31 May, 2018

Sir Lennox Berkeley


Sir Lennox Randal Francis Berkeley was an English composer.

He was born in Oxford, England, and educated at the Dragon School, Gresham's School and Merton College, Oxford. His father was Hastings George Fitzhardinge Berkeley, a captain in the Royal Navy and illegitimate son of George Lennox Rawdon Berkeley, 7th Earl of Berkeley (1827–1888).

In 1927, he went to Paris to study music with Nadia Boulanger, and there he became acquainted with Francis Poulenc, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger and Albert Roussel. Berkeley also studied with Maurice Ravel, often cited as a key influence in Berkeley's technical development as a composer.

In 1936 he met Benjamin Britten, another old boy of Gresham's School, at the ISCM Festival in Barcelona. Berkeley fell in love with Britten, who appears to have been wary of entering a relationship, writing in his diary, "we have come to an agreement on that subject." Nevertheless, the two composers shared a house for a year, living in the Old Mill at Snape, Suffolk, which Britten had acquired in July 1937. They subsequently enjoyed a long friendship and artistic association, collaborating on a number of works; these included the suite of Catalan dances titled Mont Juic, and Variations on an Elizabethan Theme.

He worked for the BBC during the Second World War, where he met his future wife, Freda Bernstein, whom he married in 1946. Lady Berkeley died in 2016.

He wrote several piano works for the pianist Colin Horsley, who commissioned the Horn Trio and some piano pieces, and gave the first performances and/or made the premier recordings of a number of his works, including his third Piano Concerto (1958).

He was Professor of Composition in the Royal Academy of Music from 1946 to 1968 and his pupils included Richard Rodney Bennett, David Bedford, Clive Strutt and John Tavener. 1954 saw the premiere of his first opera, Nelson, at Sadler's Wells. He was knighted in 1974 and from 1977–83 was President of the Cheltenham Festival.

He resided at 8 Warwick Avenue, London, from 1947 until his death in 1989

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