Michael Tippett as book reviewer

Among the large archive of newspaper clippings from the 1950s collected by the late Patrick O’Donoghue , a former lecturer in English at the University of Manitoba, who ended up teaching in his adopted county of Norfolk, is a review of Richard Ellman’s The Identity of Yeats Tippett 1950s(1954) by the greatest British composer of the twentieth century, Sir Michael Tippett.


For a British composer to review a book about a poet is unusual to say the least. It is hard to imagine Edward Elgar reviewing a book about, say Tennyson, or Benjamin Britten, despite his association with George Crabbe, finding time in his busy schedule to seriously review a critical work on the Suffolk poet. But Tippett was no ordinary composer. According to his biographer  Ian Kemp, Tippett developed a number of non-musical  interests from an early age, from poetry and philosophy, spiritual development, and left wing politics. He published two books that had little to do with music. At one point in his life he became very interested in antique furniture and in 1951 moved to Tidebrook Manor, a crumbling mansion in Sussex. While teaching at a private school in Limpsfield, Surrey he bought some land and built a bungalow for himself on it. It was tiny (your Jotter has visited it) and badly designed, so perhaps architecture wasn’t his forte, but one can’t imagine Britten building a bungalow. It could be argued that all these non-musical activities may have distracted Tippett from wholeheartedly pursuing a career as a composer, for unlike the prodigy Britten, he was a notoriously late starter and destroyed all his early work. But there is something rather appealing in a composer interesting himself in a variety of disparate fields besides music, discovering at last what he was placed on this earth to do, while still retaining an interest in some of his earlier passions. In the case of Tippett, all these non-musical activities seemed to have informed his music.


We don’t exactly know how deeply Tippett was influenced by Yeats, but it is obvious in his review of Ellman’s book that he saw a correlation between Yeats’s views on symbolism in poetry and their application in music. Ellman contends that in his youth Yeats was affected


‘ by the practice of his contemporaries , among whom the rose then had the currency which the bone attained in English poetic symbolism during the 1920s ‘


‘ I am sure’, Tippett contends, that ‘ this could be paralleled in music, where certain chords and certain intervals dominate whole periods. Or ideas behind the images can span centuries.’ Continue reading

The famous composer who worked in a shop

Invoices bearing letterheads can often be found among boxes of ephemera at auctions, but rarely does one come across an invoice on which a letter has been appended, especially one signed by a famous Italian composer. But when that composer is also the part-owner of probably the most famous piano retailers in Georgian London, you’ve got something rather special.

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) composed around 110 piano sonatas and was greatly admired by Beethoven. In 1798 he became a partner with Collard and Collard in a company that boasted the patronage of both the Royal Family and the East India Company. With a manufactory in Tottenham Court Road and a shop at 26, Cheapside, Clementi, Collard and Collard were for many years the best know musical instrument makers in London and as such were the go-to establishment for well heeled musical amateurs throughout the Empire.

This particular invoice, which was for 'An elegant new Piano Forte of 6 Octaves…with round corners on six legs', is  addressed to 'John F Halahan, MD, Assistant Surgeon, Royal Artillery, Montreal', and is dated August 17th 1824. It reveals that the full cost, with packing case included, came to 42 guineas, but this was reduced to £31 10s for cash. Additional expenses included freight charges of a mere £1 2s 6d and insurance at £1 11s 6d. Dr Halahan had already handed over 30 guineas cash as a down payment, leaving a balance of £14 6s 6d.

Continue reading