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In one sense, Dickinson is obviously right: there are no big themes of conscience or deep-riven sensitivities to contemporary history or evidences of the unresolved contrarieties of human nature in Berkeley's music. Compare him in this respect with Britten or Tippett, and a very marked difference emerges straight away. But the comparison would not necessarily be to Berkeley's advantage. Or indeed, to his disadvantage. After all, if Mozart were deemed for a moment to be the pattern of all great composers, then it is Berkeley who would emerge as conforming to the model and Britten as the defaulter. The point is, though, that placing the composer in the contexts of his character, his broader interests, his friends, and his values, would have thrown a lot of light upon what the music is like, and it is that sort of intimation of character -- a measure of the human and of music as an expression of the human condition -- which, for all its technical analyses, is so markedly missing from this book.

Michael Berkeley has been relatively reticent on the subject of his father, and one respects that. But the little that he has said sometimes speaks volumes in a way one wishes a sensitive critical biographer would not merely quote but would also begin to explore. For example, 'Perhaps his (my father's) tragedy is that he was rather too happy for too long ...' Now that is interesting. It would have been a remarkable thing to have said about anybody but, applying as it does to a maker of music, it becomes so much more interesting still. Even as it stands -- undeveloped, undiscussed, and quoted only at the end of Dickinson's book -- it begins to adumbrate a framework of ideas and contexts and critical perspectives through which Berkeley's music -- so elusively refined? So fastidiously crafted? So careful to subsume meaning invisibly into its methods? Is it really like that? -- could have begun not just to have been analysed but also to have been understood.

Copyright © 24 August 2003 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK


The Music of Lennox Berkeley
Second revision edition
Peter Dickinson

Boydell & Brewer, 2003

ISBN 0 85115 936 2, hardback, 256 pages



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