George Lloyd: an unjustly neglected original musical voice
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?