Although he enjoyed his childhood, after losing their hotel business in southern France, his parents decided to travel through and live on the Continent, and Michael and his brother attended boarding schools in England. At that time, Tippett won a scholarship and studied in Fettes College, Edinburgh, but he soon moved to Stamford School after some extremely unhappy personal experience. This, combined with his discovering his homosexuality, contributed to making Tippett's teenage years lonely and rather stressful. Although he was open about his sexual orientation, it seems that he started to feel emotional strain from a rather early age, and this later became a major motivation to his composition. Before his time at Stamford, Tippett hardly had any contact with music at all, let alone formal musical training. He recalled that it was in Stamford, where he had piano lessons and saw Malcolm Sargent conducting, that he decided to become a composer, although he did not know what it meant nor how to start.
He registered as a student in the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition with Charles Wood and C.H. Kitson, and the former's teaching on counterpoint had profound influence on Tippett's future compositional style; many of his works, despite the complicated sonority, are essentially contrapuntal. At the RCM, Tippett also studied conducting with Adrian Boult and Malcolm Sargent. In the 1920s, living simply in Surrey, he plunged himself into musical life, conducting amateur choirs and local operas. Later, he taught at Morley College.
Unlike his contemporaries William Walton and Benjamin Britten, Tippett was a late developer as a composer and was severely critical of his early compositions. At the age of 30, he studied counterpoint and fugue with Reginald Owen Morris. His first mature compositions show a fascination with these aspects.
Formerly a member of the Communist Party, in 1935 Tippett broke with them to join the Trotskyist Bolshevik-Leninist Group. He soon moved on to pacifism and joined the Peace Pledge Union. In the Second World War he registered as a conscientious objector, but refused to accept a condition involving giving up his musical work at Morley College; this led to a sentence of three months imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs, which he meticulously listed in his Who's Who entry. He later served as Chair and then President of the Peace Pledge Union, and one of his last public acts was to unveil the Commemorative Stone to Conscientious Objectors in Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury, London, on 15 May 1994, International Conscientious Objectors' Day.
From the mid-1960s until the early 1970s, Tippett had a close relationship with the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO), conducting them regularly in the UK and on tour in Europe and generally supporting the state-funded musical education programme that had produced an orchestra of such high standards. He conducted the LSSO almost exclusively in 20th-century music, including Gustav Holst's The Planets, Charles Ives's Three Places in New England (see external link to Putnam's Camp video below), Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphoses and many new works by English composers. Under Tippett, the LSSO, an orchestra of ordinary secondary school children aged 14 to 18, regularly performed on BBC radio and TV, made commercial gramophone records and established new standards for music-making in an educational context. Many leading British performers had their first experience of orchestral music in the LSSO under Tippett.
Tippett was knighted in 1966, and awarded the Order of Merit in 1983. He remained very active composing and conducting. His opera, New Year, received its premiere in 1989. Then came Byzantium, a piece for soprano and orchestra premiered in 1991. His autobiography, Those Twentieth Century Blues also appeared in 1991. A string quartet followed in 1992. In 1995 his ninetieth birthday was celebrated with special events in Britain, Canada and the US, including the premiere of his final work, The Rose Lake. In that year a collection of his essays, Tippett on Music, also appeared.
Sir Michael was distantly related to his namesake Michael Tippett, founder of NowPublic.
For many years his music was considered ungratefully written for voices and instruments, and therefore difficult to perform. An intense intellectual, he maintained a much wider knowledge and interest in the literature and philosophy of other countries (Africa, Europe) than was common among British musicians. His (sometimes quirky) libretti for his operas and other works reflect his passionate interest in the dilemmas of human society and the enduring strength of the human spirit.
Tippett was never a prolific composer, and his works, completed slowly, comprised five string quartets, four concerti, four symphonies, five operas and a number of vocal and choral works. His music is typically seen as falling into four distinct periods. The first period (1935–1947) includes the first three quartets, the Concerto for Double String Orchestra, the oratorio A Child of Our Time (written to his own libretto at the encouragement of TS Eliot and first performed by Morley College Choir) and the First Symphony. This period is characterised by strenuous contrapuntal energy and deeply lyrical slow movements. The second period, from then until the late 1950s, includes the opera The Midsummer Marriage, the Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli, the Piano Concerto, and the Second Symphony; this period features rich textures and effervescent melody. The third period, the 1960s and '70s, is in stark contrast, and is characterised by abrupt statements and simplicity of texture, as in the opera King Priam, the Concerto for Orchestra and the Second Piano Sonata. The fourth period is a rich mixture of all these styles, using many devices, such as quotation (from Ludwig van Beethoven and Modest Mussorgsky, among others). The main works of this period were the Third Symphony, the operas The Ice Break and New Year, and the large-scale choral work The Mask of Time.
Michael Tippett, London.(ON LOCATION: Green Places' guide to current public space schemes and projects)(Michael Tippett school)(Brief article)
May 01, 2008; Marks Barfield's the Michael Tippett school opened recently, in record time. Pupils moved in just 21 months after the design was...