It is remarkable to realize that forty-five years have passed since Sir Lennox and Freda Berkeley visited Minneapolis for a wonderful first-time visit, coupled with a lecture at the University of Minnesota School of Music, and an all-Berkeley concert at the Walker Art Centre.
As he commented on that occasion: ‘It was only the second time in my life I have attended a programme made up totally of my own music – the other one was sponsored by my publisher!’ The concert of chamber music was presented on 3 February 1976, and included his Sonatina for piano duet, three song cycles, Five Songs setting poems by Walter de la Mare, Autumn Legends and Songs of the Half-Light, with the Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano, and Sonatina for Guitar. It was given by the mezzo-soprano Janis Hardy, tenor Vern Sutton, guitarist Jeffrey Van and yours truly as pianist.
I was very pleased to initiate this visit, and have them with us. There was also a dinner in their honour at our home – at which occasion Freda left her glasses! As they had departed the next morning for England my wife, Carolyn, sent them to Freda in London, and received a lovely letter of thanks. Lennox wrote a letter to me, filled with thanks; I had asked him about the possibility of commissioning an anthem for Plymouth Congregational Church, but his calendar did not allow for that.
In the years since, we have performed a number of his anthems – Lord, When the Sense of Thy Sweet Grace, The Lord is my Shepherd, A Festival Anthem, In Wintertime, and Sweet was the Song. But the first work of his that I ever knew was a piece he wrote in 1955 called Look Up, Sweet Babe, a piece for choir and organ, with words by the seventeenth-century poet Richard Crashaw. It’s a beautiful piece, and I think one of the things I love about it is the way the keys shift from section to section. Among his many songs is a lovely one he wrote in 1963, in memory of Francis Poulenc, who had died earlier that year. It’s called Automne and it sets words by Guillaume Apollinaire.
Last June I featured Lennox Berkeley and these two works in my daily internet broadcast, ‘Musical Moments’, a programme that has now introduced over 180 composers, and is archived through VocalEssence for continued use and research.