia [66]. Structural confusions aside, the analysis of the Triple Concerto contains the best explanation to date of Tippett’s incorporation in the piece of gamelan music, especially during the slow movement [290-1]. Schuttenhelm’s is also, as yet, the fullest study of the Concerto for Orchestra in its entirety(7), carefully delineating from where precisely in King Priam the material is taken. But, like others before him [Kemp 385-6; Gloag in Cambridge Companion 184-5; Whittall 198-9; Bowen 115], Schuttenhelm, who is usually attentive when demarcating Tippett’s quotations and allusions to his own and other’s music, does not mention that one of the few un-recycled motifs in this third movement (the canon first introduced at Fig. 168, Schott ED 10844) is surely a direct allusion to the work of the Concerto’s dedicatee, Benjamin Britten – see Example 1 a-b. A missed opportunity for a book that can often be doggedly extra-musical.


Example 1. a – Michael Tippett, Concerto for Orchestra, Schott ED 10844 (London, 1963), Fig. 168:1-5, other orchestral parts omitted. © Copyright 1963 Schott Music Ltd. Reproduced by kind permission of Schott Music Ltd.


Example 1. b – Benjamin Britten, ‘Dawn’ from Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Boosey and Hawkes 6501386 (London, 2000), opening 6 bars, other orchestral parts omitted. © Copyright 1945 by Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd. Reproduced by permission of Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Ltd


The chapters on Tippett’s shorter, less attended-to pieces are undoubtedly the most valuable, both for their music analysis, and for clear compositional narratives. Schuttenhelm is particularly good on the Fantasia on a Theme of Handel, and on the piece’s debt to Samuel Butler. The story of the Suite in D (for the Birthday of Prince Charles) is very well told, and the piece’s numerous in-jokes and skillfully pragmatic allusions and arrangements are given meticulous attention. Compositions are lingered over where others have not lingered, and a persuasive but level-headed case is made for the skill and importance of all these so-called ‘minor’ works. The Rose Lake is given 17 pages of careful analysis [297-314], the first of their kind, describing the particular situation of the work’s composition and attentively exploring the influence of Yeats on its programme. Yeats is a poet whose light, as shone on Tippett, is often obscured by T.S. Eliot’s considerable bushel, but Schuttenhelm gives him careful focus (see particularly 259-260).

There is also welcome time spent exploring the disastrous premiere of Tippett’s Symphony No 2, which broke down shortly into the performance and had to be restarted. But it is hard seriously to accept Schuttenhelm’s conclusion that ‘Paul Beard (leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra) made significant and calamitous changes to Tippett’s original notation’ [174], when he does not seem to be aware of the most recent research into the concert, by Brian Levison, who claims convincingly that ‘the fuss about Beard’s rewritten violin parts [is] a colossal red herring’.(8) Levison, using a report of the premiere’s broadcast by Jonathan del Mar (an unpublished essay which Schuttenhelm cites only in a passing footnote), states that ‘the performance broke down when the flute got lost in a difficult passage and emerged with a big solo a bar too early […]’. Levison also points out that ‘at the end of the disputed passage the violins were completely together in the right place at the right time’, that ‘the passage where the hapless flute got lost was written with the same complex notation that Beard had insisted was unplayable’, and that ‘every orchestra since has followed his practice and rewritten the same bars in the same way’. Another example of Schuttenhelm’s in-depth knowledge of the Tippett scholarship appearing decidedly ragged.

The USP of Schuttenhelm’s book is his extensive reference to manuscript scores, which consistently throws up interesting, but not revelatory, insights into Tippett’s working methods: the original titles of Symphony No 1 (‘Symphony No 2’) or the Handel Fantasia (‘Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra’); the early annotations to Symphony No 4. Tippett’s practical methods are carefully traced through his life, from initial composition directly into full score, to the years of near-blindness which made a necessity of dictation and amanuenses.

All this archival work is impressive. Schuttenhelm has trawled through 11 archives in three different countries, and the book is a result of what must have been hundreds of hours in the Rare Books Room of the British Library, poring over pages of manuscript score and foolscap paper covered in Tippett’s often indecipherable scrawl. There is no doubt that Schuttenhelm feels most at home in, and most relies upon, the use of archival material, the transcriptions of letters and radio talks, with their, to the reader, impenetrable filing codes that make for impressive references. (If it was Schuttenhelm who persuaded Cambridge University Press to choose same-page footnotes over its standard use of endnotes, he should be congratulated – but a footnote on page 78 repeats information included in the text on page 76; and Schuttenhelm too often, and unhelpfully, cites an impressive-looking manuscript source when quoting from an essay which appeared in print in 2002.(9)) But this monograph is all too clearly a repository in which to place a lot of material that could not be included in Schuttenhelm’s Selected Letters of Michael Tippett (London, 2005). (Justin Vickers has said that ‘two earlier drafts of [Selected Letters] existed: [Schuttenhelm prepared] a Complete Correspondence of Michael Tippett […], and a volume of interim length […], both of which were deemed [by Faber] too extensive’.(10)) None of this new material is revelatory; the value of its inclusion lies in what Schuttenhelm brings together in one place, creating what his Selected Letters volume, grouped by correspondent, so singularly failed to offer: a chronological timeline.

There is extensive quotation from material already published elsewhere. Almost every page has a lengthy indented quotation, and most pages have two. At times the book seems like a work of assemblage, rather than a work of scholarship. The 209-line first section of the chapter on the Triple Concerto [277-286] contains 112 lines of quotation. The final three pages of the chapter devoted to the Divertimento on ‘Sellinger’s Round’ [136-138] contain 65 lines of quotation to 48 lines of Schuttenhelm’s text. The section on the Symphony in B flat contains one 17-line paragraph of Schuttenhelm’s on its musical content, and 52 lines of archive material. Those 112 lines of quotation in the first section of the Triple Concerto chapter break down into eleven separate passages; of these, only three were previously unpublished. When Schuttenhelm does quote from unpublished material, he gives us far more than we need. For example, it is useful to know, from a previously unpublished letter to Michael Tillett, that Part I of Symphony No 3 was finished in ink score on 3 April 1971. But why on earth is the quotation continued: ‘Shall bring it all Wed. The train gets to Padd[ington] 11.37. Meet at barrier if there is one, or at engine if the platform is open’ [243]? A five-line excerpt from Tippett’s notes on the back of some concert programmes is footnoted to a superfluous eleven-line description of the programmes’ contents [41]. This is indicative of Schuttenhelm’s way with quotations, and the result is a book with an awful lot of dead space within it, a problem compounded by the fact that, having assembled such a number of ingredients, Schuttenhelm lays them out for our inspection like mixed hors d’oeuvres, rather than cooking them into a proper meal or even bothering to push them round the plate – instead they are left alone, curling at the edges. Almost never does Schuttenhelm pause to unpick his lengthy excerpts. A 27-line quotation from Samuel Butler’s Erewhon is included with a disclaimer that ‘an extended quotation is necessary for the analysis’ [63], but there then follows precisely no analysis to speak of, and Schuttenhelm sails calmly on without pausing to earn his considerable excerpts their keep.

It is worrying, and legally dubious, that Schuttenhelm does not, in his 327 pages, cite any permissions whatsoever to reproduce either this hitherto unpublished archive material, or the 13 photographs of pages from Tippett’s original ink or pencil manuscript scores. Similarly, Schott Music is never once acknowledged as having permitted use of the many musical examples reprinted in the book. Surely this is not standard, leave alone courteous, practice? Permission to reprint unpublished Tippett material must be gained from the Trustees of the Tippett Will Trust, and additional permission needs to be forthcoming from the Tippett Foundation for the use of any material held in the British Library. (And what about the unpublished work of Francesca Allinson, Karl Hawker, and others, from which Schuttenhelm quotes?) If such permissions were gained, as Cambridge University Press surely requested, why does the book not stretch to listing them beyond a sole mention for the jacket illustration?

As in the Selected Letters, Schuttenhelm’s editorial methods, of the utmost importance in a book which relies on such quantities of archival material, are confused and inconsistent. From Tippett’s abbreviations ‘Pfte’ is left alone, as is ‘Min.’ (for minimum); but ‘tho’, ‘shld’, ‘abt’, and ‘cld’ are awash with square brackets. ‘V.’ is sometimes edited to ‘V.[ery]’, sometimes not. ‘Birm’ is ‘Birm[ingham]’; but ‘Cam’ is never ‘Cam[bridge]’. Readers who are not thought capable of making out the word ‘about’ from ‘abt’ are nevertheless expected to recognise without aid almost all of Tippett’s references to occasionally obscure composers and performers, and to translate from German themselves [e.g. 44, 189]. ‘[sic]’ is inserted after Tippett’s ‘Hayden’ [27] but not after such odd mistakes as ‘This 3 8ve line texture becomes is a feature of the whole work’ [49, my italics], or ‘I can’t and know it do be also stupid to do so’ [100]. Are these Schuttenhelm’s or Tippett’s errors? Schuttenhelm cannot transcribe his own transcriptions; in Selected Letters, Tippett writes to Alan Bush of A Child of Our Time ‘it seems probably that T.S. Eliot will write the words for me’ [Selected Letters : 127, my italics]. When this letter is quoted in Schuttenhelm’s new book the oddness of the construction has been silently emended: ‘it seems probable that T.S. Eliot will write the words for me’ [65, my italics]. The difference in itself makes no difference, but I mention it because, like so much else, it casts Schuttenhelm’s scholarship here, and elsewhere, into doubt. Where does the error lie? Any reader attuned to this particular lack of standards will instantly suspect standards of being lacking elsewhere.

And so it proves. The book clangs with howlers. Tippett was not sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs [77] but to three (see Kemp 41, Blues 121, Schuttenhelm’s own Selected Letters 441, Bowen 23 etc…) Wetherden, the Suffolk village of Tippett’s childhood home, is some 30 miles from the ‘coast’ where Schuttenhelm locates it [25]. He refers to ‘the “coo-coo’s” of the bird in Byzantium’ [314] seemingly without having seen or heard that Tippett’s notation of birdcalls in the piece follows T.S. Eliot’s ‘co co rico co co rico’ from The Waste Land. The pianist Noel Mewton-Wood is referred to in a bold subheading as Newton-Wood [153]. Edith Sitwell’s poem for Tippett’s motet should be The – not A Weeping Babe [87 – an unfortunate error, considering the babe in question is the son of God]. Tippett did discuss T.S. Eliot’s play The Family Reunion with its author [see Those Twentieth Century Blues (London, 1991) : 272] but Schuttenhelm claims that ‘there is no evidence to suggest [this]’ [41]. Ian Mylett spells his name with not one but two ts and is the Head of Contemporary Music at Schott, rather than an ‘editorial assistant’ [ix]. A letter is referenced to Moving into Aquarius that is actually from Selected Letters [111]. There are also numerous mistakes in Schuttenhelm’s quotations from Tippett’s librettos: Hermes’ ‘stream of sound’ in King Priam becomes ‘stream of sounds’ and the ode in which it appears is repunctuated [215, my italics]; the punctuation of quotations from the Verses for a Symphony is also to pot [254]. But then, oddly and unhelpfully, none of Schuttenhelm’s quotations from Tippett’s librettos ­– or T.S. Eliot’s poetry – is footnoted, and the librettos’ line-breaks are mainly removed without comment.

Although they may be the fault of the subeditors, the chapters of this book contains a huge amount of grammatical stumbles. Readers who do not mind that sentence will cope; others might be less happy with phrases such as ‘Tippett’s desire for assimilation, clarity and integration were paramount’ [39]. Schuttenhelm has a syntactical tin-ear, most notably deaf to the hanging participle, the frequent use of which can sometimes cause maddening unclarity: ‘While on a Fulbright Fellowship, Arnold Whittall initially encouraged me to focus my research on Tippett’s creative process…’ [ix]. Who was on the Fulbright Fellowship? Grammatically, it is Whittall; in fact, it was Schuttenhelm. To the reader who did not know, confusion is the only result. (And the clumsy positioning of ‘initially’ suggests that Whittall later withdrew his encouragement.) On almost every page pronouns slop round the text divorced from their subjects; Schuttenhelm creates of Tippett a kind of God-figure, for whom ‘He’ is meant to be description enough. At one point the grammar describes Herschel ‘Grynspan’ [sic] as the composer of A Child of Our Time [64].

What was so admirable and enjoyable in Kemp’s study of Tippett was that, as Geraint Lewis has noted, ‘unlike virtually all his younger counterparts, [Kemp] actually writes beautifully and lucidly’.(11) While Schuttenhelm’s book never descends into the darkest murk of academicese, its author has little style to speak of, and most chapters contain sentences either of meaningless tautology (‘My efforts to recount the moments when Tippett first conceived his orchestral music are designed to recapture the circumstances under which these works were conceived’ [1]), or of sheer plod: ‘Mathis der Maler combines neo-classicism with folk song, not unlike what Tippett did in his own concerto’ [58n]; ‘Similar to “Dido’s Lament”, Tippett uses a ground bass’ [91]; and, later that same page, ‘Tippett and Allinson experienced themselves as being both out of step with each other’.

In the absence, currently, of a proper biography or collected correspondence of Tippett, and in the presence of his hazily remembered and awkwardly ghostwritten autobiography, Schuttenhelm’s reach and narrative is of interest. And maybe the chapters on The Rose Lake and other understudied works make the book a worthwhile purchase for the specialist reader. But I could not help feeling that this book represents a missed opportunity to refresh the scholarship on an important and currently undervalued composer.

To end with my beginning: Schuttenhelm writes with a sense neither of humour nor of irony. He seems to miss the awkward joke of ending 327 pages of scholarship which rushes, where the composer himself so often feared to tread, into areas of biography, intention, and mental impulse, with a comment by Meirion Bowen: ‘ "[The Rose Lake] is [Tippett’s] most reticent piece, saying 'I don’t exist', I’m not there. This is the music” ’ [314]. Gillian Lynne, referring to her 1968 choreography for The Midsummer Marriage’s ‘Ritual Dances’, has recently described saying to Tippett, ‘ “could you, Michael, nail the scenario for me?” And he said “I’ve never known what it’s about myself”’.(12) This is a joke, of course. But then, to produce, as Tippett did, page after page of notes and words which grasp at some ultimate meaning, only to announce one’s failure of comprehension, is the most serious type of levity. Schuttenhelm is rarely so self-effacing about his pronouncements.

Witness the eerie and unsettling comedy of Astron’s spoken lines – in The Ice Break, after delivering the quasi-moral of the opera ­– ‘Saviour?! Hero?! Me!!/ You must be joking’.(13) There again is that mischievous use of punctuation. The first line is ‘highly ironic: rising into falsetto’; the second, with an odd moment of chill as the joke ends, returns to a ‘natural voice’. Or is even that latter instruction a further tease? What, after all, is the ‘natural voice’ in speech of a character whom we have heard only singing heretofore, and in a ‘double voice’ made up of a mezzo soprano and counter tenor, with added electronic distortion [The Ice Break, Schott ED 301]? There are moments of Tippett’s music which exist on a perilous cusp between ‘highly ironic’ and a kind of distorted naturalism, where what Schuttenhelm rightly calls Tippett’s ‘split’ self [e.g. 38] struggles for both a double and a natural voice.

Tippett could hide behind his high irony and his supposed lack of insight, as he did to Gillian Lynne, seeking more and more to say ‘I don’t exist, I’m not there’. Performers of The Vision of Saint Augustine sing for half an hour, in two languages and two alphabets, of visions through an open window, the soundworld resounding with birdsong and ululation. Then the vision, the polyglot exoticism, falls away, and the choir must whisper, insightfully communicating their lack of insight, and in their natural voice, ‘I count not myself to have apprehended’.(14) How profoundly ironic; yet, ironically, profound. Visions are not easily apprehendable to visionaries – or scholars. The final bars of The Rose Lake end not with a bang but a ‘plop’, which is written over the final chord and described by Schuttenhelm as ‘an ironic effect [which] risks becoming lost in the profundity of the occasion’ – yet for Tippett, irony is so often a way of being profound. Or is it just a bad joke? But to miss Tippett’s wit is to miss his seriousness. The ‘I’ of Saint Augustine, be it Augustine’s, Tippett’s, or a member of his choir’s, is one that pushes away the responsibility of vision. Or maybe the vision is that there is no vision.

Cessation of music, for Schuttenhelm, ‘is Tippett’s confirmation of the Hegelian prophecy, lived by Nietzsche and registered by Heidegger, as a metaphysics that has arrived at its end’ [314]. For Tippett it was just a cutting-off of sound as though ‘by the closing of a door’,(15) or a reminder that ‘at the end, the transcendent celebration is abruptly cut off. We come out of the concert-hall into the street’.(16) This book closed – plop ­– I count not myself to have apprehended. Schuttenhelm invokes a line of T.S. Eliot to express the sentiment behind the last bars of The Rose Lake, and chooses to make it one of his own closing statements: ‘the progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality’ [314]. A funny way to end a book that has unsatisfactorily attempted to recall the personality to life. Tippett would have got the joke.


(1) The Collected Works of W. B. Yeats, ed. Cedric Watts (London, 2008) : 291.

(2) David Clarke, ‘The Meaning of “Lateness”: Mediations of Work, Self and Society in Tippett’s Triple Concerto’. Journal of the Royal Musical Association 125-1 (2000) : 62-92, at 68; Stephen Collisson, ‘ “Significant gestures to the past” : Formal processes and visionary moments in Tippett’s Triple Concerto’, in Tippett Studies, ed. David Clarke (Cambridge, 1999) : 145-165, at 149; Kenneth Gloag, ‘Tippett and the concerto : From Double to Triple’, in The Cambridge Companion to Michael Tippett, ed. Kenneth Gloag and Nicholas Jones (Cambridge, 2013) : 168-189, at 187; Ian Kemp, Tippett : The Composer and His Music (London, 1984) : 480; Arnold Whittall, The Music of Britten and Tippett: Studies in Themes and Techniques (Cambridge, 1982, 2nd edn., 1990) : 297.

(3) Meirion Bowen, Michael Tippett (London, 1982) :132.

(4) See, for example, Paul Driver, ‘Tippett’s Triple Concerto’. Tempo,135 (December 1980) : 49-51, at 51.

(5) Michael Tippett, Moving into Aquarius (St Albans, Herts, 1974) : 156.

(6) Fiona Maddocks, Harrison Birtwistle – Wild Tracks (London, 2014) : 33.

(7) David Clarke has explored the central movement at length in ‘Between hermeneutics and formalism : The Lento from Tippett’s Concerto for Orchestra’. Music Analysis 30- 2/3 (2011) : 309-359. Schuttenhelm does not consider this essay.

(8) Brian Levison and Frances Farrar, Classical Music’s Strangest Concerts and Characters (London, 2007) : 165. All subsequent quotations in this paragraph are from the same source.

(9) Michael Tippett, ‘The relation of autobiographical experience to the created work of art’, in Michael Tippett: Music and Literature, ed. Suzanne Robinson (Aldershot, 2002) : 20-34; Schuttenhelm cites BL Add. Manuscript 72061; the passages he quotes are printed in Music and Literature without alteration.

(10) Justin M. Vickers, ‘ “The Ineffable moments will be harder won” : The genesis, compositional process, and early performance history of Michael Tippett’s The Heart’s Assurance’. PhD Dissertation (Illinois, 2011) : 10n. Reprinted by kind permission of the author.

(11) Geraint Lewis, ‘Only Make Believe’.The Musical Times 140-1869 (Winter 1999) : 65-67, at 67.

(12) BBC Radio 3, Private Passions – Gillian Lynne, tx 1 September 2013.

(13) Michael Tippett, The Ice Break, ED 11253 (London, 1977) : 309. The phrase is used, with autobiographical implications, as the epigraph to Tippett’s second essay collection, Music of the Angels : The Essays and Sketchbooks of Michael Tippett, ed. Meirion Bowen (London, 1980) : v.

(14) Michael Tippett, The Vision of Saint Augustine, ED 10898 (London, 1965) : 136. The line is from Philippians 3:13.

(15) Michael Tippett, The Mask of Time, ED 12196 (London, 1983) : 578. The effect is put to literal use at the end of Tippett’s fifth opera, New Year. See Michael Tippett, New Year, ED 12333 (London, 1989) : 333.

(16) Michael Tippett, Tippett on Music, ed. Meirion Bowen (Oxford, 1995) : 255.


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