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  • Writer's pictureSteve Crowther

Anthony Gilbert (1934-2023): a short tribute by Steve Crowther

I have put together a short tribute to composer Anthony Gilbert. Firstly, a piece from Schott Music who published Gilbert’s music prior to UYMP. The second is both a review and a plug for the excellent Travelling with Time cd. The invariably impressive Bingham String Quartet performed the String Quartet No. 3 in a memorable Late Music concert, and we also commissioned Rapprochement (2011) for cello and piano (Simon Turner and Richard Casey). The third part is a short tribute and reflection on her friend and fellow composer by Nicola LeFanu.

For myself, I also remember ‘a kind and generous man with a remarkable work ethic’. I liked him.

‘Schott Music is very sad to learn that British composer Anthony Gilbert passed away on 5 July 2023. Gilbert’s career as a published composer began on 7 September 1962 when he assigned the copyright for his Piano Sonata to Schott and this was followed soon after with the publication of his Missa Brevis and Sinfonia for chamber orchestra. This formal relationship with Schott lasted until 1994 before Gilbert started a new relationship with University of York Music Press, his most well-known works include Nine or Ten Osannas, Crow-Cry, Moonfaring, Six of the Bestiary and Certain Lights Reflecting.

Gilbert began studying music in the 1950s with Anthony Milner at Morley College and later privately with Mátyás Seiber and Alexander Goehr. His composing career spanned his whole life but alongside writing music he earnt a living as a translator, publisher and teacher including a time at Schott London in the early 1960s, initially in the warehouse but by 1965 as Contemporary Music Editor. From the 1970s he became more involved in academia and later established himself as an influential teacher going on to become head of composition at the Royal Northern College of Music.

He will be remembered as a kind and generous man with a remarkable work ethic, who had a subtle but important influence on a large number of composers in the generation that followed him. His musical voice found a natural and instinctive balance between curious, playful and imaginative experimentalism and a luminous harmonic soundworld.

Gilbert published his memoirs Kettle of Fish in 2021.’

Travelling with Time is a sequence of seven compositions by Anthony Gilbert (b. 1934).

The disc includes two premiére recordings and features performances by Seo Jin Lee, Simon Turner, Richard Casey, Lesley Jane Rogers, and the Bingham Quartet, amongst others.

The compositions on the album all parallel, in their different ways, conflicts and near-resolutions in European history from the Nordic invasions across to our recent waves of persecution and instability. Gilbert himself grew up in a family who were forced to flee from religious persecution in the late 1930s.

The texts for Ygg-drasill (2007), set for voice and nine instruments, tell of a Viking invasion, and the first text is attributed to King Alfred. Another Dream Carousel reflects on the Nazi persecution of the Jews in Vienna before Kristallnacht (1938), and on how the Jews were able to sustain their morale in the face of these horrors. Juxtaposing these, Rapprochement (2011) for cello and piano explores conflict resolution, and String Quartet No 3 ‘Super Hoqueto David' (1987) draws upon a Hebrew chant used by Pérotin (1160-1230) and Machaut (1300-77), and strives to capture the sounds of the hurdy-gurdy. In contrast, inspiration for the solo piano works comes from wildlife: butterflies - Papillon Postcards (2005), and birds - Piano Sonata No.3 (2001). The two songs for soprano, recorder, oboe, violin and cello, En Bateau, d'après Watteau (2007), are settings of Baudelaire (1821-1867) and Proust (1871-1922) respectively, loosely connected by the theme of the sea.

Some thoughts on Tony Gilbert from his friend, Nicola LeFanu:

‘Anthony Gilbert who died in July this year, was a composer of idiosyncratic and very original music. His music is published by Schotts and University of York Music Press and it appears on no less than eleven albums of the NMC record label.

Tony was a key figure in British new music. He was admired not only as a composer but as an inspiring teacher. In 1973 he founded the Composition department of the RNCM and remained its director until he retired in 1999. He continued to support RNCM composition students until a few weeks before his death. He also taught, in the1980s, at the NSW Conservatorium of Music in Sydney.

His substantial body of work ranges from major commissions such as the Symphony (Cheltenham Festival 1973) or The Chakravaka-Bird (BBC, 1981), to chamber music written for ensembles such as London Sinfonietta, Manchester Camerata and the Lindsay Quartet. From Dream Carousels (1988) to Liaison (2021) there were many successful collaborations with the conductor Tim Reynish.

All his life, Tony championed new music. He was passionate about making space for music that was at once intellectually challenging and emotionally enriching.

His somewhat intransigent nature did not endear him to the “musical establishment”, but he was cherished and admired by all who knew him well.

David Lumsdaine and Tony Gilbert were friends for over sixty years, and I myself knew Tony for nearly as long.’


The next Late Music concert featuring Nina Kümin (violin), Jonathan Sage (clarinet) and Kate Ledger (piano) is a celebration of Anthony Gilbert's music (Saturday 2nd December, 7.30 pm)

The programme features four of the composer’s works plus music by Nicola LeFanu and David Lumsdaine who both knew him well. The concert also includes Steve Crowther’s All Tangled Up in Blue.

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