Chiswick Book Festival 2020: Michael Tippett the biography

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The English composer Michael Tippett was described by the philosopher Isiah Berlin as “a major asset to our age, morally as well as aesthetically” and when he died in 1998 he was lauded in obituaries as ‘one of the greatest English composers since Elgar’.

Tippett, whose music includes the oratorio A Child of Our Time, five operas and four symphonies, is considered to be among the most ‘visionary’ of the twentieth century, and yet, says author Oliver Soden, since his death he has been under appreciated:

‘His reputation fell so alarmingly that by the late 2000s, bar the continuing popularity of A Child of Our Time, it was as if Michael Tippett had been wiped from musical history’.

Soden seeks to restore him to prominence with this very thoroughly researched biography. The composer’s life mirrors the story of the twentieth century; he was nine years old when the First World War started, yet he lived to see the election of Labour leader Tony Blair, an event which brought him ‘unbounded delight’.

Bridget Osborne, Editor of The Chiswick Calendar, talks to Oliver Soden about the life and music of Sir Michael Tippett.

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