George Lloyd ‘s long life – he was born in 1913 and died only eight years ago – was affected as much by the ups and downs of musical fashion as by the vagaries of his own life. Hailed as one of Britain’s composers in the thirties, he had written three symphonies by the age of 21, and two operas he composed by the time he was 25. Both of these were performed in London at the Lyceum Theatre and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and to some acclaim. He was seen as a typical English composer in the tradition of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar. His promising career, however, was cut short by the 39-45 War in which he served as a bandsman in the Royal Marines. His ship, H.M.S.Trinidad, accidentally torpedoed itself and he was one of only three out of fifteen bandsmen who survived, though suffering from shell-shock from which he took much time to recover.
Taken by his wife to her native Switzerland to recuperate, slowly his confidence as well as his health returned and he composed his fourth and fifth symphonies there.
Settling in Dorset, he then became a market gardener, writing music in the mornings before work began. The American record company, Albany recognised his worth, and with their encouragement he began a new career, eventually completing twelve symphonies and the dramatic Symphonic Mass. I collected some of the symphonies and the Mass, relishing in his rich romantic style and wonderful tunes, though disappointed in the way in which I felt his musical language lacked development and was sometimes more enjoyable than profound; but what’s wrong with enjoyment! I see there is now a Society devoted to him, and I have borrowed some of the information on their web site for this posting.
Sir Edward Downes believed in the quality of Lloyd’s work, and conducted first performances and recorded some of the symphonies.
But the critical establishment didn’t share his positive views. William Glock, then BBC’s Controller of Music, is reputed to have had implacable ideas on what should and should not be broadcast on the BBC’s music channel, and Lloyd in company with Edmund Rubbra and Robert Simpson, whom we met last time, were effectively banned from the airwaves.
At the end of November BBC’s Radio Three made Lloyd their Composer of the Week, and those morning programmes were supplemented by some of his music in the afternoons as well. I have just heard his eighth symphony and earlier his fourth, the last movement of which has the most delayed final climax of any work I can remember. It keeps on nearly happening, but then eventually gets there. It was a studio performance and the audience went wild. Since then the wonderful optimistic upward thrust of the main tune in that movement – superbly orchestrated – has lodged in my mind; and is welcome!
Perhaps some of the Albany discs will be re-released.