Paul Hindmarsh reflects on the life and music of George Lloyd (1913 – 1998), with special mention of his music for brass band
On 20 July 1982, the Band of the Royal Green Jackets was playing a selection from Oliver! to an audience of about 120. Without any warning there was a loud explosion and the Regent’s Park bandstand on which the band was performing blew up. The loss of life and injuries from the blast and from the iron shards that rained down like shrapnel from the shattered bandstand railings was horrific. In a nearby apartment, 69 year old George Lloyd was just finishing some work on his latest score. The fearful sound of the explosion (the second IRA bomb of the day, following a similar detonation in Hyde Park some two hours earlier) took George straight outside to investigate. He arrived on the scene before the emergency services. The devastation he witnessed brought back vivid memories of his own life-changing experiences on board the cruiser HMS Trinidad, when it was all but sunk by the malfunction of its own torpedoes and eventually sunk after being attacked by German bombers, while working to secure the Arctic convoys.
When George received a commission from the BBC to compose a work for the 1985 European Brass Band Championships, he paid tribute to the seven young bandsmen who lost their lives in the poignant central movement of the suite Royal Parks. In Memoriam remains one of the most personal, deeply moving movements in the entire George Lloyd canon. His orchestral version will receive its first performance later in this centenary year. The other movements do not plumb the same depths. Dawn Flight skilfully conjures up the sight and sound of birds in the early morning. After the intensity of In Memoriam, the self-explanatory finale, Holidays, sounds less convincing in its jolly mood. Throughout his long and often troubled composing life, George was happy to set moments of profound emotion or subtle orchestral colour against music that sounded innocently naïve. As he said himself “it all comes from the same well” of inspiration.
This all-or-nothing approach has divided opinion about George Lloyd’s creative legacy. During his ‘second’ career from the 1970s, the music loving public took George’s romantic symphonies, choral epics and brass band music to its heart. The composer’s nephew, William Lloyd, who was George’s business partner and promoter, estimates that some 100,000 CDs of his uncle’s music have been sold since his first records were issued. (His work has been recorded by EMI, Lyrita, Conifer, Decca, Chandos, Serendipity and Doyen, as well as the Albany label, set up to publish his recordings). However, there was a portion of the musical establishment and press that could not come to terms with what we might now describe as George’s retro-styled music. His love of romantic melody, his passion for Verdi, his love of Tchaikovsky and Berlioz seemed so out of kilter with the modernist aesthetic of the times. For them his music is too old fashioned and derivative.
The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in the middle. As William is the first to concede, his uncle’s music is uneven, sometimes alarmingly so. He speaks with affection and a welcome dose of realism about George’s music and how it continues to divide opinion: “George has a reputation among the musical establishment of being populist and low brow or banal and regressive. Now I am the first to acknowledge that his output is very mixed. There is some glorious, beautiful music alongside some less than inspired work. Because of the way he composed, George didn’t like chopping bits out, but his music could be repetitive.
“Right from the early days, his teachers at Trinity College lamented the fact that he needed a firm editor, and that the blue pencil would have done him a great service. When they suggested that he should trim one or two of the unnecessary climaxes, he would put his tongue in his cheek, take the score away, and bring it back with yet another climax inserted. He cared very little for editors and critics – he knew that the public liked his ‘big stuff’ and he liked it too. ‘I write what I have to write’ he said. ‘I write what I like’. It wasn’t as much that he flew in the face of critical opinion, as that he had absolute faith in his method of composition. He felt that his music came through him almost in a kind of spiritual way.”
Now that is interesting, and perhaps more pertinent to a consideration of George’s musical legacy than the devastating effects of the war time experience that tend to dominate what is written about his life. From his childhood in Cornwall to his last days in London, George was fiercely independent. He came from what you might call the ‘bohemian’ gentry. The Lloyd family was very influential in the early days of the St. Ives artists’ colony, in which George grew up. The watchwords were self-sufficiency and independence of thought. George’s father, William, was a hippy ‘bohemian’ in the colony. He wrote poetry, published a biography of Bellini and compiled the librettos for all three of George’s operas. His mother often could be seen dressed a gypsy with a clay pipe! William senior’s mother had been a fine painter in the Pre-Raphaelite style. Her pictures adorn the walls of an elegantly converted Cumbrian barn that serves as George Lloyd HQ and where I met William (junior).
George Walter Selwyn Lloyd was born in St. Ives, Cornwall on 28 June 1913, five months before Edward Benjamin Britten, who was also born in a fishing town, Lowestoft in Suffolk St. Ives. Although their careers as composers followed very different paths, Lloyd and Britten had two things very much in common: a prodigious early start and a love of opera and of melody. Britten had composed volumes of juvenilia by the time he studied with Frank Bridge as a school boy. Lloyd too revealed his ambitions early. Schooled at home until he was 10 because of rheumatic fever, George was composing tunes from the age of 10. Chamber music was a regular feature of family life at St. Eia, the family home in St. Ives and at Bridge Cottage in nearby Zennor. George’s precocious musical gifts were identified early and nurtured with the best of teachers.
He left school at 14, studying violin for five years with the great English virtuoso Albert Sammons. His harmony, counterpoint and composition teachers at Trinity College of Music were among the leading traditionalists of the day – Lovelock, Kitson and Farjeon. By the age of 19 George had many works to his name, although the first three symphonies are all that remain from this time – the only survivors from a composition ‘cull’ and bonfire which George carried out in the 1970s. These early efforts reveal much serious, endeavour, heavily influenced by Sibelius and Tchaikovsky. Writing about his Third Symphony, George described his 19 year-old self as ultra-romantic, and on this evidence and the lyrical character of the two operas that brought him much critical acclaim in the 1930s, the 20th century musical revolution seemed to have completely passed him by.
An opera composer emerges
George composed his first opera when he was 21 and appeared to possess a natural flair for the stage. He was able to craft his work to fit the production very much as his ‘mentor’ Verdi had done half a century earlier. Iernin was launched in Penzance and then played for an unusually long run at the Lyceum Theatre in London, with George conducting. John Ireland, who was teaching George’s contemporary Benjamin Britten at this time, went to a number of performances. He ‘took a fancy to the work’, as George later put it. Ireland thought he detected in the music the influence of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. George, however, had never heard it, so the older composer invited George back to his flat in Chelsea and they worked through the night on the two-piano version of Stravinsky’s revolutionary masterpiece. George always said that this encounter and recognition was hugely important to him.
Three years later, in 1938, George’s second opera, The Serf, which he always regarded as his containing some of his finest music, triumphed at the Covent Garden theatre, now the Royal Opera House. At 25, George’s music and his conducting brought him right into the limelight. He was regarded alongside his contemporary Benjamin Britten as one of the composers to watch: ‘He lives, breathes and exhales opera – in this he is unique among our coming men’ was how Harry Farjeon quaintly described him. Of all the up-and-coming talents in England, only Britten could boast a better C.V. than that.
It was around this time that Nancy came on the scene. She was Swiss and lived in the Alpine village of Chateau d’Oex. George’s younger brother Walter (now in his late 80s) was attending the English school there and living in the pension owned by Nancy’s parents. William takes up the story: “Nancy’s mother was Irish and her father Swiss. She had read Chopin’s biography as a young woman and said to George’s father, I’m going to marry a composer – emulating George Sand’s relationship with the romantic Polish composer. My grandad thought that was the woman for George, so he sent him out there. George and Nancy told the same story of their initial encounter. George arrived late at night and was taking his breakfast next morning with his back to the dining room door, when someone came into the room. George said, ‘Hello Nancy’. He’d never met her before and couldn’t see who had come in. She asked how he knew it was her and he said he just knew and three weeks later they were married.” After that whirlwind romance, they remained inseparable until George’s death.
The scars of war
What then occurred to halt this apparent inexorable progress has been well-documented, but still bears repeating. During the first years of the Second World War, while pacifist Benjamin Britten was attempting to build a composing career in Canada and the United States, George Lloyd was on active service as a Royal Marines bandsman – cum – gunner on the Arctic convoy escort cruiser HMS Trinidad. As well as being a professional standard violinist (studying with the celebrated violinist Albert Sammons), George Lloyd had also learned the cornet. One if his early duties, in 1941, was to compose a ship’s march at the request of the ship’s bandmaster. At the same time the ship’s Captain had also asked a friend of his, who just happened to be the country’s leading composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (RVW), if he could supply one. RVW sent in what is thought to have been a march, now lost, entitled The Golden Vanity. Deciding which should become HMS Trinidad’s signature march came about in a ‘play off’ held on board ship in Scapa Flow. Amid loud cheering, the Captain, Commander and Captain of Marines chose George Lloyd’s lively and tuneful number.
There was not much else to cheer about however, as in May 1942, HMS Trinidad was in action against German air craft and u-boats. In a most unfortunate accident, one of the ship’s torpedoes was faulty and turned back on its path, exploding into the Marine’s transmission station (TS), which was below the water line. This self-inflicted wound caused the death of 17 and severe injury and shell-shock to many others, including Marine Lloyd, as he recalled many years later:
“I was the last to leave the TS and have always kept vivid memories of what took place. There were 21 men in the transmitting station. 17 died. I was stationed close to the ladder, working the switchboard. The ladder was the only way of getting in or out…I was some way up the first ladder when I lost consciousness and remember nothing until I crawled out of the hatch two decks up. Somebody did try after me but the huge hatch cover fell on him and broke his back so I was the last out of the TS… Then I crawled across the mess deck and up a ladder to an upper deck where I lay down again. While I was there I heard a sailor from the deck below shouting “Anyone below, anyone below?” I should have shouted that help was needed for the TS, but I had no strength. Later, another sailor passed by and told me to go to the Galley and there I found Lou Barber, Corporal Palmer and some others.”
A complete mental and physical collapse followed. I recall in the many conversation that George and I had when he came to conduct the BBC Philharmonic in the 1980s and 90s, how much he owed to the love and devotion if his Swiss wife Nancy, who nursed him back towards full health over the next few years. A convinced believer in the power of the spirit, and in some of its manifestations, Nancy drew George back to composition, first in Switzerland in the late 1940s, where George laboured long and hard on his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. The dramatic Fourth, Arctic (1946) and the pastoral, expansive (1948) chart the tragedy and the slow recuperation. In 1945 Lloyd was well enough to travel to Nancy’s home in Switzerland, where these two deeply personal works were written. He did not release his Fourth Symphony for performance until the 1980s, by which time his rehabilitation into the musical life of this country was all but complete. Of this work he wrote about:
” … a world of darkness, storms, strange colours and far-way peacefulness. That for me was the Arctic. During the winter of 1941-2 I had seen some of its terrifying aspects; its violence and immensity so overwhelming that even men’s barbarity to each other seemed to become less horrifying than it was. My impression and experiences in the Arctic had become something of an obsession and they gradually formulated themselves into a symphony – where the music, the sea, an orchestra. My own anguish all became mixed up together.”
Lloyd’s personal anguish as far as his composing was not over. In 1951, as one of the country’s leading operatic voices, he was commissioned, along with Benjamin Britten and Vaughan Williams, to write an opera in celebration of the Festival of Britain. Britten composed Billy Budd. Vaughan William’s masterpiece based on Bunyan’s Pilgrims’ Progress was the outcome of a life-time’s creativity. Lloyd composed John Socman. Composed for the Carl Rosa Opera, it was very much the traditional lyric romantic opera of the trio, but was given so little production effort or money (as its repetiteur the late Edward Downes recalled at the time of the composer’s death in 1998) that the trauma of the experience caused another break-down in George Lloyd’s health.
The problems for George arose when the producer Dennis Arundell (1898 -1988) brought in his own designer Michael Whittaker in place of George’s preferred choice. In one of his characteristic and highly emotional outbursts, George “let rip and said some things he probably shouldn’t have said,” William comments. “He fell out with Arundell. George’s suggestions were ignored and eventually the producer had him barred from attending rehearsals. George only saw one performance and vowed never to write for the stage again.” Looking back objectively one might appreciate that independent minded George did not acknowledge or failed to appreciate the boundaries that were part of the professional musical scene. However, George had at least one sympathetic voice in the person of the pianist on the production of John Socman, Edward Downes, who recalled much later, “Poor George Lloyd, I felt so sorry for him during the whole production.”
George withdrew from public life again – this time for almost 20 years. If this tribute were a romantic novel, it might continue…George and Nancy retired to the Dorset country side, grew mushrooms and carnations and lived happily ever after!… Well, they did move to Dorset, but initially more as a refuge and for recuperation. William Lloyd has vivid memories of their 20 years at Ryewater Gardens, near Sherborne, which he often visited as a boy:
” People assume that when you have shell shock, or post-traumatic stress, that it is all in the mind, but there are physical manifestations and for many years after the war, George suffered with constant muscular spasms and it was very difficult for him to find regular work. He and Nancy decided that they would grow their own food to start with, selling the surplus and living on his disability war pension. This was just about enough to live on and pay the rent.”
As they became more established, George developed a sound head for business, and the market garden blossomed, as William continues:
“As a young man, I was fascinated by the scale of the operation – huge greenhouses growing mushrooms and carnations, the packing sheds, little tractors and all that. During the 60s, George was far better known in the horticultural world than the musical world. He was one of the first market gardeners to use plastic to cover the greenhouses, which he had constructed himself. I recall one summer helping by stapling endless sheets of plastic to his wooden frames.”
It was Nancy who cajoled him into taking up his composition again, threatening to leave him if he didn’t. After all she had married a composer not a mushroom grower!
The heart-warming Sixth Symphony was the result and after that the compulsion to write, which he had lost, returned at a pace. George would get up at 4.30 am every day to spend a couple of hours writing. These were his best years in many ways – the intensely personal Seventh, Prosperine, evoking the mythological world of ancient Greece, the expansive Eighth and concise Ninth symphonies, the Piano Concertos, inspired by a friendship and collaboration with the pianist John Ogdon, and his dramatic cantata The Vigil of Venus (revealing for this writer how much we have missed not having another opera from George’s pen). He maintained a rigid routine of writing without any prospect of performance.
As his creative powers returned, Lloyd faced a very different musical hurdle – the transformation in the musical atmosphere of the country. Lloyd’s musical style had changed very little throughout the troubled decades. He loved tunes – not intricate flights of melody, but tunes which were often deliberately naive in their outline. Often, he would take these as a point of departure for more dissonant and dramatic flights of inspiration. He could be expansive at times, particularly in his symphonies, the early operas and the later choral works. But when the need arose, he could also write in a concise and technically refined manner, as he did in his brass and wind pieces.
Going it alone a second time
The combination of memorable, romantic melody and attractive orchestral colour, tinged at times with flashes of brilliance, energy and drama, touched a chord with his audience. However, When George began sending music to the BBC for orchestral or prom performance, the scores were returned unperformed. This was the era of Sir William Glock – who was Controller of Music between 1959 and 1972. Glock presided over a period when musical modernism was the new orthodoxy and those like George Lloyd writing in a traditional tonal way were ignored or silenced; so George also fell out spectacularly with Glock and the BBC Music Department in London, which did not consider his romantic symphonies as worthy of broadcast. When George, understandably, requested chapter and verse in explanation from the Third Programme Controller, Frank Gillard, none was forthcoming, recalling years later that….
“scores came back, usually without comment. I never wrote 12-tone music because I didn’t like the theory. I studied the blessed thing in the early 1930s and thought it was a cock-eyed idea that produced horrible sounds. It made composers forget how to sing.”
George Lloyd’s music disappeared from the air waves for over 20 years until in 1973, aged 60 and with the market in mushrooms and carnations increasingly dominated by airfreight and intensively grown European imports, George and Nancy decided the time was right ‘to have another go’ with music. They sold Ryewater Gardens and their cottage and were able to buy their lovely apartment near Regent’s Park, which became the base for a second career as composer and promoter of his own work. George brought with him a library of unperformed orchestral music and, just as importantly, a keen eye for business. With his independence of spirit still shining, he decided to ‘go it alone’ and was, in effect, one of the pioneers in self-publishing. Engaging Edward Downes, by then a leading conductor, to undertake the first recordings (for Lyrita) was an inspired move, because Ted took his enthusiasm for George’s music to Manchester and the BBC Northern Symphony (now Philharmonic) Orchestra. His music may still not find favour at BBC Broadcasting House in London, but in Manchester he found an appreciative and accepting environment, as William Lloyd recalls:
“The BBC in Manchester made George. Although he had been prominent before and just after the war, by 1974 he had all but vanished from the scene. The BBC broadcast of Edward Downes playing No. 8 put him firmly back on the stage, and the support of BBC Philharmonic producer Peter Marchbank was probably the most significant factor in his ‘Indian Summer’. John Drummond, the Radio 3 Controller, didn’t like George’s music. We made half a dozen CDs with the BBC Phil because we had the management on our side and made very good financial deals. The BBC Philharmonic made its own studio and concert broadcasts, so we were getting a fully rehearsed orchestra into the studio for the Albany CD recordings. There was no way we could have made them without this support. We made about 20 CDs altogether, each one produced from the profits of the last one.”
Even now in our ‘post-modern’ age, George’s music has only included in a BBC Prom once – the short Symphony No. 6 in 1981. In my view, works like Symphony No. 7, arguably his most impressive symphonic canvas, his vast and colourful choral cantata The Vigil of Venus (1980) or his imposing Symphonic Mass (1993) would sound so well in the Royal Albert Hall. It’s something of a personal regret that I wasn’t able to programme any of his brass band music during the Proms brass day in 2006. If the BBC Philharmonic was George’s principal champion in the late 1970s and 80s, it was a former colleague of mine at BBC Manchester, James Langley (1930 – 1996), who encouraged the BBC to commission Royal Parks, Lloyd’s first brass band score.
George and the brass band
Melody was what Lloyd really loved writing and listening to. Verdi was his favourite composer, but he wasn’t always expansive. He would often choose tunes which were deliberately naive in their outline – a ‘chirpy’ tune you might whistle while walking down the street, as in the Diversions on a Bass Theme. However, do not be deceived by this disarming approach. Lloyd worked with a confidence and authority in the brass band medium. He found the medium very much to his liking the previous year, when writing Royal Parks to a BBC Commission for the European Brass Band Championships. It probably helped that he had learned the cornet and played in the ship’s band aboard H.M.S. Trinidad. He loved the traditional brass band sound of a Brighouse and Rastrick or Black Dyke, which was his favourite band without question. In this fine work, as elsewhere in his writing, his little ideas are points of departure for more dissonant and dramatic flights of inspiration building on the sound world he created in his very first work for brass ensemble, Miniature Triptych (1981, Equale Brass commission). This work at 16 minutes in duration is hardly the small scale work that the title might suggest. George was perhaps thinking more of the forces – just five players – and the contrapuntal ‘democracy’ he endeavoured to create in this rare foray into chamber music without the piano.
Diversions on a Bass Theme (1986) is this the most complete and structurally disciplined of his four test pieces. George regarded it as his best brass band piece and was always proud of the way he had managed to turn the tradition notion of variations on its head. Rather than producing a sequence of variants on a theme, he set out to construct a sequence contrasting tunes and to build an organic musical journey from the little bass motif with which the work begins. The musical motif on which Diversions is based couldn’t be simpler – a pattern of minor thirds, repeated, each with a different but important ending. The rhythmic content and wide dynamic range are as important as the intervals. The ‘chirpy’ crotchet and quaver pattern provides much of the rhythmic vitality to the musical journey. The double dotted response becomes an important dramatic signal throughout.
There isn’t any slow music in Diversions on a Bass Theme. It’s a wonderfully invigorating work, extrovert and technically demanding, all about momentum and maximising contrast with moments of repose ‘built-in’ to its organic architecture. Principal among these are the two melodies which grow out of the opening motif. The first one, which sets the music off on its journey and returns transformed at the end to provide the works final dramatic climax, takes its departure point from the opening intervals of the minor third and perfect fourth. The other tune, which you could describe as the second subject, generates something more expansive from the simplicity of the third, fourth and its complementary interval of the perfect fifth. The tunes sound simple, but they are set in constantly shifting and increasingly complex layers of textural detail, in which every player has a role to play.
The first of the work’s structural landmarks comes quite early, when the first melody is interrupted by a dramatic full-band statement of the generating motif, with the intervals inverted. A jaunty scherzo figure builds towards the first climax, unmistakeably signposted by the first entry of the side drum and a solo cornet/ trombone fanfare transformation of the ‘bass’ theme. After the ‘second subject’ has died away, the side drum returns, minus snares, and ‘ominous’ trombones launch the music into increasingly dramatic territory. The textures here are detailed, quavers set against running triplets, processions of trills, fragments of the scherzo figures and the two tunes creating a high-energy development section. The sudden silence, which occurs at the mid-point, serves to intensify the mood. The bass section’s ‘divergence’ from the naive simplicity of their opening motif is extreme – distorting the line with tonally ambiguous chromatic intervals. Above this, fragments of material that we have heard before struggle to coalesce, driving the music ever onwards, through a series of pull-backs and accelerandos towards the return of the first and second tunes. This is a developing reprise, the first providing the main climax and the second a moment of quiet repose before the joyous conclusion. These final bars are the loudest of the work – a generous and powerful treble forte, the only one in the work! In its juxtaposition of engaging simplicity, boundless energy, and intense emotional ‘outbursts’, Diversions on a Bass Theme is a reflection of the composer himself. That the work had been commissioned for the old Mineworker’s National Brass Band Championships with funds supplied by the brewers Bass North Ltd always brought a smile to his face.
English Heritage is much more loose-limbed in construction and therefore harder to bring off in performance. It is also technically his most demanding brass work – harder even that the Symphony No.10 (November Journeys), with which it has much in common in terms of musical style. Both works set out to celebrate the cultural heritage of this country and both juxtapose ‘chirpy’ tunes, reflective hymns and gentle dances with moments of high dissonance and drama. These points of comparison can be appreciated even more keenly now that November Journeys has been skilfully adapted for brass band from the symphonic brass original by Luc Vertommen. Although Lloyd was never commissioned to write specifically for either the British Open or National Championships, all of these works have been used with great success in the past.
A personal tribute
I met George for the first time in the 1980s at the now demolished BBC New Broadcasting House on oxford Road, Manchester, where he was a regular and welcome guest conductor of the BBC Philharmonic. George was great company at lunchtime, and I have fond memories of working with him in the studio. I made the first BBC recording of Symphony No. 10, November Journeys, with the BBC Northern Brass and George conducting. His energy, even in his mid-70s was boundless and it communicated to the players. His conducting style was very excitable and could get a bit distracting, but the players adored him and I loved working with him. And who could forget his brilliant white trainers! When I produced the obituary programme for BBC Radio 3 in 1998, the generosity of the tributes paid by Edward Downes, the distinguished journalist Simon Heffer, and George’s producer Andrew Cornell echoed my own.
When it came to working with George as a composer – producer rather than composer-conductor, I experienced another side of the Lloyd temperament. We were producing a recording of his brass band music at Dewsbury Town Hall with Black Dyke Mills Band, conducted by David King in 1991. I admired his enthusiasm, his boundless energy and of course his keen ear for every detail. However, at times I found myself the go-between between two perfectionists. George would get impatient when things occasionally went wrong. There was always another a second take to cover any problems of course. He didn’t always appreciate that the conductor’s view of his music may diverge from his own, but be equally valid. Having said that, the sessions were fantastic. Black Dyke Mills band was on its very best form and he and I were delighted with the results. The pristine quality of the playing never convinced me that English Heritage was George’s finest hour. I’m not sure that George thought much of that work either, although he was very vocal that Black Dyke was robbed at the Royal Albert Hall finals when it was used as the test piece at the 1990 National Brass Band Championships. However, the quality of Royal Parks and especially Diversions on a Bass Theme shines through every bar.
It was a shame that the recording was released just before George’s final brass band work, King’s Messenger, appeared. This has now been recorded splendidly by Eikanger-Bjorsvik Musikklag (Howard Snell) and Cory Band (Philip Harper). The musical themes of this dynamic work are just as simple as English Heritage, but their working out seems far more considered and coherent. There is a sure sense of purpose in this less heralded music. Part of the reason for this surely lies in its personal associations. Both George’s grandfather and father were employed as King’s / Queen’s messengers and George takes the galloping rhythm of a much-loved poem, a translation from the Odes of Confucius, called King’s Messenger, that he had often thought would make good music – and so it proved. King’s Messenger was George’s final foray into the world of brass bands. By the time hecame to write it for the Norwegian, Netherlands and Swiss championships, he had expressed to me some disillusionment with the British brass band scene and it’s lack of musical adventure, as he perceived it. He was disappointed that so few bands performed original brass band music of substance outside the contesting arena.
As he approached his 80th birthday, George focused his energies on the orchestra and the voice, heard to powerful effect in his three final masterworks, where symphony, song and theatre combine – Symphonic Mass (1990), the choral symphony Litany (1995) and the Requiem, which he finished shortly before his death. George’s music will always divide opinion. The concert-going audience grew to love its melodiousness, drama and colour when he re-emerged into the public arena in the 1970s. However, the musical establishment has never really taken Lloyd’s music to its heart in the same way. During the last 20 years of his life he achieved a level of public acclaim that was the envy of many more famous names. Over that period all twelve symphonies and the seven concertos were recorded, some of them more than once. Since his death in 1998, some interesting and less heralded sides of his musical personality have emerged – notably the quality of his writing for choirs, in his final work, the intimate Requiem, composed under the shadow of his own failing health, and some of his chamber music.
George inhabited his musical landscapes like a painter and told stories in music like the best raconteur. He commented once to William Lloyd that he saw or thought of orchestral textures as colours. There are pages of poignant emotion and beautiful colour in his larger canvases, but there are also occasional longeurs that can disturb the musical balance. The overall impression, however, is of a master of his craft in an idiom in which he felt entirely at home. The pastoral lyricism of the Fifth Symphony, the depth of feeling in the Seventh, and the expansive all-embracing musical world of the Eighth reveal George at the height of his powers as a tone poet.
For me, he was at his abstract symphonic best when working with fewer ideas, as in his Sixth and Ninth symphonies and Diversions, where the contrasts of tension and release, beauty and power, energy and calm are held together with a disciplined structural control. In the finale of November Journeys for example, what appear to be trivial themes one moment are transformed through George’s precise technique into a jarring climax where all 12 semitones of the chromatic scale sound at once. George was relishing the musical joke here at the expense of his critics. The world of brass, which suited his style perfectly, is all the richer for the contribution of this single-minded, fiercely independent, determined and above all completely genuine musical creator.
This article is based on two features written for British Bandsman magazine, of which Paul Hindmarsh is features editor. A writer, editor, producer and publisher, specialising in British music of the 20th century, and music for bands and choirs, Hindmarsh is a leading authority on the work of Frank Bridge (1879 – 1941) and has also published on the music of Benjamin Britten, George Lloyd and John McCabe. He is currently researching the life and work of the brass band composer Wilfred Heaton (1918 –2000).