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Douglas Stevens | Lennox Berkeley: The Complete Piano Works

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Lennox Berkeley: The Complete Piano Works

by Douglas Stevens

Here Douglas Stevens performs the entire solo piano output of Lennox Berkeley, expertly navigating his influences and confluences in musical style with passion, verve and tenderness.
Genre: Classical: Piano solo
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1. March
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2. For Vere
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3. Mr. Pilkington's Toye
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4. Six Preludes, Op. 23: I. Allegro
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5. Six Preludes, Op. 23: II. Andante
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6. Six Preludes, Op. 23: III. Allegro moderato
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7. Six Preludes, Op. 23: IV. Allegretto
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8. Six Preludes, Op. 23: V. Allegro
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9. Six Preludes, Op. 23: VI. Andante
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10. Sonata for Piano, Op. 20: I. Moderato
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11. Sonata for Piano, Op. 20: II. Presto
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12. Sonata for Piano, Op. 20: III. Adagio
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13. Sonata for Piano, Op. 20: IV. Allegro
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14. Concert Study in E Flat, Op. 48, No. 2
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15. Three Pieces, Op. 2: I. Etude
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16. Three Pieces, Op. 2: II. Berceuse
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17. Three Pieces, Op. 2: III. Capriccio
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18. Prelude and Capriccio, Op. 95: I. Prelude
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19. Prelude and Capriccio, Op. 95: II. Capriccio
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20. Toccata
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21. Three Impromptus, Op. 7: I. Moderato
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22. Three Impromptus, Op. 7: II. Andantino
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23. Three Impromptus, Op. 7: III. Allegro
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24. Piano Pieces: I. Allegro moderato
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25. Piano Pieces: II. —
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26. Piano Pieces: III. Moderato
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27. Five Short Pieces, Op. 4: I. Andante
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28. Five Short Pieces, Op. 4: II. Allegro moderato
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29. Five Short Pieces, Op. 4: III. Moderato
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30. Five Short Pieces, Op. 4: IV. Andante
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31. Five Short Pieces, Op. 4: V. Allegro
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32. Four Concert Studies, Op. 24 No. 1: I. Presto
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33. Four Concert Studies, Op. 24 No. 1: II. Andante
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34. Four Concert Studies, Op. 24 No. 1: III. Allegro
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35. Four Concert Studies, Op. 24 No. 1: IV. Allegro
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36. Four Piano Studies, Op. 82: I. Allegro moderato
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37. Four Piano Studies, Op. 82: II. Allegro
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38. Four Piano Studies, Op. 82: III. Lento
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39. Four Piano Studies, Op. 82: IV. Presto leggiero
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40. Paysage
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41. Three Mazurkas (Hommage à Chopin) Op. 32 No. 1: I. Allegro
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42. Three Mazurkas (Hommage à Chopin) Op. 32 No. 1: II. Allegretto
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43. Three Mazurkas (Hommage à Chopin) Op. 32 No. 1: III. Allegro
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44. Scherzo, Op. 37: No. 2
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45. Mazurka, Op. 101: No. 2
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46. Improvisation on a Theme of Manuel de Falla, Op. 55: No. 2
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47. Polka, Op. 5: No. 1a
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Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989)

Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989), one of the most versatile of twentieth-century English composers, wrote music in a wide variety of genres – his output includes four symphonies, four operas (plus the unfinished Faldon Park), three string quartets and numerous songs, choral pieces and works for solo piano. Sadly, he is only remembered for a fraction of this output, including the Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila, the Missa Brevis, the Flute Sonatina and the Six Preludes for piano.
Born at Boars Hill, near Oxford, Berkeley studied composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger after completing a degree at the University of Oxford. He married Freda Bernstein in 1946 and their three children include Michael Berkeley, himself a professional composer. Lennox Berkeley also retained a lasting friendship with Benjamin Britten, whom he first met at the ISCM Festival in Barcelona in 1936. Teaching at the Royal Academy of Music for over twenty years, Berkeley facilitated the training of a large number of composers including William Mathias, John Tavener and Richard Rodney Bennett. Berkeley converted to Catholicism in 1928 and his faith had a significant impact on his music, leading to works such as the Stabat Mater, the Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila and the two settings of the Mass; his film music includes that for The Sword of the Spirit, depicting the struggle of Catholics during World War Two.
Berkeley’s music displays a wide variety of influences, from eighteenth-century Classicism through to the Romanticism of Fauré and Chopin, contemporary French music of the early twentieth century and Britten. Yet these influences are never heard as a ‘patchwork’ – the remarkable individuality of Berkeley’s style attests to the way these influences became amalgamated into a unique compositional approach.
Despite his relative obscurity Berkeley received a large number of accolades in later life including a Knighthood and a papal Knighthood of St Gregory. A growing number of recordings of his music demonstrates a continuation of interest in his work and legacy.

March (1924)
The pageantry of medieval France seems to be evocated in this, one of Berkeley’s earliest compositions. Yet much of the work is clearly the work of a composer much more interested in Ravel than Machaut or Dufay. Indicative of this is a cadential passage that replicates a very similar structure in the Rigaudon from Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin.

For Vere (1927)
For Vere is a striking example of the rigidly combined bitonality that so obsessed Berkeley during his Parisian years. The passage where F major in the right hand is set against F sharp tonality in
the bass sounds particularly sinister, while the opening is almost grotesque in quality. The final bar, however, indicates dominant preparation of C major, the key of Mr Pilkington’s Toye.

Mr Pilkington’s Toye (1926)
Berkeley here takes great delight in quasi-Elizabethan pastiche but the use of such harmonies as major ninth chords shows that this could only be the work of a twentieth-century composer. The rippling semiquavers in thirds are a particularly delightful and, in terms of the pastiche, unidiomatic gesture.

Six Preludes (1945) opus 23

Allegro
The first of Berkeley’s set of Preludes owes much to Impressionism, the melody rising above the rippling semiquavers played initially by the right hand. Something more harmonically decisive is heard when the music moves briefly but unambiguously towards C minor although the misty A flat heard at the opening returns with a more positive consolidation at the end of the piece.

Andante
Although Berkeley begins this prelude with a simple idea of lyrical melody above accompanying quavers the situation becomes rather more complex when the opening melody is heard in the middle of the texture and split between the hands. The C natural in the opening bar has a double function – not only is it the chromatic neighbour note to the C sharp but it also heralds the brief arrival of D minor seventh heard in bar 3.

Allegro moderato
The technical difficulties of this prelude are rather obscured by the jocular and jovial nature of the piece. The cascading semiquavers produce an iridescent luminosity that remains largely
unbroken throughout the work.

Allegretto
Although Poulenc was undoubtedly an influence on Berkeley’s music the two composers’ approaches to form and structure display as many differences as similarities. Nonetheless there is, as Peter Dickinson has noted, a very obvious similarity between the opening of this prelude and the second of Poulenc’s Trois Pièces. The movement through a variety of keys during the central section is, however, typical Berkeley.

Allegro
The light-hearted mood is similar to that of the third prelude but this work has a somewhat more wild and vivacious middle section containing many offbeat accents and syncopations.

Andante
As if to create a reciprocal structure to the cycle as a whole, this prelude, like the first, is in the key of A flat major (albeit a less ambiguous example than the opening prelude). The main characteristic of this work is the flattened seventh heard in the melody the opening bar although the alto line re-emphasizes the tonic through its contradictory G natural at the end of the bar.

Sonata for Piano (1945) opus 20
Berkeley’s Sonata for Piano, his only extended work for solo piano, is in itself sufficient to counteract the theory that the composer was most suited to producing works on a smaller scale. Sections of wild virtuosic bravura are juxtaposed with sections of more lyrical quality throughout the piece.

Moderato
The first movement contains one of Berkeley’s experiments with monothematic sonata-form design, and the opening arpeggiated theme forms the basis of much of the material in the movement and in the rest of the sonata. Shortly after the opening a melody based on the simple four-note cell heard at the start appears and the second subject melody also contains the upward melodic leap of a major sixth common to the original motif. Likewise the melody at the tranquillo in the development section sounds like completely new material, such is the different sound quality, but it is in fact initiated by the original motif itself. The gentle lilt of the postlude comes after one of Berkeley’s truncated recapitulations, a feature common to many of his works in the 1940s, the first movement of the String Trio being one example.

Presto
Perhaps the most technically difficult movement of the sonata, the continuous semiquaver passagework provides little respite for the performer. A melody appears shortly after the opening which is based on the compression of the original motif from the first movement, with the major sixth interval shortened to a minor third but the original melodic contour retained.

Adagio
The emotional heart of the sonata, the Adagio contains some of Berkeley’s most intriguing tonal experiments with episodes of bitonality gradually moving towards a point of common resolution. The luminous opening of the movement contrasts greatly with the very dry central section which reflects a mood of utter desolation.

Allegro
The improvisatory quality of the opening of this movement lightens the mood somewhat from the melancholy of the Adagio. The vigorous passagework in the accompaniment to the main theme and the hammered octaves contribute to the restless atmosphere. A softer lyrical section appears towards the end of the movement before Berkeley builds up to the climax of the work that precedes the return of the opening material.

Concert Study in E flat (1955) opus 48, no. 2
The semiquaver passagework in the right hand of this study is based on a similar structure in the second movement of Berkeley’s Sonata for Piano. The excitable nature of the opening gives way to a gentle and more lyrical section at the meno vivo in the contrasting brightness of D major which passes swiftly back to the original material in the tonic key.

Three Pieces (1935) opus 2

Etude
This work was dedicated to the famous pianist Harriet Cohen. In his biography of Berkeley, Lennox and Freda, Tony Scotland recounts how Cohen apparently found the piece ‘charming’. It is surely anything but charming and contains some of the most acerbic results of Berkeley’s early experiments with bitonality. The structure of the opening is comprised of a chromatically ascending figure in the right hand, sometimes augmented with thick triadic chords, juxtaposed with a diatonically descending melody in the bass. There is no real let up in the high level of dissonance throughout the rest of the piece.

Berceuse
Written for Alan Searle, this work is a testament of deep affection for the younger man. Like many of Berkeley’s early themes, the opening melody oscillates between two notes a tone or semitone apart (see the Polka and Toccata for similar examples). In his study of the composer, The Music of Lennox Berkeley, Peter Dickinson has identified ‘echoes of Chopin’ in the central section but the way in which it moves through a variety of different keys before returning to the opening melody in the tonic key is quintessential Berkeley.

Capriccio
This lively work, dedicated to Berkeley’s Oxford friend Vere Pilkington, is full of much zest and character. Redolent of the satirical nature of much contemporary French music the sudden cadential preparation of A flat during the middle of the piece seems to suggest a portentous announcement of a major new idea;
instead however the riotous opening character returns in the following bar.

Prelude and Capriccio (1978) opus 95
The Prelude begins with a very sparse texture but becomes thicker with the move to the climax where dominant minor ninth harmony suddenly replaces the opaque tonality at the beginning. The Capriccio shows Berkeley at his most jovial and is a remarkably sprightly work for a man in his 70s. The more reflective meno vivo section is rather less quixotic than the opening but it does little to detract from the overriding bravura.

Toccata (1925)
Unlike the Toccata from Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, and indeed the famous examples of Schumann and Prokofiev, Berkeley’s Toccata has a gentler middle section where the mechanical texture gives way to something more lyrical. The opening then returns with some vengeance with the final section that brings the work to a swift, perhaps slightly premature conclusion.

Three Impromptus (1935) opus 7

Moderato
This remarkable piece contains two seemingly disparate musical elements – the dryness of Spanish guitar music is combined with the mellifluous insouciance of Fauré. Berkeley keeps the idiosyncratic accompanimental pattern largely continuous throughout the piece.

Andantino
The gentle lilt of this piece arises in part from the dactylic rhythm that Berkeley used for the accompaniment in his setting of Jean Passerat’s Ode du premier jour de mai. Like the central section of the Berceuse the piece moves swiftly through various keys before reaching the climax in A major prior to returning to the tonic. The wistful fading away at the end gives the impression of a question that has remained unanswered.

Allegro
The martellato textures of this toccata-like work contrast with the more serene atmosphere of the first two impromptus. Unwilling to keep the stringency continuous, however, Berkeley initiates a softer melody
as early as bar 8 but the opening material makes an assertive and unrepentant reappearance very shortly afterwards.

Piano Pieces (1927)
The Allegro moderato has the feel of a two-part invention gone horribly wrong but the bitonality is of course deliberate and reflects that of For Vere and much of Berkeley’s early music. The strident accents further contribute to the percussive and slightly menacing nature of the work. The elegiac quality of the second piece moves far away from the frivolity of the Allegro moderato and builds up to a climax containing some biting dissonances. Contrasts of mood continue in the Moderato with the strident opening bar followed by the much quieter and sinister passage that follows. Like much of Ravel’s piano music this piece has the feel of an orchestral work in its various colours and contrasts.

Five Short Pieces (1936) opus 4
The Five Short Pieces are, along with the Six Preludes, the only examples of Berkeley’s solo piano music that are widely known. The pieces were written for José Raffalli, with whom Berkeley shared a flat in Paris. The opening Andante is surely one of Berkeley’s most seamless melodies, making it all the more surprising that the time signature changes no less than nine times within the work’s seventeen bars. The joyful and light-hearted Allegro moderato contains much syncopation while the Moderato passes through a wide variety of keys (B flat, D flat and A major) before returning to the tonic G major. Purists might scoff at Berkeley’s decision, in the following Andante, to parallel the melody in perfect fifths (plus two octaves) with the bass at the return of the initial material but the harsh sound is ameliorated by the accompanying figure (here heard in the middle of the texture) which produces a very distinctive if slightly austere sound quality. Frequent changes of time return in the final Allegro which also returns to a mood of joyous optimism.

Four Concert Studies (1940) opus 24, no. 1
This very challenging set of studies contains much innovative piano writing and also in places looks forward to Berkeley’s later style. Much of the passagework in the opening Presto is based on the intervals of a minor second and minor third, a structural technique common to much of Berkeley’s music in the 1960s and 70s. The Andante which follows is one of the composer’s most profound musical testaments with moments of great melancholic beauty. The opening four-note melodic cell (B, G sharp, A sharp, B) is taken from the opening melody of the Flute Sonatina, written the previous year. The manic quality of the final two studies suggest an unsettled frame of mind and the third seems to relentlessly build on the unstoppable force of its own energy. The final study is slightly reminiscent of Chopin’s Study in G sharp minor (opus 25, no. 6) but Berkeley once again builds to a hectic climax after the slightly more subdued central section.

Four Piano Studies (1972) opus 82
Although not quite as virtuosic as Berkeley’s earlier set of studies for piano the opus 82 studies are no less technically demanding than their earlier counterparts. The opening Allegro moderato requires careful pedalling and is primarily an exercise in retaining evenness of tone in semiquaver passagework. Much of Berkeley’s late music is based on the thematic transposition and repetition of short intervallic constructs and the Allegro demonstrates this with such features as the alternating major seconds and minor sixths in bars 3-4. French music meets Scriabin in the Lento where unstable dominant ninth variants are subjected to transpositional repetition rather than resolution. The unsettled nature of the tonality in this piece contrasts with the greater clarity of the Presto leggiero where the composer produces many fine harmonic effects from the cascading semiquavers.

Paysage (1944)
Pastoral evocations in nineteenth and twentieth-century music rarely relate solely to attractive provincial vistas and the sense of nostalgia in this work pertains to an expression of deep sadness. The accented notes in the middle section seem to suggest the chiming of distant bells.

Three Mazurkas (Hommage à Chopin) (1949) opus 32, no. 1
Written for the centenary of Chopin’s death (although the first was composed somewhat earlier), these mazurkas represent a very apt homage to the earlier composer. The first introduces the typical emphasis on the second beat of the bar common to the mazurka although there is no clear tonality throughout much of the piece. The Allegretto is more redolent of Chopinesque melancholy, and there is a powerful clash between the C natural of the melody and the C sharp in the accompaniment in the opening bar. This mazurka also contains decorative passagework clearly intended
to replicate the stylistic imprint of Chopin. The third mazurka is particularly interesting, the opening melody bearing a close relation to that of the aria ‘At missis Ellibanks’ from Berkeley’s opera A Dinner Engagement.
The general mood of farce in the mazurka also replicates that of the opera but the sudden change to a more sinister mood during the central section recalls a similar occurrence in Chopin’s Mazurka in B flat major (opus 7, no. 1), complete with the open fifth ‘drone’ in the left hand.

Scherzo (1949) opus 37, no. 2
The sardonic wit prevalent in this work reflects an amalgam of the more light-hearted eighteenth-century scherzo combined with some of the vivacity of those by Chopin. The tremendous energy of the work
suddenly dissipates at the end with the hands stretched wide apart on the piano.

Mazurka (1982) opus 101, no. 2
None of Berkeley’s opus 32 Mazurkas were specifically modelled on a Chopin example, but the opening of his opus 101 mazurka bears a striking resemblance to that of Chopin’s Mazurka in C sharp minor
(opus 6, no. 2). And just as the corresponding material in the Chopin Mazurka is introductory it can be argued that the principal theme of the Berkeley Mazurka is really the new melody in C major that appears shortly after the opening. The remainder of the Berkeley Mazurka, however, seems to move away from Chopin, skirting delightfully through a number of keys before returning to G major.

Improvisation on a Theme of Manuel de Falla (1960) opus 55, no. 2
Beginning with a very slow meditation Berkeley broadens out into something more vigorous in the central section culminating with the original oscillating melody heard in the left hand octaves at the climax of the work. The return of the Tempo I heralds some of Berkeley’s most beautiful music in the final dozen bars of the piece, repudiating the idea that Berkeley had produced his most lyrical work by the mid-1950s.

Polka (1934) opus 5, no. 1 (a)
Berkeley’s Polka initially appeared as a work for two pianos in 1926, and its vibrant wit has a rough and at times caustic quality. Berkeley remained largely faithful to the original in his arrangement for solo piano but he did make some alterations that slightly lessen the dissonance in some places.

© Douglas Stevens, 2018

Producer - David Bednall.
Sound - Richard Jeffrey-Gray.
Design - Lesley Lee
Photography - Charlotte Lee

Recorded on the Steinway Model B in the Bowerman Hall, Monkton Combe School, with grateful thanks to George Bevan and Monkton Combe School.
28th August 2017, 18th February & 26th March 2018

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