Morley’s Music Directors Featured at BBC Proms 2023

As the BBC Proms opens today for its summer 2023 season celebrating all that is wonderful about classical music, Morley’s music department is delighted to acknowledge that music written by two of its former music directors is featured on concerts being given by two highly respected UK orchestras.

Gustav Holst’s The Planets will be performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales on Tuesday 8 August Proms 2023 Prom 32: Holst’s The Planets – BBC Proms – BBC and Michael Tippett’s Fantasia Concertante on a Theme by Corelli will feature on Wednesday 6 September performed by the Britten Sinfonia. Proms 2023 Prom 68: Max Richter: Recomposed – BBC Proms – BBC

Both composers left their own indelible legacy on Morley’s musical teaching and reputation, in their roles as its music directors.

Music was a founding part of Morley’s teaching and learning 100 years ago and today in the twenty-first century it remains a passionate component of its DNA with teaching across all musical genres including classical, opera, voice, jazz, choir and techno.

During their tenures here as musical directors, Gustav Holst and Michael Tippett were recognised and respected for raising the standards of musical teaching and outputs by the students, often to a very high standard. They created opportunities for music students from all walks of life to learn and improve their talent and skills and build their appreciation of music composition and playing.

Gustav Holst died in 1934 and still today, almost 90 years on, remains one of England’s most famous composers, most heavily associated with the Planets Suite, which remains a concert favourite. He was viewed by his contemporaries as a respected teacher and leader of music in his lifetime, not only at Morley for 16 years from 1907, but also at St Paul’s School in Hammersmith amongst others. 

Holst’s legacy and impact still lingers in the corridors at Morley’s Waterloo centre today, where his passion for music and encouraging others to learn and take part continues. He was revered as a remarkable teacher of music, described in obituaries at the time of his death as a ‘visionary’ and passionate about music as a social activity.

An obituary in the Music Times in 1934 described Holst’s time at Morley in this way; ‘he was early on the spot on class nights, attending to such practical details as putting out the music, directing the copying by students and seeing the students individually for a few moments. Every detail was planned beforehand and not a minute was wasted.’

An interesting aside to his time at Morley, was that Holst and Morley’s orchestra and choir gave the first performance in 200 years of Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen in 1911, with the students having worked with Holst to copy and prepare the vocals and music. This operatic piece of music had been lost for over 200 years, since the death of Henry Purcell, who had been a Royal composer to King William III and Queen Mary. This was a massive task for the Morley students, with over fifteen hundred pages and was a year-long project.

Reviews in the press at the time were complementary, with the Times describing the performance as ‘of remarkably high standard’ and the Telegraph gave ‘all praise’. One listener wisely commented; ‘there was no need to go to Leeds or Sheffield for a choir, ‘just send word to Waterloo Road.’ The performance even reached overseas to Belgium and France.

In 2024, Morley’s music department will celebrate the legacy of Gustav Holst, with special tributes, including a highlight of the Planets Suite played on four pianos, arranged by former Morley conductor Paul Sarcich.

Michael Tippett’s most famous oratorio Child of Our Time was written in 1944, whilst he was music director at the college and performed by the Morley Choir at the Royal Albert Hall in 1945 in a concert to raise funds for the children of Poland. Motivated by events that affected him during the war, especially the attacks on the Jews, the oratorio carries a strong pacifist message of understanding and reconciliation.

The outbreak of the Second World War brought many musical refugees to England and Tippett encouraged many to play in the Morley concerts on a Sunday evening. The foreign musicians helped to widen the repertoire of music and skills of the musicians in the orchestra. He also met the English composer Benjamin Britten and his partner the tenor Peter Pears at Morley and got them both to participate in the college’s concerts during the war.

Tippett kept up an invigorating musical experience during the dark days of the war. Through his musical direction and passion, Morley’s orchestra and choir flourished and performed at high profile London venues including the Royal Albert Hall, National Gallery and Wigmore Hall.

The College’s minutes in 1943 acknowledged his work, noting ‘the monthly concerts … have attracted considerable attention in the music world and were definitely strengthening the music department of the college.’

In June 2023, the BBC broadcast a profile of Tippett’s life and music, highlighting his impact on twentieth century English music.

As the BBC Proms commences this summer, we celebrate their contributions to classical music and musical development at Morley’s Waterloo centre.