Although Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989) was not an overly prolific
composer, he wrote more than 100 works in most genres.
Following the advice from Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), he moved
to Paris during the 1920’s and studied with pedagogue Nadia
Boulanger (1887-1979). Later, Berkeley followed Mme. Boulanger
into teaching, serving as a Professor of Composition from 1948
to 1968, at the Royal Academy of Music in London. The
accomplished composers who were his pupils include Nicholas
Maw (1935-2009) and Richard Rodney Bennett (1936 – ). Berkeley
was knighted during 1974 and his son, Michael (1948 – ), is also
a noted composer.
Although I heard these works on CD, I understand that they are
now primarily available for purchase as MP3 downloads. Berkeley’s
“First String Quartet” was a four-movement, Neoclassical work
written in 1935, and reminiscent of pieces by Bela Bartok
(1881-1945). Here, the harmonies switch between diatonic
and chromatic, with a final movement consisting of a theme
and variations. While the aforementioned influences are
present, this work is more than “derivative.” It’s not a bad piece!
His 1941 “Second String Quartet” contains three movements
and is approximately eight minutes shorter than the
“First String Quartet.” This work demonstrates a tighter,
masterful construction with a greater sense of originality.
In 1970, Berkeley issued his four-movement, “Third String
Quartet.” While using elements of serial technique in terms
of harmony, it never seems atonal. The despairing third Lento
movement is bleak, and recalls works by Dmitry Shostakovich
(1906-1975). This mood is dispelled by the following Allegro
finale that also contains a flashback reference to
At the risk of “sounding like a broken record,” I’d once again
like to praise the Maggini Quartet for their exemplary playing,
and for serving as champions of this composer. This is another
worthy addition to their sizeable repertoire of British chamber
music, with superb recorded sound. Once again, the Naxos
label has released a quality product, at a bargain price.