The recent death (January 8th, 1998) of Sir Michael is a great loss to the musical community. It is very sad news, but it did not come as a great surprise. I am glad that we had him with us for 93 years.
I sincerely believe that Tippett has been of the greatest composer of the 20th century. He has been active throughout the entire century and not many has had the position he earned himself. He was the grand old man of British and European classical music.
Go to my link page if you want to read the obituaries that are still available on-line. I have also scanned the obituary from BBC Music Magazine. (229 KB). Go here if you want to read the New York Times obituary.
(Drawing © James Kearney)
My first encounter with his music was with the BBC Magazine CD with his own recordings of the 2nd and 4th symphony. When I bought the magazine, I had never heard of Tippett before. He is not widely known in Norway. I hope that will change one day. It took some time until I really started to be interested in his music. It was first when I heard his oratorio A Child of Our time I got hooked to his music. Then I returned back to the BBC CD and I have since liked his 4th symphony very much (it's one of the few Tippett works I have many recordings of, Hickox, Tippett and Solti).
I have never had the pleasure of hearing or seeing any of his work performed live. I hope I one day will. British music at all are mot much performed (with the exception of Händel). I would have been thrilled if the Norwegian Opera would have staged one of his operas (The Midsummer Marriage would have been an excellent choice), but I suppose I'll have to go to the UK if I ever want to see such works performed. It's too bad really, but that's life.
Tippett was a master of many types of music. He has made several great operas, oratories, string quartets, symphonies and songs. Most of his operas, and all of his symphonies (4) and string quartets (5) has been recorded several times. It seems that Chandos has some serious thoughts of releasing much of Tippett's music in the future. I hope they'll have the courage to record the complete New Year.
Tippett was a man of strong beliefs, and he seldom made compromises with issues he believed strongly in. He was a pasifist, and he served time in prison for refusing to partisipate in WW2. I don't agree with him, but I admire him very much for being strong enough to not going against his own conscience and beliefs. His A Child of Our Time is also a product of these same beliefs. Child was written in the late 1930s, and is very much coloured of the politics of the day. It's a direct attack on the Nazi politics, and more spesifically, about the Crystal night (where Nazi's attacked Jewish shops and broke their windows).
Another thing worth mentioning about Sir Michael is that he was gay. He is survived by Meirion Bowen, which is one of the greatest Tippett experts today. Bowen has written and edited several books about Tippett, and he has also written many program notes (f.ex to the Solti Sym 4/Byzantium on Decca). To add some gossip, I read in Tippett's biography (mentioned below) that Sir Peter Pears got very jealous with Tippett over his good friendship with Benjamin Britten.
If you would like to read more about Tippett, I can strongly recommend his own auto biography "Those Twentieth Century blues". It's published by Hutchinson and first released in 1991 (ISBN 0-09-175307-4). The Times- and The Guardian obituary is also very interesting reading.
At the time of his death, and since 1977, Tippett has been president of the Society for recorder players. If you would like to visit their website, follow this link.