From “Memories of King’s”
In March 2013 King’s held a music reunion. Although I had come up as long ago as 1948, this was an invitation that could not be refused – for a number of reasons. It would be an occasion to remind myself, and to recall my personal experiences of those richly formative years, already a lifetime ago, yet which I always remembered with pleasure; to renew friendships, and to recall the unique and continuing ethos of King’s music, handed on down the years and shared by the musicians and graduates of today. But chiefly I was drawn to King’s, and particularly to the chapel, because it was there, when I first heard the organ, that I was inspired to write down a sketch of ideas for an early composition, The Manger Throne. Many years later, when the finished work came to be published, I gave it the subtitle “On first entering the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge”, because for me it was at King’s where it had all started, in 1948.
Music had always been something I was keenly aware of from my earliest consciousness, and over my school years, 1935 – 1945, increasingly so. I focused on piano playing, particularly after entering public school, Malvern College, in 1940. They were chaotic years, disrupted by the war, when the buildings at Malvern were commandeered for research into radar. The school had to move twice; first in 1939 to Blenheim Palace; second in 1942 to Harrow, on the outskirts of London. Yet it was the second move that was to bring me an unexpected outcome, and a great bonus. The Director of Music at Malvern College, Julius Harrison, had decided to retire when the second move was made to Harrow. But the Director of music at Harrow, Henry Havergal, took me as his piano pupil and I benefitted greatly. I soon found that Havergal’s dynamic energy and disciplined teaching were just what I needed at that stage of my playing, and greatly stimulating. Havergal encouraged me to play in public as much as possible and partnered me in piano duets. He also oversaw my technique, insisting that, in the long term, for a pianist to perform his best, regular check – ups were essential to avoid the risk of bad technical habits, of which I might be unaware, going unnoticed. Finally, he invited me, as a holiday task in the summer of 1944, to learn a Mozart Piano Concerto, K.488 in A major, for which he would assemble an orchestra for a concert in the Autumn term – no easy matter in 1944. At that concert, in the Speech Room at Harrow School, I sensed for the first time something that has stayed with me since – the deep pleasure that comes from a committed public performance, and one that is shared with other players, who were united in the achievement of a common musical purpose.
In my remaining term at Malvern College, I sat the entrance exam in Classics to King’s College Cambridge, where I was awarded a place after completion of the compulsory three years of National Service. This was served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, for which I was posted to a minesweeping flotilla based in home waters, first at Dover, later at Sheerness in the Thames Estuary.
Once at Cambridge in 1948, I did not have to wait very long for an invitation to play in a concert – the CUMS Freshers’ concert in October 1948, when I played the Mozart Sonata for two pianos, K448 with a fellow music undergraduate from Trinity, Raymond Leppard. We became friends, and from that moment music and piano playing held my chief attention. I played in concerts as soloist, and in chamber music with other musicians whenever I was asked. But the single event that had the greatest effect on the pattern of music-making in Cambridge was the bicentenary in 1950 of the death of J.S. Bach. King’s marked the occasion with a year-long celebration, for which Boris Ord led the way with performances of three of Bach’s major works in the chapel, spread out seasonally – The Christmas Oratorio in Advent, St Matthew Passion in Lent, Magnificat in the summer of 1950. I watched and listened in wonder as these enormous musical structures were put together piece by piece under Boris’s direction, and was able to participate by acting as rehearsal pianist for the soloists, and by joining the CUMS chorus.
The more I studied Bach’s music in this way, the more I needed to know about his life, his history, his aesthetic and artistic purpose. Unfortunately, this played havoc with my planned academic work for the Classical Tripos since there were not enough hours in the day for adequate time to be spent studying each. It had to be Bach or Plato, not both. However, when I talked about this problem with the Senior Tutor, Patrick Wilkinson, himself a classical scholar, the latter said without hesitation that I should continue to do as I was doing. For good measure, as a classical scholar, he quoted the maxim of the Delphic Oracle: gnowthi seauton – “Know thyself”. Others said the same. Philip Radcliffe told me that this problem was nothing new. He himself had faced exactly the same choice when he was an undergraduate. So, I continued piano playing as before, both in public performance and private study. Concerts became more numerous in my third year, and mindful of the advice of my first teacher Henry Havergal, I went once a fortnight to London for technical study with a piano professor at the Royal Academy of Music, Wesley Roberts, since there was no such teacher in Cambridge.
In my third year 1950-51 I was made Secretary of KCMS. Informal concerts were given on Sunday evenings in the hall by members of the College and their guests; but the highlight of the year was the annual May Week concert in the second week of June, and it is the programme of that concert in June 1951 that forms the first illustration in my musical journey. Boris Ord often used the May Week concerts to introduce particular new works by British composers. In 1949, he introduced Summer’s last will and testament by his friend and fellow student at the Royal College of Music, Constant Lambert; in 1951, Five flower songs by Benjamin Britten, and songs by Peter Warlock (Philip Heseltine). It was at this concert in 1951 that I played the Mozart Piano Concerto in F, K 459, and Boris Ord conducted the King’s Orchestra.