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<<  -- 2 --  Tess Crebbin    NOVELIST AS COMPOSER


Mostly a self-taught musician -- the University of Manchester wouldn't let him study music because he hadn't passed his physics examination -- Burgess spent his early career as an education officer in Malaya and Borneo teaching English literature and speech. Back in England, he composed music for amateur theatrical productions and incidental pieces of various kinds. In 1971, he composed the incidental music for the acclaimed Minneapolis production of Cyrano de Bergerac for which he had also written the English translation. Burgess received US$ 500 for the music, the first income he had ever earned as a composer. 'Burgess was prouder of the money he earned for his music than of the much greater royalties he received for his translation,' says Phillips. The success of the Minneapolis production led to a Broadway musical for which Burgess wrote the book and lyrics. The show opened in May 1973 and ran for 49 performances. Christopher Plummer starred in the title role, for which he won a Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical.

The Symphony No 3 in C, written in 1974-75, marked a turning point in Burgess's musical development. Commissioned by James Dixon for the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra, the work premièred in Iowa on 22 October 1975. It was the first public performance of any of his orchestral works and an overwhelming experience for Burgess. 'I have written over thirty books, but this was the truly great artistic moment,' Burgess declared. The success of the performance fuelled his desire to compose more. 'The music simply poured out of him,' says Phillips. 'At one point he was writing a prelude and fugue every day.'

Over the next eighteen years, Burgess composed a large body of music including Blooms of Dublin, a full-length, two-act musical based on Ulysses, which was broadcast in 1982 by the BBC and Radio Telefis Eireann in celebration of the James Joyce centenary. Burgess wrote numerous works for a wide variety of instruments, including brass band, guitar, harmonica, recorder, flute, oboe, piano, strings and voice, and was commissioned by English National Opera and Scottish Opera to write new translations of Carmen and Oberon. In addition, he wrote the incidental music for his own stage adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.

Asked whether Burgess had written anything for cello, Phillips replies:

'He mentions in his autobiography Little Wilson and Big God writing a Cello Concerto in Gibraltar, and states that he used it (from memory) as the basis of the Violin Concerto he composed for Yehudi Menuhin in 1979. Further, the work-list in Contemporary Composers includes a Cello Concerto composed in 1944; the list in This Man and Music lists a Cello Sonata for 1944. Presumably, the piece was one or the other, but in any case it is lost. There are no existing works, like sonatas or concertos, which feature the cello. However, there are quite a number of chamber works that include the cello as one of several instruments (usually 4-5).'

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Copyright © 22 November 2004 Tess Crebbin, Germany


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