Lennox Berkeley concert in Minneapolis 1976

American choral conductor Philip Brunelle meets Lennox Berkeley at the University of Minnesota 1976

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.

Philip Brunelle
Philip Brunelle

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.