BASIL RAMSEY extends his survey of composer neglect
Following from yesterday's remembrance of a little-known American composer,
Ernst Bacon, I would dearly like to draw attention
to one of the many English composers who now languish in some backwater,
their gift to the musical world almost forgotten.
Anthony Milner is alive but not well, his desire to compose minimal,
probably because it takes great surges of energy to think creatively, to
sketch music, to shape it, to perfect it, to write a clear score, and then
to bring it to the attention of performers. Milner has done this all his
life, sometimes with success and sometimes - as with most composers - to
A Catholic, much of Milner's music has been for voice or voices. Looking
back forty or so years, a work I vividly recall is The City of Desolation
for chorus and orchestra. This has power and atmosphere without demanding
the utmost of performers. It seems to me an ideal work for a robust choir
so why the reluctance?
In his heyday, nothing Anthony Milner enjoyed more was a lecture tour
across America, taking a variety of subjects from his own specialities,
which certainly included the music of Michael Tippett. And he collaborated
with Wilfrid Mellers for the four volumes of the much acclaimed 'Man and
his Music' series, which told the story of musical experience in the West.
Some years ago I wrote the following about Milner for a dictionary of
contemporary composers: 'Composers suffer the cavalier attitude of the public
no less than other artistic creators, and frequently the disdain of professional
colleagues. Milner's opus 1, the cantata Salutatio angelica, was
an auspicious debut in 1950. The composer won respect immediately, and curiosity
grew about how his music would develop. Salutatio angelica was not
actually innovative: it was of English stock: it admitted the unshackling
of tonality; and its rhythms were no more - or less - sprung than Purcell's.
Significantly, the overall impression of a sharply creative talent was not
diminished by the absence of startling innovatory features. What became
increasingly clear in the light of Milner's subsequent music were the convictions
that had been shaped and tried before opus 1 was written.
Milner knew at the outset of his journey what he wished to achieve -
an entirely personal music entrenched in the great traditions, and therefore
drawing together unrelated elements by the fusion of his creative drive
and mastery of the requisite techniques........A composer such as Milner
cannot compose music that stems from his deepest feelings without a precise
plan of action in which his humanly acquired skills are tested to the utmost.
Milner's music is invariably intense, emotive, and sometimes supremely beautiful.'
Looking back at that quotation, I read nothing subsequently revised in
my estimation. Anthony Milner is now in danger of becoming an 'also ran',
a fate suffered by too many highly gifted composers. For each it is a tragedy
- for us too.
Copyright © Basil Ramsey,
July 5th 1999
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