About the Music

 

 

"The aspect to admire in his music is the sheer dynamism, the energy of overflowing ideas - a determined creative spirit." 
Geoffrey Norris, The Daily Telegraph.  

 

 

Education and influences

George Lloyd was a musical prodigy who began to compose at the age of nine, eventually studying at Trinity College, London. He admired Elgar, although his musical language was shaped by European romantics such as Beethoven, Berlioz, Liszt, Brahms and Wagner. Like many British composers of the day, Lloyd was sceptical about Schönberg’s harmonic experiments. His early symphonies reveal the strong influence of Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, while his operas recall Verdi’s dramatic style. 

 

Operas

In the pre-war years, Lloyd was destined to compose operas. Written when he was just 20, his fairy-tale opera Iernin brought him to public attention, and The Serf quickly followed. However, wartime injuries took their toll. Despite an opera commission from the Festival of Britain in 1951, the bitter experience of bringing John Socman to the stage compelled him to abandon the theatre.  

 

"Words like fiery, dynamic, bright, breezy, light, and frothy will crop up time and again in his musical vocabulary. Beneath all the surface energy, though, lies a deep-seated lyricism." Radio 3 Magazine.

 

Symphonies

George Lloyd is best known for his cycle of Twelve Symphonies, ambitious orchestral works conveying dramatic narratives. Written over six decades, they map his creative development. The works are rooted in traditional tonality, although occasionally using chromatic motifs. Across the cycle, the listener is struck by the beauty of Lloyd’s melodies and the expressive qualities of his orchestral colours.  

 

"He is original and tonal. He pulls off transitions from limpid grace to lyric simplicity with a thoroughly engaging textural freshness and springiness. The music is accessible, pleasing and colourful…this is music to hear again."  Christopher Greenleaf, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Symphony No.7)

 

Piano Works

Lloyd produced a clutch of impressive works for piano, many composed for his friend John Ogdon, including the demanding thirty-minute single movement, An African Shrine. A more intimate suite of movements, The Transformation of that Naked Ape evokes a Debussian sound-world. There are also four piano concertos, the first an uncharacteristically dissonant single movement. The second is in the same vein, while the Third and Fourth are closer to Rachmaninov in style.  

 

Concertos and chamber works for strings

George Lloyd was a trained concert violinist, and he wrote two concertos for the instrument, the first with strings, the second with winds. There are also two significant chamber pieces for violin - the Sonata and Lament, Air and Dance, while a late cello concerto, in elegiac mood, pays homage to Elgar. 

 

Works for Brass

Because of his Cornish origins, Lloyd was an enthusiast for brass bands.  He was commissioned to write several works as test pieces for competitions, such as Royal Parks.  The Tenth Symphony written for the brass of the BBC Philharmonic is a tour de force, while the HMS Trinidad March, which Lloyd composed for the ship on which he served during the war, was also later arranged for brass band. 

 

Late choral works 

As Lloyd matured, his attention turned to large-scale choral works. The first, The Vigil of Venus, is a lavish oratorio on pagan subjects, subsequently matched by a sacred work, the Symphonic Mass, expressing Lloyd’s spiritual optimism. A Litany followed in the same vein, exploring faith and creativity. Lloyd’s final work, a Requiem Mass for choir and organ, was completed on his death bed.

 

"Writing which is real and genuinely inspired…without a single facile bar. This, in my view,
is one of the finest pieces of English choral writing of the 20C." 
  Gramophone (Symphonic Mass)

 

Musical Controversies 

In the fifties and sixties, Lloyd’s commitment to traditional composing methods brought him into conflict with the cultural establishment, especially at the BBC, where international modernism was the fashion. Lloyd was shunned for over twenty years, until his friend, the pianist John Ogdon, procured a broadcast of the 8th symphony in 1977. 

 

‘The interest in the music of George Lloyd emphasizes the wish of ordinary music lovers
to discover again communicative 20th-century music…’ 
 
 Ivan March, Gramophone.

 

Recordings

 

In his later years Lloyd’s major works were recorded digitally, often conducted by himself or his trusted friend, Sir Edward Downes. The Albany US and Albany UK labels were created for this purpose, producing award-winning CDs to popular and critical acclaim, vindicating his years of struggle and leaving a legacy of 27 CDs that can still be bought and downloaded today. Up to 30 recordings exist on other labels, including BBC, Decca, EMI/HMV, Lyrita, Conifer, Chandos, EMR and Doyen, currently available from specialist retailers or online stores such as Amazon.

 

Peter Davison

July 2021