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Orchestral works

Bastet

Duration: 30 minutes
Published by Oxford University Press

Music for a ballet choreographed by Lynn Seymour and commissioned by Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet, and first performed at the Hippodrome, Birmingham on 24th June 1988.

Daybreak and a Candle End

Duration: 7 minutes
Published by Oxford University Press

Based on a theme by the composer's father, Sir Lennox Berkeley, and dedicated to him.

Fanfare and National Anthem

Duration: 5 minutes
Published by Oxford University Press

Flames

Duration: 12 minutes
Published by Oxford University Press

Flames was written for David Atherton and the Royal Liverpool Philarmonic Orchestra with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain.

Gregorian Variations

Duration: 17 minutes
Published by Oxford University Press

Audio samples:

  •     Gregorian Variations

Berkeleys Gregorian Variations of 1982 resulted from a commission by the Philharmonia Orchestra and the tobacco company du Maurier. The composer explains: Ever since my days as a choir boy at Westminster cathedral, I have had a deep love of Gregorian plainchant. At that time George Malcolm was Master of Music, and his wonderful ability to communicate to us boys the language of plainsong meant that is was sung every day to a standard that equalled the best European monasteries. In Gregorian Variations I have used the various modes, rhythms, and even the actual melodies of Gregorian plainchant, interwoven with my own musical ideas.

A large orchestra is employed, and the works spans some eighteen minutes, with an approach Berkeley has likened to looking through a telescope that is constantly changing focus. At times, moreover, the score allows opportunities for improvisatory drumming in the style of the blues, while always returning to refer to music associated with parts of the Roman Catholic service.

After an introductory summons, a plainsong passage is played by the cor anglais, and soon this is taken up to telling effect by the saxophone. Next the influence of jazz improvisation is felt, before a more symphonic line of extended development takes over. In the final phase music of simple and spare textures soon expands to feature a more fully scored orchestral sound, and the Variations conclude with lively rhythms and a richly satisfying sonority.

© Terry Barfoot (2004)

Primavera

Duration: 6 minutes
Published by Oxford University Press

Secret Garden

Duration: 15 minutes
Year of composition: 1997
Published by Oxford University Press

Audio samples:

  •     Secret Garden

Jointly commissioned by Oxford University Press to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its Music Department and by The London Symphony Orchestra, with funds provided by the Arts Council.

Secret Garden opens by depicting the barrier that surrounds it – an impenetrable wall of sound from the brass and wind announced initially on the trumpet. The end of the wall is reached only to reveal the beginning once again. The very solidity and mass of this obstacle is both frustrating and exhilarating. For on the other side lies a magical but dangerous landscape. Touch an exotic piece of foliage and it becomes instantly transformed, rears up to threaten ... or embrace. There is a bitter sweet atmosphere in the garden, a faint suggestion of melancholy. Here is found what has so far only been imagined but delight is tinged with fear, excitement. In one direction lies great stillness and space, in another, frantic movement and momentum. Which direction to take?

Secret Garden is closely related to its immediate forebears – Torque and Velocity for the Takács Quartet, and Fantastic Mind, a setting of the libertine poet the Earl of Rochester, for reciter and brass quintet. It is too a prelude, a brief glimpse into The Garden of Earthly Delights (very loosely inspired by the Hieronymous Bosch Triptych in Madrid), which the BBC have commissioned for the National Youth Orchestra under Mstislav Rostropovich. All of these pieces then, explore facets of the imagination, that garden in the mind that so thrills and alarms but, alone amongst the workings of human beings, can never be completely conquered or stolen by another. This in turn seemed an appropriate tribute to the State of Israel (whose birthday I share) where the work is being toured as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations.

Thus Secret Garden, which lasts ten to twelve minutes, ends with a sense of triumph yet to be totally resolved and with an elliptical but organic reference to one of the most striking aspects of the recent and exhilarating partnership between the LSO and Sir Colin Davis.

© Michael Berkeley

Slow Dawn

Duration: 11 minutes
Published by Oxford University Press

Symphonic Suite

Duration: 30 minutes
Published by Boosey & Hawkes

Tango!

Duration: 5 minutes
Year of composition: 2015
Published by Oxford University Press

The Garden of Earthly Delights

Duration: 21 minutes
Published by Oxford University Press

Audio samples:

  •     The Garden of Earthly Delights

I have for many years had Hieronymus Bosch's visionary triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights in the back of my mind as a potential spring board for a piece of music. Then, a couple of years ago, I went to the Prado in Madrid to see the picture in the flesh and was overwhelmed by its extraordinary individuality and detail. This visit coincided with a series of pieces that I had been working on, all of which dealt with aspects of the imagination: Fantastic Mind, a setting of the libertine poet the Earl of Rochester, Torque and Velocity for the Takacs Quartet and in particular Secret Garden written for the LSO and Colin Davis which was virtually a symphonic sketch for this work.

The Garden of Earthly Delights
The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch
Bosch (1450-1416), like Blake and Donne, depicts the sacred in a powerfully secular manner. Clearly you can simply open the doors of this tripartite work and describe scenes of innocence (The Garden of Eden), experience (Carnal Knowledge) and retribution (Hell) but, thanks to the originality of the painter's mind, what we have is something very much more than that. Something that seems to gather up mythological symbolism (the use of water and fruit to signify sensuality) and leap into the 20th century and the world of Freud and surrealism (phallic cornucopia being a transparent instance).

It would require a staggering genius to translate all this into music and I have not even tried. Rather I have expressed my own reactions to the piece and indeed added other dimensions. In the opening tableau, for instance, the music suggests that innocence and ignorance are not necessarily bliss, rather there is a sense of melancholy and wistfulness, a longing for something yet to be articulated. In music different strands of the triptych can be superimposed upon each other, thus allowing the simultaneous and interwoven voicing of ideas from all three panels. Furthermore all the material is joined to form a continuous whole. And here's a strange thing without realising that there was a fourth part to the Bosch, I instinctively wrote, at the beginning of the music, an evocation of birth, the growing of a world from nothing only to find that when the panels of the Bosch are closed they show, as a frontispiece, a haunting, luminous picture of a globe in the act of creation.

I was excited by the possibility of harnessing both the infectious enthusiasm and skill of the NYO and the space of the Albert Hall. So I decided to put three players into loggia boxes at 3, 6 and 9 o'clock from the stage as well as playing their usual instruments (Violin, Soprano Saxophone and Trombone), these three players also play percussion. They act as timekeepers, tempters, devils and the sound of omnipotent power at different stages in the music.

Clicking pieces of wood and a little upward flourish on the trumpets open the score and return at critical points. Then comes the awakening with a spiraling flight of birds and a warm motif on the horn that underpins the whole score. This first section of the music is lush, indulgent even, but gradually the harmonic language, whilst using the same germinal notes becomes (almost autobiographically as it happens) more angular as with Bosch we move from concord to discord, consonance to dissonance. Early on in this opening passage there are some rich and sonorous chords, reflecting perhaps the majesty of Creation and these too have a significant role to play as the score unfolds.

Gradually the music moves into a more excitable phase as the external players pick up notes from the trumpet. This exhilarates the clarinet section into some wild acrobatics (a throwback to an idea begun in my clarinet concerto) which in turn draws from the rest of the orchestra some gentle sensuous music, a loving twist, if you like, not to be found in the centrepiece of the Bosch. The tempo inexorably quickens, games of the chase taken on a more sinister hue, a pair of high piccolos are partnered by a jerking, jumping pair of low tubas. Whilst the Bosch has not been programmatically followed, I found some images irresistible a Machiavellian ratchet brought to mind a modern rattle and figures stretched across harps prompted yet another obvious musical analogy. I have also used the Cuica (Lion's Roar) not so much for its fearsome sound (its actually not that loud) but more for its dirty growl!

At the climax of the fast music weeping strings are subjected to a brutal attack from the wind, their final desperate line leading to ideas from the opening which now create the close; the clicking wood, trumpets and majestic chords are transmogrified into the overwhelming voice of judgement.

© Michael Berkeley

Tristessa

Duration: 21 minutes
Year of composition: 2003
Published by Oxford University Press

Tristessa was commissioned by the BBC for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Tristessa was written very much with particular players in mind. One of the great advantages of having an association with an orchestra is that, as a composer, you get to know the particular qualities of various individuals while, correspondingly, the orchestra begins to get a feel for the nature of your musical language. Although there are two soloists in Tristessa, it is not a concerto but rather a tone poem in which a solo Viola and Cor Anglais are the chief protagonists, but where there are also important roles for other instruments, such as the principal clarinet. The title comes from a pivotal character in Angela Carter's extraordinary and visionary novel The Passion of new Eve. Carter died prematurely of cancer, thus cutting short one of the most idiosyncratic and distinguished of literary careers. She was a close friend and even wrote a libretto for me for a possible opera on Virginia Woolf's Orlando. Tristessa is a similarly ambivalent creation both philosophically and sexually. The very word, Tristessa, suggests to me the lachrymose melancholy of a John Dowland lament. Angela's writing, however, has that element as well an intense, almost furious energy that I still find very inspiring. So Tristessa is a memorial to Angela. The music is not in any way programmatic but an abstract essay for which the personality of Tristessa is a starting point.

The piece lasts around 20 minutes and constantly returns to the glowing and still chords of the opening. These are marked "luminous" but are almost immediately darkened by plaintive chanting from the soloists who constantly speak with one entwined voice. Indeed the writing overall is quite linear and contrapuntal with the orchestra providing a shifting harmonic landscape. The music becomes more tense and then faster with Cor Anglais and Viola sometimes reflecting on the orchestral passages, sometimes intervening and sometimes leading. There are also absorbed and transmogrified references to other works of mine that have a similar motivation, most notably Entertaining Master Punch, itself an offshoot of my first opera, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and the memorial elegy to Benjamin Britten that is the last movement of my Oboe Concerto. The apex of the score comes two thirds of the way through and is followed by a cadenza-like passage for the soloists but once again the sustaining of the line is more important than any overt show of virtuosity. An impassioned climax leads to a last recollection of the opening chords, irrevocably tainted now by the Cor Anglais and Viola finally arriving at, and sadly resigned to, their final destination.

© Michael Berkeley