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The Cambridge Companion to Michael Tippett
Edited by Kenneth Gloag and Nicholas Jones
Cambridge University Press
327pages; 2 b/w illus. 12 tables 109 music examples
ISBN 978-1-107-60613-5 Paperback £19.99
Twelve writers (including two from the University of Melbourne, two from the University of Cardiff) contribute to this study of Tippett and his works. Unfortunatelyfor Tippett, most commentators and audiences now recognize that Benjamin Britten - not Tippett - was the towering talent of the age, as the current flood of Britten centenary publications demonstrates. In that respect, the timing of the appearance of this companion is perhaps unfortunate.
Even in the preface, editors Gloag and Jones, both currently at Cardiff, confess that there is a great deal of Tippett’s music no longer being performed. Strangely, the cover blurb claims the book to be “directing knowledge and expertise towards a wide readership.” Surely, even a generous reviewer will have difficulty in imagining exactly how large this wide readership for Tippett can be in 2013?
The text is organised into two halves. The first looks at ‘contexts and concepts’, the second at ‘works and genres’. Musical examples are given. Suzanne Robinson writes on ‘encodings of homosexual identity from the First String Quartet to The Heart’s Assurance‘, Joanna Bullivant writes about ‘Tippett and politics’, and Kenneth Gloag discusses ‘Tippett and the concerto’, and ‘Tippett’s operatic world’. There are 13 essays in total, plus a useful chronological list of works.
“His time will come again,” writes Arnold Whittall at the close of the first essay, though Whittall had begun his prolix contribution some 24 pages earlier by describing the works that appeared around the time of The Midsummer Marriage as the prelude to a long slow decline in interest in Tippett, which gives the game away. Whittall also mentions Tippett contemporaries Elisabeth Lutyens, Humphrey Searle, Denis ApIvor, Arnold Cooke, Grace Williams, Elizabeth Maconchy and George Lloyd. Unfortunately, nothing written in these pages gives one much hope of a second coming for Tippett, any more than for any of the other composers listed.
Enthusiasm can be endearing, of course, but if Tippet's time should come again a resurgence of interest will owe little to books such as this.
John Robert Brown
Published in Classical Music, Spring 2013. Used by kind permission, reeproduction forbidden.