Lennox Berkeley’s guitar collaborator Julian Bream

Guitar teacher Roland Gallery on Julian Bream’s collaboration with Lennox Berkeley

Lennox Berkeley found a significant musical collaborator in Bream, although his first impulse to write for the guitar was most likely formed on hearing Segovia in Paris. The score of Quatre Pièces pour la guitare was given to Andrés Segovia at some point around the late 1920s. Unfortunately these pieces languished amongst the archives of Segovia until early in the twenty-first century, when they were unearthed by the Italian guitarist and musicologist, Angelo Gilardino. It is fascinating to hear how at this early stage Berkeley was able to respond not only to the unique sound world of the guitar, but also provide Segovia with a work that embodied the hallmarks and mannerisms of the Spanish maestro’s playing.

Of the other four works written by Berkeley for guitar, Bream was in the composer’s mind for three: Sonatina for Guitar (1957), Songs of the Half-Light (1964, commissioned by the singer Peter Pears) and the Guitar Concerto (1974). Although his Theme and Variations for guitar (1970) was composed at the behest of Angelo Gilardino, one cannot help feeling that the indelible character of Bream’s playing lies behind this work, as demonstrated by the wonderful recording that Bream made of it on the album ’70s. Of all the contemporary composers Bream worked with, he enjoyed no greater synergy than with Lennox Berkeley.

It has often been commented that Berkeley’s music had a ‘French’ quality, which is perhaps unremarkable given the time he spent in his formative years studying in Paris and fraternising with composers and musicians whilst he was there. For me, the ‘French’ aspect of his music is illustrated by his use of sonority, and the consideration of sound for its own sake, a quality that I perceive in much French music. I would also make a case for his music having ‘English’ qualities, such as elegance in melodic style, a conservative approach to dissonance, and refinement of phrasing and shaping. I hear all of these elements in the guitar music of Lennox Berkeley, so ably interpreted by, and seemingly tailor-made for, Julian Bream.