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George Lloyd: an unjustly neglected original musical voice

Music / 2 Comments / June 28, 2013

George Lloyd

George Lloyd: film star looks and three symphonies by the age of 30

Today would have been the 100th birthday of composer George Lloyd. Standing comparison with Ralph Vaughan Williams, he wrote 12 symphonies, seven concertos, three operas and much else besides – all in a tonal and approachable melodic style – yet he is still almost completely ignored by the musical establishment. Why should this be?

The first clue lies in understanding what the musical establishment comprises. Largely funded by the Arts Council, the BBC and the universities, its members enjoy the freedom to compose for each other rather than the wider public. As such, during the post-War years, they tended to freeze out composers who eschewed their preferred atonal idioms. Most notoriously, Sir William Glock was reputed to have blacklisted Edmund Rubbra and Herbert Howells, as well as Lloyd, during his tenure as Controller of BBC Radio 3 between 1959 and 1972.

The second reason for his being overshadowed this year is the other British composer whose centenary falls this year, Benjamin Britten. As far as I can see, his pacifism struck more of a chord with the establishment than Lloyd’s courageous wartime service on the Arctic convoys. In this year’s BBC Proms season, for example, some 20 works by Britten are featuring, whereas Lloyd is represented by just two: the London première of his Requiem and his HMS Trinidad March, written for the warship in which he was badly injured during the war.

It is fortunate that George Lloyd survived into the age of the CD and enjoyed an Indian summer in the 1980s and 1990s, during which he was able to record many of his works. Since then, he has again been eclipsed by younger composers such as John Tavener and James MacMillan. Perhaps it is long since time that British orchestras began to programme his symphonies and concerti; after all, who doesn’t like to claim credit for a musical renaissance?

  • Kevin Scott / October 26, 2013 / Reply

    First, my sincere thanks for posting this notice on George Lloyd.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Lloyd briefly, as he was on his way back to JFK airport after guest conducting the Albany Symphony Orchestra here in New York. We met in a wonderful restaurant in Grand Central Terminal, and he was one of the most alert, alive men I have ever met, and continued my correspondence with him, especially with my report of the New York (actually US) premiere of the fifth symphony with the New York Symphonic Arts Ensemble. Unfortunately, many musicians have forgotten his music, both here and abroad, and while I have no problem with post-serial composers and neo-tonalists (being a composer who has written in both idioms), I fear that many tagged Lloyd in the wrong way, as being “out of touch” with the present day. He really wasn’t, he just could not accept it, and he was to be commended for it.

    Hopefully one day soon, we will see more conductors re-discover his music and program it. I do plan on performing his tenth symphony one of these years, not to mention some of his works for concert band, but if I ever get the chance to conduct an orchestra again, his music is on my short list of works to be programmed, especially the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth symphonies.

  • Dominic / November 5, 2013 / Reply

    Thank you very much, Kevin, for your very interesting comments. It’s really fascinating to hear from somebody who knew and corresponded with George Lloyd; I think that his story would make a fascinating bio-pic, if ever some script-writer ever spotted the potential. I wish you every success with performing more of his works and look forward to the wider revival that his music richly deserves.

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