Abstracts of issue 15 (2002)

Ion Zottos

Humphrey Searle: Disciple of Schönberg, Pupil of Webern, and his Work

Little is known, in Greece at least, of Humphrey Searle and his eclectic, so to speak, work, who felt on surest ground, when following the precepts of the Second Viennese School.
Section (a) deals with his early years at Oxford, where he read Greats at New College and where a production of Berg’s Wozzeck under the baton of Sir Adrian Boult came as a revelation; then follows a short period of study in Vienna with Webern, whose direct influence did not manifest itself till later; his various war activities, teaching, distinctions, and awards round off the opening section.
Section (b) centers around the influence composers such the Viennese masters Schönberg and Webern, the English Constant Lambert, Bernard van Dieren, William Walton, and the poetess Edith Sitwell had on his work, and of his unique understanding of the work of Liszt, who left a deep influence on his work.
New horizons open up in section (c) with his exploratory compositions (opp. 1-7), and his first mature work: his Piano Sonata, op. 21, based to a great extent on Liszt’s b-minor Sonata.
The five Symphonies are next briefly examined, which show a tendency of moving away from Schönberg’s strictness towards Webern’s lucidity and bareness of texture.
The penultimate section (e) deals with three solid and massive compositions for large orchestra, narrators, chorus et al.: Gold Coast Customs (text by Edith Sitwell), The Riverrun (based on the final section of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake), and The Shadow of Cain (poem by Edith Sitwell).
Last (section f) come the three operas: The Diary of a Madman (based on Gogol), The Photo of the Colonel (an adaptation of Ionesco’s The Killer), and a dodecaphonic quasi-recitativo rendition of the greater part of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: his most ambitious creation. Along with Elisabeth Lutyens, Searle is responsible for the introduction of the twelve-tone system into twentieth-century English music.

© Musicology