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Title:"The ineffable moments will be harder won": the genesis, compositional process, and early performance history of Michael Tippett's The Heart's Assurance
Author(s):Vickers, Justin M.
Director of Research:Bashford, Christina
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Siena, Jerold
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Bashford, Christina; Alwes, Chester L.; Taylor, Stephen A.
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Francesca Allinson
Benjamin Britten
Peter Pears
Priaulx Rainier
Sidney Keyes
Alun Lewis
War Poetry
Conscientious Objector
Festival of Britain
BBC Third Programme
BBC Written Archives
Britten-Pears Foundation
English Song Literature
Song Cycle
Genetic Criticism
Aldeburgh Festival
Ian Kemp
Arnold Whittall
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
Abstract:Commissioned by tenor Peter Pears, Michael Tippett’s The Heart’s Assurance is an easily overlooked song cycle among twentieth-century English vocal repertoire, overshadowed by Benjamin Britten’s cyclical works and those of other British composers. This cycle, which moved Tippett to tears into his nineties, was intended to eulogize the memory of one of his dearest friends, Francesca Allinson. Tippett later expanded the dedication to serve as a requiem to both Allinson and the millions dead from World War II. The cycle’s poets Sidney Keyes and Alun Lewis also number among the war’s casualties. The violent imagery of the poets’ texts supplied an appropriate framework to characterize Tippett’s ardent pacifism and his response to the losses of war. In fact, The Heart’s Assurance represented a watershed moment to Tippett throughout his life, one to which he returned frequently in his private and public writings. In this respect, the cycle is best understood as a memorial work and for its personal significance to Tippett, rather than a composition that gained singular acclaim. Pears and Britten premièred the cycle at the 1951 Festival of Britain. Its high-profile venue positioned Tippett as a star ascendant among English song composers, yet The Heart’s Assurance did not retain this pinnacle in the repertory; nor did Tippett attempt to compose such a purely voice and piano opus again. The Heart’s Assurance emerged eight years after Tippett’s first project with Pears and Britten – the neo-Purcellian cantata Boyhood’s End (1943). An exploration of previously unpublished letters from Tippett to Pears concerning The Heart’s Assurance reveals the development of their friendship, the collaboration with Britten the pianist, and the earliest kernels of discussion regarding the cycle. Additional unpublished correspondence with the South African-born British composer Priaulx Rainier, and documents within the BBC Written Archives, shed further light on the cycle’s genesis. The majority of scholarship on Tippett focuses on his larger orchestral and operatic works. This study reveals why scrutiny of The Heart’s Assurance, clearly a smaller genre, is essential for a greater appreciation of Tippett’s life and persona. Furthermore, this examination elevates our understanding of Tippett’s perception of the artist’s role in modern society. This was an issue with which he wrestled a great deal, as can be seen in his published writings and selected letters, and in his voluminous amount of unpublished correspondence. This author argues that the methodology by which one may fully comprehend both composer and artwork is that which sees a synthesis of its formative elements: what this author names as the “British Library Sketches” (GB-Lbl MS Add. 72026), the “Aldeburgh Drafts and Sketches” (GB-ALb 2-9400780), and the fair copies that form the “Autograph MS” (GB-ALb 2-9400536 and 2-9400538). Drawing upon these materials, the current dissertation applies genetic criticism to this author’s transcriptions of the four extant leaves for The Heart’s Assurance in the British Library Sketches, revealing that Tippett’s compositional process was text-driven and melodically-inspired. Further discussion contrasts and compares these sketches with the later Aldeburgh Drafts and Sketches and the autograph MS. Analysis of these manuscripts presents a micro-view of Tippett’s creative development, and insights into his search for the inexpressible. Complicating the cycle’s history thereafter is Pears’s pronouncement on it in his contribution to Michael Tippett: A Symposium on His Sixtieth Birthday (1965) fourteen years after its première. Pears’s essay is a partial response to Tippett’s earlier manifesto on composers and text-setting in his concluding essay to Dennis Stevens’s A History of Song (1960). Contextualization of Pears’s commentary requires us to understand that Britten was frequently associated with Tippett in twentieth-century English culture. At the same time, this dissertation makes it clear that Tippett’s ideas on song-writing in his treatise contradict the realities evinced in The Heart’s Assurance. The present examination also offers a discussion of Pears’s and Britten’s annotations in their personal copies of the published scores. The early performance history of the cycle, including all known performances of The Heart’s Assurance by Peter Pears, are documented and discussed, along with notable later performances by other artists, and recordings. In sum, this dissertation provides the singer, collaborative pianist, professional voice instructor, and the scholarly community alike a broad and detailed perspective on Tippett’s song cycle. The larger goal is to contribute a focused appreciation of Tippett’s compositional process and creative skill, thereby offering richer performance and listening experiences.
Issue Date:2011-08-25
Rights Information:Copyright 2011 Justin Vickers. All rights reserved.
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-08-25
Date Deposited:2011-08

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