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Complementing its editor’s 2003 study of Lennox Berkeley’s music and Tony Scotland’s recent portrait of his marriage, Lennox and Freda, this is an anthology of the composer’s own letters, diary entries, magazine articles, interviews and transcripts of radio talks, together with a small selection of interviews with family, friends and colleagues. Peter Dickinson knew Berkeley and has been an advocate for his music as an academic, as a broadcaster and as a performer. He has presented this volume with scrupulous thoroughness.

Despite Berkeley’s notorious reticence and self-effacement – he hated public speaking in any context, least of all in the interests of promoting his own music – his writing is vivid and observant. Of particular interest at a time when 20th-century music is coming under scrutiny in the Southbank’s ‘The Rest is Noise’ festival are Berkeley’s regular reports from Paris for the London-based Monthly Musical Record 1929-32, featuring premieres by the likes of Honegger, Hindemith and Stravinsky, who ‘continues to renew himself in the most amazing way, and though for each work he chooses a different style, each bears the imprint of his personality’.

It is ironic that this belief in the importance of cultivating an individual voice was one of the lessons Berkeley learned from Nadia Boulanger, yet long into his own composing career he was still measuring everything he wrote against what he imagined she would have thought of it, even after Britten, the other dominant influence in his musical life, had urged him to forget about her and just write what he pleased.

Much of the most revealing material in this book is in the second half, notably extracts from Berkeley’s private diaries, which he kept very sporadically but in which he was more frank in his observations about other composers than elsewhere; and a 1991 interview with Malcolm Williamson which elicits engagingly robust responses. Williamson believed that Berkeley’s legacy would be more enduring than was generally supposed: ‘It’s easy to write a piece with lots of notes but difficult to write one with few notes. But to make sure they are all the right notes – this Berkeley did.’

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