Composer  George  Lloyd

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


There is an earthy, unmistakably English quality to Lloyd's music, which by the late 30s had made the young composer a phenomenon: in 1938, London greeted with astonishment and acclaim the 25 year old Lloyd, who had composed two operas - Iernin at the Lyceum and The Serf at Covent Garden - seemingly from nowhere.

It is telling that George's third opera, John Socman, was one of three commissioned for the Festival of Britain in 1951, alongside works by Britten and Vaughan Williams. However, World War II had left Lloyd physically and psychologically scarred: whilst serving in the Royal Marines - where his long and fruitful association with Band Music began - Lloyd was among the lucky few Bandsmen to survive when his cruiser HMS Trinidad was torpedoed on the Arctic convoys.

By the time he could return productively to work, the musical and critical tides had changed dramatically: his former reputation disregarded, George strove alone to continue his work, finding no recognition from an establishment which now saw his work as regressive. It is a credit to George's devotion to his art, and his strong self-belief, that in the last years of his life, following several commissions from the Albany Symphony Orchestra (bringing the number of symphonies to 12!) and the runaway success of his Symphonic Mass, Lloyd's music once again started to reach a larger audience, and receive the critical appreciation it deserved.

This can in part be attributed to the enduring appetite of modern audiences for music which is unapologetically melodic - Lloyd's writing is tuneful and easily accessible - but its appeal is more sophisticated than that: his music invites us, unabashed, to share a heartfelt and consuming passion, delivered with exceptional technique in orchestration and clarity of expression.

Lloyd's is deeply personal music, the triumphant product of a life marred by personal tragedy, and a joyfully defiant response to an increasingly cynical world.

  --From the biography posted on the website of the George Lloyd Society.  

The obituary which appeared in The Times is reproduced at the bottom of this webpage.

George Lloyd was in Chicago in November of 1988 for performances of his Seventh Symphony conducted by Neeme Järvi.  [See my Interview with Neemi Järvi.]  We met in the office suite at Orchestra Hall after the first rehearsal, and had a wonderful conversation. 
He was just what one would expect from a seventy-five year old — neither young and spritely, nor bent and feeble.  As seen in the photo above, he was the picture of a white-haired gentleman, and reflected this in his attitude and demeanor.  He was very much in good humor throughout, and we had a jolly old time . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    I did a program in June for your seventy-fifth birthday and I played a couple of your pieces.

George Lloyd:    Oh, did you?  Thank you very much!

BD:    It was lots of fun, and we got good responses.  It was very opportune because I was able to say, “Here’s some music of George Lloyd who is just turning seventy-five, and he will be here in Chicago for his Seventh Symphony in the fall.”

GL:    Oh, that’s very nice of you.  Thank you, thank you very much.  I seem to be well treated by a lot people.  The BBC decided to treat me very nice in the end.  They almost created history with that.  They did a whole concert, an hour and a half concert.  Some of it I’d recorded for them, and others were off records which had already been made.  But at the end of the concert, the man who did the announcing
he was one of their producers who’s taking a bit of a holiday and doing announcing instead of producingactually addressed me personally!  It was very cold, very impersonal, and he said things actually addressing me personally.  It was all in the top brass of BBC, this was!  Not exactly the right thing to do, but it was very touching for me to be suddenly over there.  You don’t expect these things. 

BD:    Should music be that impersonal?

GL:    I’m afraid if you want impersonal music, you’ve come to the wrong place.  For me it has to be very personal and very deep, sort of instinctive and definitely non-intellectual.  It doesn’t mean to say that one doesn’t know one’s craft.  You’ve got to have a craft and learn all that side of it.  But the whole basis of the thing is something which is very much deeper than a lot of things that have been done recently.

BD:    Then let me ask the great big philosophical question.  What is the purpose of music in society?

GL:    [Laughs]  I’m not sure that we should become too deeply philosophical because to start with it needs to be entertainment.  I know this is a sacrilegious thing to say now.  People want to treat all these matters so very, very seriously, but I don’t think the word entertainment is something that one should despise.  We want to be amused.  We want to have something given to us, which seems to me is the crux of the matter.  If you entertain people, either in music or in any way, you are giving them something, and I think that is what music must do — give people something.

BD:    Where is the balance, then, between this entertainment value and an artistic achievement?

GL:    I would like to say that the best entertainment is also the best artistic achievement.  By the word entertainment, you mustn’t think it is just something low grade, low brow, vulgar.  It mustn’t be.  After all, some of the greatest works — the great operas of Verdi — are the best entertainment, but they’re great art at the same time. 

BD:    Let’s talk just a little bit specifically about the piece that’s being done this weekend on the concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  This is Symphony Number Seven, the so-called Lost Symphony?

GL:    No, no, it was never lost!  It was merely that after I’d written the short score, I didn’t particularly like the work.  I’d suffered very greatly writing it.  It was something that was very deep, and I was ill after I’d completed it.  At the time, I didn’t have time to do all the orchestration and finish everything off.  I had to just write some music to get it out of my system because I was running a mushroom farm at the time.  So I just put it aside.  I put in the drawer, and every few years I saw that thing and said, “Oh, that horrible symphony!”  Finally, when we sold our business and came to London, I looked at that and I thought, “Well, now I’m setting myself up as a composer again, and if I’ve said I’ve got a Seventh Symphony — ” because by that time I’d written Eight and Nine and was in the process of writing Ten
I’d better do something about this thing.”  So I took it out and orchestrated it, and I was still convinced that nobody would like it.  Finally I made a commercial recording of it, and much to my surprise it sold better than any other record I’ve done.  [Both laugh]  Goes to show how much one knows about one’s own work.

lloydBD:    You conducted this recording?

GL:    I did it, yes, yes.  I’ve been doing all my own commercial recordings recently. 

BD:    Is the composer really the ideal interpreter of his own work?

GL:    That depends on the composer and the conductor.  For instance, Elgar was probably the best conductor of Elgar; no doubt about that.  He did things extremely well and understood his stuff perfectly.  There’ve been other good composers who’ve also been excellent conductors.  After all, Mahler was a great conductor, and he was a great composer.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of composers around who haven’t studied the technique at all.  They just get up and wag their arms around, and that’s the end of that.  By and large, they’ve made a bad reputation for themselves.  But I did study the whole thing when I was very young, and I did all my own things.  I conducted my operas, and if circumstances had been different I might very easily have done that as my source of living
just conductingbut unfortunately the war came along and everything was spoilt for me.  It was only a few years ago I thought I must get back into this.  I must try and do it because I wasn’t satisfied with the way that other people were doing it.

BD:    Suggestions from you were not sufficient to bring the performance up to your standard?

GL:    Ah, no.  You can inject a certain amount into a conductor, but it’s very difficult to inject what’s not there.  One my difficulties is that conductors have become very square in their interpretations.  They use very little rubato and that singing quality, and this is an absolute essential part of my music!  If you play my music in a square way it means nothing it all.  It must be done with a lot of give and take, and that’s difficult to write down.  It’s also difficult now to find conductors who feel that.

BD:    So these tempo variations are not indicated are not in the score?

GL:    There’s a lot more than what you’ve just put into the score.  There’s the whole phrasing business.  There’s the emphasis that leads up to one note and gives away.  You build a phrase as you make a sentence, and that is difficult to describe in notation.  Although I’ve only had one rehearsal so far with Mr. Järvi, I think at long last I’ve found somebody who actually has tremendous sympathy with the way that I build my music.  I was saying to him, “Look, you see that little phrase?  There’s a semi-quaver that comes in there.  They played it as a semi-quaver, but I don’t mean it to be like that because it’s too short.  I want it to sing.”  He said, “Ah, yes, I see exactly what you mean.”  There’s all these little funny things that are so difficult to write down.

BD:    Let me ask the other extreme then.  Are there ever performances and interpreters that find good things in your scores that you didn’t even know you’d hidden there?

GL:    To be perfectly honest, I haven’t met them so far.  [Both laugh]  Doesn’t say that I won’t, though.  I’m hoping that maybe Mr. Järvi’s going to find something that I didn’t know.  That would be wonderful! 

BD:    Are you basically pleased with the performances you hear of your music?

GL:    The performances I hear?  The ones that I do myself, or the ones that other people do?

BD:    We’ve got to take them separately.

GL:    The ones that other people do just give me the creeps.  This was one reason why I’ve been doing my own.  Whenever anybody did anything, I’d go home and grumble all night long.  Finally my wife said to me, “I’m absolutely sick of hearing you grumble about the person who does your music.  It’s about time you did it yourself, because I know perfectly well that when you’ve done it yourself, you’ll grumble at yourself.  You’re never satisfied.”  [Both laugh]  So now I grumble at myself. 

BD:    Is there any ideal performance, any performance that hits the mark bang on?

GL:    I don’t know.  It’s so difficult.  I’m afraid I’ve made, to some extent, a compromise with things.  I used to think that one could get a performance absolutely perfect, but I don’t believe it any longer now.  I think one has to make compromise, and settle for something slightly less, and be grateful for that.  It’s so difficult; there are always little snags here and there, and just small things.

BD:    Do you find that over the years your idea of what is the right performance will change and modify?

GL:    Oh, yes.  Heavens above, yes!  That’s one reason, or the main reason, as the years go by I have become much less arrogant and a great deal more tolerant.  I found that, of course, when I do my own things, I do it one day one way and another day another way.  So I say, “If I do things in different ways, what about the other poor devils?”  So I’m a lot more tolerant.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You’re continuing to write?

lloydGL:    Oh, yes, yes.  I’m still writing hard, yes.

BD:    Are all of the things you write on commission?

GL:    So far, yes.  In fact, I’ve got the happy state now of having to say, “I’m terribly sorry, I can’t do anything for you for another three years.”

BD:    Then how do you decide whether you’ll accept a commission or turn it aside?

GL:    When anybody asks me to do something and they offer a commission, I say, “I’ll let you know at a certain time, because by then I will have found out whether I think I can do it.”  Before I actually accept it, I must have the basic ideas in my head so that I know I would be able to do it.  I won’t just accept a commission and say, “Oh, yes, fine, I’ll write a concerto,” and not have a slightest notion of whether I could, or have any ideas.  That I won’t do, because if I take a commission I want to do it for the time that’s been stipulated. 

BD:    When you start out and you have the various ideas, are you ever surprised where the thing winds up?

GL:    Not in recent times.  I have had that.  I had a terrible experience in the sixties when I was earning my living with this mushroom farm.  My wife and I were running it, and so the amount of time I had for writing was rather limited.  But I had some very strong ideas for a piano concerto, and so I set to work.  The main part of this concerto was going to be a very big, big movement.  So I had the ideas for the first movement, and I set to work and this first movement grew and grew.  It turned itself into a concerto its own.  So there I was.  I’ve got a piano concerto, but I still had the rest of it.  By that time, I’d gotten the second movement and the last movement, I had to write another first movement.  I got to work on that quite happily, and you won’t believe it but exactly the same thing happened again!  I had my Second Piano Concerto was a one movement thing of about thirty-four minutes.  Finally I said, “Bother this. I can’t spend very much time.  I’m going to write a first movement.”  So I did one very quickly.  It only lasts about ten minutes, so it is a furioso for ten minutes.  Then I was able to get down to the serious part of the work with the big long movement.  As a matter of fact, I’ve just recorded that only a month or so ago with the BBC Philharmonic and Kathryn Stott.  This is my Third Piano Concerto and it will come out next year.  So you see, one never really knows. 

BD:    When you’re actually writing and you’re setting the notes down on the paper, are you controlling that pencil or are there times when that pencil is really controlling your hand?

GL:    [Smiling broadly]  You do ask some very awkward questions, don’t you?  [Both laugh]  If I said that the pencil is controlling my hand, then you might say, “Is that automatic writing, or is it just doing it from memory?”  I don’t know.  I don’t think the pencil has very much to do with it. 

BD:    So you know exactly where it’s going every moment?

GL:    I won’t say exactly.  Things tend to be a little bit vague sometimes, but more or less.

BD:    [Laughs]  Okay.  Now, you said that the first movement wound up being so long.  Are you conscious of the amount of time it will take to play each piece as you are writing it?

GL:    Yes.  Usually I have a fairish notion.  I’m in the middle of writing another symphony at the moment...

BD:    [Interrupting]  This will be Number Eleven?

lloydGL:    No, Twelve.  Working things out before I really got started, with the plan that I had I knew it would be somewhere in the region of forty minutes, and it’s going to come out something like that.  I was really trying to write, to some extent, to a certain length.  I just didn’t want to write another thing lasting sixty minutes.  That’s an awful lot of hard work, scoring a symphony of sixty minutes.  I said, “That’s too much.  I’ll do one of forty this time.”

BD:    [Laughs]  I see!  Lop off a little bit of work?

GL:    That’s right.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  You don’t feel you’re cheating the public by lopping off this bit of music?

GL:    [Laughs]  You’re accusing me of making two symphonies out of one, is that it?   [Both laugh]  I think I’ve given fairly good value.  The last one — Number Eleven
was fifty-nine minutes, so people can’t grumble about it.  [Note: I sat immediately behind the composer at the concert a couple of days later, and he had a stopwatch with which he noted the exact amount of time of each movement!

BD:    Was there any big hurdle getting over Symphony Number Nine and going into Number Ten?

GL:    Oh, yes.  Yes, there was.  I made a joke of that, and I wrote a whole lot on the score.  I can’t remember it word for word, but very roughly what I said was that if I’d been a serious composer of the last century, I would written a symphony an hour and a half long, and it would have been about life, death and resurrection.  But in this one, the first movement was about a girl who dances, and the second movement is an old woman that reminisces, and the third movement is the merry-go-round that goes round and round and round.  So it’s life, death and resurrection.  When I’ve done program notes for other people, I say any composer who’s done eight symphonies is faced with this terrifying prospect of Beethoven and his one and only Ninth Symphony.  So what does one do?  I decided to do it lightheartedly.  I was trying to say something serious while doing it in a very lighthearted way.  That got me over the hurdle.

BD:    Do you feel you’re part of a lineage of English composers?

GL:    No, not the slightest bit.  Everybody’s trying to say,
“Oh, it’s very English, this music.  Well, if it is very English, it’s entirely unconscious, because when I was very young and a student, there were all the famous names going around — Vaughn Williams, Bax, Holst.  I even saw Elgar conducting one time.  So fine, it was all those English composers who were still around when I was a student, but I hadn’t the slightest sympathy with any of them.  I didn’t particularly like them, in actual fact.  What I really liked was Italian opera.  So it’s Puccini, Verdi, and all the early Italian writers, people like Bellini and such.  They were the ones that influenced me, and then you throw in a bit of Berlioz and a few other people like that — but not the English tradition.

BD:    So then you’re really part of the world-wide music community?

GL:    I don’t know.  I don’t know what I’m part of.  I have no idea at all.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    This is another of those awkward questions, but what are some of the things that you feel contribute to making a piece of music great?

GL:    Yes, that is awkward.  It’s got to be something that comes out from an unconscious depth, and it’s something which has a life of its own.  Take the most famous piece of all,  Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  That says something.  It’s not just notes, it is something.  It’s a total creation.  There’s an atmosphere about the whole thing.  Jump ahead a little bit — Berlioz Fantastique.  That is unlike anything that’s ever been or ever since; it has a complete life of its own.  If you come more recent times, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  That’s just a once-off affair.  There’s never been anything like it, and there’s been an enormous number of imitators.  Composers have been banging around with syncopated rhythms and doing all that sort of stuff that he did, but the real essence of that work is something quite unique.  It’s a world that has been created.  It has its own logic.  It has everything.  I suppose you could say that’s a sort of greatness, isn’t it?

lloydBD:    Is the music of George Lloyd great?

GL:    [With grace, despite the impertinence of the question]  Oh, don’t bring me into that.  It’s just a different dimension as far as I’m concerned.  I don’t start to compare myself with all these great people.  I’ve often thought how wonderful it could be if one could write music that’s even as good, say, as Dvořák, because it’s almost impossible to climb right up to the top of the mountain.  Just a few people can do that.  But there’s been a lot of beautiful music on lesser levels, halfway up Mount Parnassus but still very, very good, and I class Dvořák in that level.  It’s very beautiful.  It’s agreeable; it’s pleasing.  It’s well written.  It’s everything.  It’s delightful stuff, and I think the world could do with a lot more Dvořáks now
people who would set out to write something that was agreeable and pleasing.  I think that would be a nice ambition. 

BD:    What specific advice do you have for young composers coming along?

GL:    I think that now the pendulum needs to swing in the direction of recognizing that you are writing, ultimately, for people to listen to what you have written.  For too long we’ve had people who have been writing in their little ivory towers.  They’ve been writing in their own language, and blow the audience!  And the audiences have just responded by walking out of the concert halls.  They’re just not interested most of the time.  It’s only very specialized audiences that go to most of contemporary work.  Composers have completely alienated the audiences.  One simply cannot deny that, and it’s time that we recognize that you’re writing for people to listen to!  I belong to an association where we had a long discussion about all this, and I reminded them that some of the very greatest music was written for the church, or little German princes, or a city, state, or what have you, and that if they didn’t please the audiences that they were writing for, they were out in the street.  They had no job.  Some of the greatest music was written under those conditions, so why can’t we do it again, instead of trying to carry on the nineteenth century tradition, the idea of being messiahs?  I don’t think we are messiahs.

BD:    Can I infer from all of this that you write with the audience directly in mind?

GL:    [Laughs]  No, only partly.  That’s the difficulty.  You can never get a straight answer to any of these things!  Yes, vaguely.  The thing is you know you want to communicate something.  You don’t really know what.  When I’m writing I’m not seeing an audience there.  I’m not.  I know that some of my severe critics have accused me writing down to the public, and they’ve got it wrong.  They think that if you write music that’s got some tunes, got a lot of brass, drums and rhythm, it moves on, it’s exciting, they think you’re writing down to the public because that’s what the public likes.  But in actual fact, it’s what I like.  I like all the same sort of things that general public likes.  It’s just appalling!  So I don’t really write down, I just carry on. 

BD:    Who is right?  Who should decide what music should be heard?  Is it the composer?  Is it the management?  It is the orchestra, the public, the critics?

GL:    In the end, of course, after, let us say, forty or fifty years, it is the public that decides.  It’s the whole historical process which finally decides whether one work has something in it which keeps it alive for generations and generations.  All the managers and critics can do what they want, but they can’t make that live forever if it hasn’t got the right thing in it.  Eventually the public will sort it out.  It takes time, but it will eventually.

BD:    Is the public always right? 

GL:    [Sighs]  The thing is that if you take most of the things that the public has decided it likes, it’s kept in the repertoire.  Things are only kept in the repertoire if people want to hear them.  You can’t go on programming a work for sixty or seventy years and losing audiences the whole time.  You just can’t go on.  No management is going to do that.  That is basically why programs are made up with so much that is known.  One can still get satisfaction out of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, so they will go on doing that.  They’ve now found that they can get tremendous satisfaction out of other things, too.  We were talking about early Italian opera just now.  Some of that is extremely lively, but was buried.  When I was a student, if you talked about Bellini or Donizetti, you were frowned upon.  They said,
“That’s all this silly old stuff; it’s just part of history now, but it’s all come to life again.  People get a lot of pleasure because it was originally very lively music.  Now it’s back again. 

BD:    So you applaud this trend?

GL:    Yes, I do.  But the whole thing, of course, always needs a tremendous amount of sifting out.  Now a lot of old stuff is being resurrected purely as an historical thing.  Because it’s old, it’s being played.  So there again I’m being very vague. 

BD:    At what point does the mountain of material get to be simply too much for the public to absorb in a lifetime?

GL:    I simply don’t know the answer to that.  They’re being subjected to so much now that the public is, in some ways, being asked to appreciate such a very wide range of music in a way that’s never happened before.  We now are supposed to be able to understand medieval music, polyphonic vocal music, also seventeenth and eighteenth century right up to the latest thing.  We get the whole dose and it’s the first time that this has happened.

BD:    Pursuing a slightly different angle of the same thing, do you feel that the gramophone record has been a help or a hindrance in this?

GL:    Oh, an enormous help.  I think it’s tremendous!  It’s the same as broadcasting.  When broadcasting came in seriously in the late twenties, a lot of people thought this is going to be the death of concerts.  In fact it wasn’t.  It created a whole new, very large audience that became interested in serious music, and then they started going to concerts.  As to gramophone records, I’m very prejudiced on this subject because in natural fact I prefer to have a good recording of some piece of music I like.  I prefer to have that and sit in my own room, quietly, with nobody around, and just listen to that music.  I get into the music far better than if I’m in a concert hall.  I know you lose the physical impact, but you get into the depths of the music. 

BD:    Is there any chance that one of the pieces you’re writing will be with the gramophone in mind, rather than a live performance in mind?

GL:    No, I don’t think so.  I don’t write from that point of view.  I’m thinking of it because don’t forget that the best modern recording techniques try to simulate the sound in the concert hall.  They don’t play tricks with mics all over the place, and make the flute sound as big as a trombone, which they were doing at one time.  That’s all gone out.  So you try to produce the sound that’s in the concert hall.

BD:    Do you think that concerts work well on the television?

GL:    Oh, I hate music on television!  I just can’t stand it.  I don’t get any pleasure in looking at a soloist and watching his fingers.  That doesn’t mean anything to me at all.  So music on television I loathe, particularly operas because you’re always made to look down the singer’s throat, and I find this very disagreeable.

BD:    So that doesn’t bring the dramatic action closer?

GL:    Doesn’t mean anything to me at all, no.  Then there is the dancing around.  When there’s a bit for the oboe, suddenly you see one hand of the oboe, and then you see the end of a trombone, or somebody’s nose sticking out.  I don’t like that.  It isn’t that I don’t like television; that’s another matter.  It’s just for music.

BD:    Would it be better if they just plopped a camera in row J in the center, and just shot the orchestra from that one position?

GL:    I don’t want to see anything.  I’m speaking quite personally.  I don’t want to see the performance when I listen to music.  I find that the visual side of it distracts me, takes my mind away from the actual message that is being given by the sound.  But then, I don’t have an awfully good visual sense.  That’s probably it.

BD:    Early on you wrote some operas.  Did you not incorporate the visual into those operas, at least?

GL:    Yes, but the visual really means the drama, so it’s not just the visual aspect.  It’s the dramatic aspect.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Tell me the joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice.

GL:    I want to go back to writing for the voice.  I did a lot of that in the early days, and then for one reason or another I grew away from it, and I want to get back from it.  Some eight or ten years ago I wrote a very big choral piece which I’m looking forward to finally doing.  It’s going to have its first performance next spring in Washington with the Choral Arts Society of Washington.  It’s a great chorus, fantastic chorus.  That’s going to be done, and then we’re going to record it afterwards.  [See photo of CD booklet below.]  That’s a big piece with a very big orchestra — the biggest orchestra I’ve ever had
and a big chorus, with tenor and soprano solos and all sorts of things.


BD:    Will you come back to writing operas, or just big choral works?

GL:    I don’t know.  It’s awfully hard work writing an opera.  It takes quite a long time.  Nowadays, you can count on it taking three years.  I don’t think I shall do any.  I’d like to do other vocal stuff rather than an opera.  You want to be certain it’s going to be played, and then you spend three years on something to be put in the cupboard.  I don’t want to do that anymore.  [Laughs]  I’ve done that for an awful lot of years in my life.

BD:    Are there any works of yours that are still on the shelf remaining unperformed?

GL:    Yes, there are some.  Most of the symphonies now have been done, but there’s some violin concertos and a little bit of chamber music
violin sonatas and that sort of thingwhich haven’t been done.

BD:    Now that your name is more widely in front of the public, can you interest violinists and conductors in these works?

GL:    Yes.  I think this is going to happen, actually.  The things are just starting to get into the pipeline. 

BD:    Do you ever go back and revise scores?

GL:    A little bit.  I did revise my Second Symphony before that was brought out.  I did that with the BBC and then made a commercial recording three years ago or something like that.  I’ve also done a little bit on my First Symphony which I’ll probably be doing sometime in the next couple of years or so.  But most of these things are more or less left as they were.

BD:    Years from now, suppose some conductor finds the original manuscript and decides he wants to do the Urtext?

GL:    I’ve been pretty cunning over that, I might tell you.  I discovered a few years back that this was a very dangerous thing, and that you couldn’t leave anything around if you didn’t want to acknowledge it.  This idea of digging out everything that the poor composer has thrown away... take Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.  He cut out something like forty-five minutes of music from the original production.  He, poor innocent, left it in publishers’ cellars, and a few years ago that was just dug out and played again.  Now I think that’s really awful, because the man decided it was wrong, so it should be left wrong.  They’ll perform the original version of a Verdi opera which he revised, quite disregarding the fact that Verdi was a great stage craftsman, great musician, and he decided that he could improve it.  But no, you have to give the original version.  I think that’s a load of nonsense.  So, five or six years ago I went through everything and destroyed scores left, right, and center.  I hope I got rid of most of the old rubbish that I wouldn’t acknowledge! 

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  Maybe there’s a BBC transcription someplace, and we can reconstruct it.  [Both laugh]

GL:    [With a sly grin]  You’ve given me a great idea!  Now if I just did a few sketches on one page and put
Symphony Number Thirteenat the top, write about four or five bars and then go to another page and say, “This is the second movement,” and write two chords, then in sixty or seventy years somebody will come along and they’d reconstruct an entire work out of my three pages!  [Both laugh]  I’d have to see that they found it within fifty years of my death, and then my heirs would be able to claim some royalties on it! [More laughter]  You’ve given me a great idea.  I’m going to do some sketches!  I’ll leave them to my heirs and beneficiaries.  [With a big twinkle in his eye]  You see, I don’t take it too seriously, this business of writing music. 

[Note: At this point we stopped briefly while I turned over the cassette, and he was surprised that we had spoken for about forty minutes.]

BD:    Can we go a little bit more?

GL:    Anything you’d like.  Sometimes I say to people, “Do you want me to start at the age of two or five?”  Actually in fact, I do remember just a few things that happened to me when I was two.

BD:    Have they found their way into your scores, or are they just memories in the back of your mind?

GL:    No, just a few memories.  But from the age of four or five that’s very, very vivid.  I think that’s why I have a great feeling for brass instruments, because I heard brass bands when I was five years old. 

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Is composing fun?

GL:    Sometimes it can be, and sometimes it’s total misery.  It’s usually total misery before you get started.  That’s really awful.  I suffer physically and mentally in every way.  I go partly paralyzed.  Anything can happen to me.  I can’t move my hands.  It really affects me, the whole of me.  All my body is affected and I get very, very miserable, and very, very depressed.  But once I get started and the notes start coming out, then it can sometimes be fun, particularly if I’ve got a nice little tune.  I say, “Ha, ha, ha, here we go!  Oh, grand.  I’m going to annoy somebody!”  [Both laugh]  So then you have a bit of fun.  Or you think up some piece of orchestration and you feel a bit wicked about it.  So then it’s fun.  So it’s a bit of all sorts, really.

lloydBD:    You sound like you’re more of a musical prankster!

GL:    Maybe it’s like my Ninth Symphony where serious matters are treated lightheartedly... although you wouldn’t say that of my Seventh Symphony, which is a terribly serious, dramatic, tragic work.  It gives me the creeps.  No, I’m not a prankster.  I’m in some ways very serious about it, but I don’t think you want to be too solemn, shall we say.

BD:    Do you find that the reaction of the public is different from Britain to America or on the continent?

GL:    I have a very small experience of American audiences, but when I first made acquaintance, which was two years ago in Albany, they played my Eleventh Symphony and I was absolutely shattered.  They were all on their feet, cheering, and banging.  So that was fun.  I never got people on their feet before.  They usually make a lot of noise and they’re very enthusiastic.  The odd thing about it is that nowadays, management pays very little attention to that.  It doesn’t matter whether the audience really like it and jump about and shout, or whether they don’t.  It either gets played or it doesn’t, regardless of the audience reaction.  I’m talking about England now; I don’t know about the States.  In England, finally after about forty years, one of my symphonies was played in the Proms in London.  That was in 1981, as far as I remember, and that only got in by accident because something else had fallen out and they shoved this in last minute.  The audience was very, very enthusiastic, and they shouted.  Prom audiences always do, but they were extremely enthusiastic.  Friends of mine said, “You’ve had it now, because the head of music at the BBC won’t like that.  He doesn’t like it when the audiences are too enthusiastic.  He thinks there’s something wrong with the music.”  And I’ve never, ever had anything played since.  They won’t do anything!

BD:    So that was the kiss of death?

GL:    That was the kiss of death, yes!  With certain people in musical circles in England, if the audience has a very positive reaction, that is the kiss of death.  So you’re then written off as being a vulgarian.  Sounds strange, isn’t it?

BD:    Yes.  I was going to say, it sounds exactly backwards!

GL:    You see, that is the way it is, and that is what we’re up against.  At least I’m up against it.  Usually, when things of mine have been played, the audiences are incredibly enthusiastic.  But it doesn’t mean that next day somebody is saying they want to play something of mine.  No, it just gets forgotten and buried. 

BD:    I would think that would be terribly frustrating.

GL:    Well, I just accept it as the way things are. 

BD:    Is the head of BBC wrongheaded about that?  Shouldn’t he be playing things that people seem to like?

GL:    I don’t know.  He’s retired, so we’ve got another man, but he thinks more or less the same.  BBC, by and large have been very nice to me in recent years.  Yes, extremely nice
— but not in London.  There, you’re pigeonholed.  No, the man in London doesn’t want to have me around, so I’m quite happy about that because I don’t like the way music in London is being conducted at the present time.  So I go to Manchester where they have marvelous, wonderful orchestra belonging to BBC.  I’m very happy working with them.  They’re very enthusiastic, very hard working, terrific orchestra, actually. 

BD:    Besides the head of it, what is it that bothers you about the BBC in London?

GL:    It’s now become so commercial, and people simply don’t have time to do anything.  The average orchestral musician is doing about three sessions a day.  I’m not exaggerating.  They’re basically there for the money in London.  The sensible ones who want to pursue a reasonably human sort of life and do their music and perhaps think about something else or have a hobby, they go out into the provincial orchestras now.  So if you stay in London, you’re there strictly for the money.  The thing has become an absurdity.  Last winter there was a certain orchestra and conductor, and they were doing I think it was a Bax symphony.  They had a session in the morning in South London, and then for the afternoon, that orchestra had to go right away up to the north of London to another hall, Walthamstow, which is a very good place to record, and they had another work and another conductor.  Then when they had done their three hours there, they were supposed to go down to South London to a church for another session for the work that they were doing in the morning with that first conductor.  The thing didn’t work out because they hit peak hour traffic and not all of them got there in time.  But that’s the sort of thing people are setting up.  It’s an absurdity!

BD:    I would think that would be mentally fatiguing and physically draining, too.

GL:    Oh yes, it’s frightful, and that’s the sort of life that these people are leading.  The other thing is that in London you never who’s going to be in what orchestra, because they have this system of deputies.  So you turn up expecting to see certain people in this orchestra, and they just aren’t there.  It may be even less than half the regular orchestra is there.  They just pick them up, and it’s ruining things.

BD:    Is there any hope
— aside from everyone moving to Manchester?

GL:    Well, yes, there is a certain hope.  It’s got to such a pass that the Arts Council is going to start subsidizing concerts
not on a seasonal basis, but for individual concerts.  They will subsidize them in such a way that there have to be so many rehearsals, and eighty-five or ninety percent of the regular players must be in that orchestra.  If they’re not, then they don’t get their subsidy.   So they’re going to be forced into it eventually. 

BD:    I wouldn’t think that the musicians would put up with this day after day, and year after year.

GL:    Well, quite a lot of them don’t.  In the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, the leader, or what you call the concertmaster, some ten years ago was the deputy concertmaster in the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  He’s a very good man, very good musician, and he left.  He gave it all up and went into the provinces, to Manchester.  The final straw on the camel’s back was that he did fifty-three sessions without a single break.  Fifty-three in a row without a day’s rest or anything.  It’s a lot to have to do and he said, “Oh, I can’t go on like this.”  So he’s there now and he’s very happy.  He does a certain amount of solo work, he does chamber music, and he does his hours with the BBC.  Now he’s a happy man, a very nice man.

BD:    But at least he’s still playing violin.  He’s not growing mushrooms, or something...

GL:    Oh, no!  [Laughs]  Oh, my!  I guess he’s luckier than I was.  I don’t regret growing the mushrooms.  They’re very fascinating, actually.  It’s quite an interesting job.  You wouldn’t think so, but once you start growing them, you can’t think of anything else.  It becomes an obsession.

BD:    Have you spoken with John Cage about that?  [See my Interview with John Cage.] 

GL:    John Cage.  Well!  [Laughs]  That’s one of my standard jokes.  When people start needling me, asking why don’t I write nice up to date music like real avant garde stuff, I say, “My one connection with that is that John Cage was a mushroom grower, and I was a mushroom grower.  But I did one better than him because I got out of it at a very good profit, and he had to quit it because he got so much disease he couldn’t carry on anymore!”

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Are you optimistic about the future of music?

lloydGL:    In a long term, yes I am.  I just don’t think that you can stop people wanting to sing, wanting to express themselves.  The extraordinary upsurge of people playing instruments now is really amazing!  Consider some of these young kids that you hear performing!  We have a thing in England called Young Musician of the Year which happens every two years.  [Note: This is correct, though neither of us commented about the irony!]  They go round and have tests in all the different regions, and then finally about a hundred are pulled out of all these regional competitions.  Then they whittle it down, and this is a great TV show now.  They have the best in different categories
woodwinds, brass, strings, piano, etcetera, etcetera.  This is being done also on a European basis, so the winners of the national Young Musician of the Year then compete in the European ones.  This past year it was absolutely uncanny!  In England there was a young boy who played the horn, and he was only fourteen years old.  All the horn players I know just said, “You can’t teach him anything.  Whatever is he going to do?  There’s nothing more for him to do.”  The repertoire is limited, and there he was, playing this horn like nobody’s business.

BD:    So then he’s already better than Dennis Brain?

GL:    Yes, yes!  That’s just what they said.  They said, “This is another Dennis Brain, except he’s a kid so he’s got to grow up.”  At the European competition, there was a young boy who was thirteen, I think, and he was playing the violin!  You shut your eyes and he played like one of the great fiddlers.  It was so uncanny!  Now when an orchestra advertises a position for a wind player, there are hundreds of applicants.  But all this is for performers.  There’s a tremendous interest.  What is happening with composing is slightly different.  I still think that one of these days there are going to be some Mozarts popping out of the bag.  But the children that want to write are doing this under great difficulties.  I know this from first hand because I have young kids, teenagers, who come knocking at my door.  I had one last year.  I live in the center of London, and this lad was sixteen and he’d come all the way down from Edinburgh.  He had been a choir boy — he was principal choir boy in Liverpool Cathedral
— and then he went to one of these schools where they teach music for brilliant kids.  All his life he’d been writing little bits of music.  He was given a professor of composition who was middle aged, serial, avant garde, and this boy just wasn’t interested.  He couldn’t learn anything because he wasn’t being taught any traditional techniques.  The trustees who had given him a scholarship said, “You can have anybody you like.  Just go searching.”  He’d heard my music, came down, and he wanted me to teach him.  Well, I don’t teach, unfortunately.  I just haven’t got time and I’m not very good at that.  So I don’t teach.  But this is not the only case.  I had another boy whose father came to me in absolute despair.  He’d been writing music since he was five years old.  He went to another of these music schools, called Chethams, and at the age of thirteen he was given a serial professor.  The boy just clammed up.  He just would not write another single note!  He was a brilliant pianist, a fantastic pianist and at about twenty years old he had a nervous breakdown, this poor kid.  But this is what’s happening all over the place.  They cannot get anybody to teach them traditional techniques.  They don’t want to write serial; they don’t want to write avant garde.  They want to write tunes.  Some of these peopleolder ones, twenty and up — come to me and say, “Can we see such and such a score because we want to know how you orchestrated that tune?”  That tune is what they want to know.  Ten years ago you just didn’t dare admit that you wrote a tune!

BD:    But now it’s back in fashion.

GL:    Now they want to.  A short while ago I was talking to a man who is a professor of music at one of the universities, and he said, “Not so long ago, ten years ago, my classes were full of all my students.”  He has about two hundred a year coming, turning over in university.  He said, “They all wrote their little bits of serial stuff.  Now, out of all that lot I’ve got about two who are interested, and all the rest of them are writing little romantic things about the wind and the leaves and the sunsets and all these sort of things.”  It’s extraordinary.  But it hasn’t broken through yet, because the vested interests are keeping that out of the way.  Publishers have spent so much money putting out avant garde pieces, and a lot of people have put their heads on the line
the critics and everything.  So all these people who write tunes just don’t make it.

BD:    Do you put any stock in the minimalist movement?

GL:    Quite honestly it bores me.  It bores me stiff.  Now that you mention this minimalist movement, I can tell you another story.  There’s a composer who’s very well known in England, particularly, writing all sorts of things.  He’s an extremely able man, and he teaches at the one of the colleges.  I met him six weeks or so ago, and we were having a long talk.  He told me he now has to teach his students what to do to get their degree.  They’ve got to write a piece of music, and has to be either serial or minimalist or a piece for nothing but percussion.  Those three things.  They’ve got to do that.

BD:    No option?

GL:    No option.  So he says, “I just teach them how to write a piece of minimalist music.  It’s wicked.  They don’t want to do it.  I don’t want to do it, but that’s the way the authorities say it’s got to be done, so they do it.  Then they get a degree.”

BD:    Who are these authorities?

GL:    They’re a lot of old people that thought they were being modernist, up-to-date twenty or twenty-five years ago.  They’re now in a position of power and that’s what they put across.  In another twenty-five years they’ll all be out and dead, and then eventually it’s going to change.  It’ll be a big change, I’m sure, because there’s been a very big change in everything else — architecture, poetry, painting.  [Looks up wistfully and pauses for a moment]

BD:    Thank you for all of the wonderful music that you have given us. 

GL:    Oh, that’s very nice of you to say so.  I hope I entertained you.

George Lloyd, Composer

The Times
: Monday July 6 1998

George Lloyd, composer died on July 3 aged 85. He was born on June 28th 1913.

George Lloyd's long career was a remarkable cycle of recognition and neglect. Prodigiously successful in the 1930s, he saw a promising future blighted first by traumatic wartime service in the Royal Navy, which left him incapacitated for several years, and then by a change in artistic fashion which meant that for decades his compositions went unheard. For a time he gave up on music altogether and became a market gardener instead.

Slowly however, he returned to composing and even more slowly his musical fortunes turned. With his health restored and the wider artistic climate transformed, he enjoyed an extraordinary Indian summer in the last two decades of his life. New works were written, recorded and performed. Other pieces were discovered and revived. All were greeted with popular enthusiasm that was almost without parallel in contemporary musical life. Given a chance to hear it at last audiences found that they loved Lloyd's work.

It was not hard to understand why. Lloyd was an unashamedly late-Romantic composer. His first love he once said has been for the Italian Operatic masters Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti and Bellini. Elgar was the English composer he most admired. Content to mine the expressive potential melody and harmony in the grand 19th Century tradition, Lloyd rejected the theoretical rigours of 20th Century modernism as a musical dead end. Here was a contemporary composer whose work sounded nothing like most contemporary music.

To listeners fond of asking why modern composers are incapable of writing decent tunes, Lloyd's music came as a welcome revelation. But the populist triumphalism of his noisier champions was no more accurate a reflection of his achievements than the grudging response of more professional critics. Conservative though it is in idiom, Lloyd's music is free of easy nostalgia and pastiche. He may have looked to the past for his inspiration, but his response is vital and intensely personal to the world in which he lived.

Born in Cornwall to a comfortable family with some money and a great deal of enthusiasm for music, George Walter Selwyn Lloyd missed much of his schooling because of rheumatic fever. He went on to study violin with Albert Sammons and composition with Harry Farjeon.

His was a precocious talent. His First Symphony, written when he was 19 was premiered by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 1933. Two years later his career was well under way. His Second Symphony had its premier at Eastbourne in 1935 and was followed almost immediately by the Third which the BBC Symphony Orchestra performed.

Meanwhile Lloyd's first opera Iernin had been performed in Penzance in 1934. The Times critic, Frank Howes, on holiday in that area, had given a glowing review, which lead to London performances at the Lyceum the following year. A second opera, The Serf was staged at Covent Garden when Lloyd was just 25 under the baton of Albert Coates.

The war put a stop to this musical progress. As Royal Marine bandsman, Lloyd doubled as a gunner, serving on the notoriously dangerous Arctic convoys. In 1942 a faulty torpedo did a U-turn in the sea and blew up his ship. Lloyd was rescued but not before he had seen most of his fellow gunners drowned in oil. The trauma and severe shell-shock exacerbated the weak health he had suffered as a child, bringing about a complete collapse. He attempted to come to terms with his grim wartime experience in his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, works which only the devoted nursing of his Swiss-born wife Nancy enabled him to complete (in 1946 and 1948 respectively).

Despite the severity of his illness, Lloyd managed to produce a third opera, John Socman, about a Wiltshire soldier at Agincourt. Commissioned for the Festival of Britain in 1951, it had its first performance at Bristol. The libretto, like those for the two previous operas, was provided by his father William Lloyd.

Lloyd's health deteriorated further, and in 1952 he withdrew to Dorset where for 20 years he was a market gardener growing mushrooms and carnations. He continued to compose intermittently, rising at 4.30am and writing for three hours before the start of the working day. But he found it difficult to get his work performed and became increasingly disillusioned, seeing himself at odds with a musical establishment apparently in thrall to the serialist and a tonal orthodoxies of European modernism.

"I sent scores off to the BBC" he later said. "They came back, usually without comment. I never wrote 12-tone music because I didn't like the theory. I studied the blessed thing in the early 1930s and thought it was a cock-eyed idea that produced horrible sounds. It made composers forget how to sing."

Nevertheless, he was not entirely without supporters. Among those who continued to respond to his music's opulence, vigour and colour were the conductors Charles Groves and Edward Downes and the pianist John Ogdon, for whom Lloyd wrote the first of four piano concertos, Scapegoat, in 1963.

The tide began to turn albeit slowly. In 1970's Gavin Henderson, then chief executive of the Philharmonia, gave useful support. The BBC, after neglecting Lloyd for years, accepted his Eighth Symphony for performance in 1969 - and finally got round to broadcasting it eight years later. His Sixth Symphony was given at the Proms in 1981,and in the same year three of his symphonies were recorded by Lyrita Records.

But perhaps the most influential figure in the recent revival of Lloyd's fortunes was Peter Kermani an American entrepreneur and music lover whose enthusiasm for Lloyd's work led to a deal with the Albany Symphony Orchestra from New York State. This brought forth a flood of performances and recordings of both old and new compositions. It also brought Lloyd a whole new American audience and, in his own delighted words, ""All of a sudden buckets of dollars!"

Among the new works recorded were Lloyd's Eleventh and Twelfth Symphonies, which had their first performances in 1986 and 1990. Other major new compositions included a large scale choral piece, The Vigil of Venus, premiered at the Festival Hall in 1989, nine years after its completion, and a Symphonic Mass, premiered at the 1993 Brighton Festival under the baton of the composer. The latter work was described by Gramophone magazine as "one of the finest pieces of English choral writing of the 20th century." The Times critic remarked, not unkindly, on its "overwhelming retrospection".

Lloyd suffered heart trouble last year, but recovered sufficiently to resume work on a Requiem, which he completed three weeks ago. He is survived by his wife Nancy whom he married in 1937. They had no children.

Postscript  --  After uploading this interview to my website, I sent an e-mail to the George Lloyd Society to let them know of its availability.  A couple of weeks  later, I received a message from the nephew of the composer, William Lloyd, which is hereby reproduced...

Dear Bruce, 

Your email prompted me to read the interview at last - I have been
either exceedingly busy or unwell since you first posted it, - and I had to write
immediately to say that this is simply the most interesting interview I have read.
You asked very relevant questions, and George answered with more candour than usual,
and articulated some things about his composition and attitude to music which I have
not seen before. Thanks so much and I will certainly give this text as much exposure
as I can.

With best wishes,

William Lloyd

© 1988 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in Chicago on November 8, 1988.  Segments were used (with recordings) on WNIB later that day, and again the following year, and in 1993 and 1998.  The transcription was made and posted on this website in 2013.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.