Born: June 28, 1913; St. Ives, Cornwall, England
Died: July 3, 1998; London, England
George Walter Selwyn Lloyd's career was completely destroyed by ill health and a shift in critical favor, but was revived again when audiences that had by then had enough sterile modernism happily embraced him as "the modern composer who writes tunes." His formal school studies were seriously interrupted by rheumatic fever, but he did receive composition lessons from Harry Farjeon. At 19 he heard his First Symphony premiered, leading to two moreRead more symphonies and two operas produced in the 1930s. He received acclaim as one of the most promising young British composers.
With the outbreak of World War II Lloyd enlisted in the Royal Marines. A gunner, he served on a cruiser on the Murmansk convoy route. In 1942 a faulty torpedo reversed directions and blew up his ship. He was below decks at the time, and witnessed his mates drown in oil. He was rescued from the frigid Arctic waters. "My whole nervous system seemed burned out," he said, describing his post-traumatic shock syndrome. He recovered his health slowly in Switzerland after the war. He wrote music, with difficulty, coming to terms with his wartime experiences in his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. The former is a kind of portrayal of denial: After a grim symphonic journey, the final movement is a succession of trivial marches. "When the funeral is over the band plays quick cheerful tunes," he said of its forced cheerfulness.
He wrote an opera, John Socman, whose hero is a soldier at the battle of Agincourt. The opera foundered on backstage battles among the opera company. And in the twelve-tone dominated world of new music, Lloyd's tonal, melodic music had, as Lloyd was told to his face, "no contemporary significance." "My health went skew-whiff again," Lloyd said, as he realized nobody wanted to play his music. He quit music and started raising produce (first carnations, then mushrooms). Music emerged again in his life as a hobby. In this non-pressured context, Lloyd looked forward to rising at 4:30 to compose for three hours before work. As he and his wife Nancy built a successful business, he began to amass a catalog of new music. However, he continued to reject twelve-tone music. "I did study the blessed thing in the Thirties. I thought it was a cock-eyed idea that produced horrible sounds. It made composers forget how to sing." The BBC returned his music unread.
In the 1970s Gavin Henderson, administrator of the Philharmonia Orchestra, began to take interest in his music and talked it up. The BBC in 1969 accepted Lloyd's Eighth Symphony for performance, although they didn't get around to actually playing the thing for eight years. Audiences sat up and took notice on that evening in 1977: here was a modern composer, clearly British and clearly speaking of modern times, but in an entirely tonal style and with good, understandable tunes.
All around the world, composers were returning to tonality after the 30-year detour down the twelve-tone road. A large audience appreciated his steady adherence to his musical principles. Three of his symphonies were recorded on the British Lyrita label after his Sixth Symphony was premiered at the Proms of 1981.
Peter Kermani, a New York music lover, then interested the Albany Symphony Orchestra in New York in Lloyd's music. The orchestra commissioned Lloyd's last two symphonies. The Albany Record label ultimately recorded the opera Iernin, Lloyd's remaining symphonies and concertos, other major works, and his late masterpiece, Symphonic Mass. After suffering heart trouble, Lloyd wrote a Requiem in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales. Like Mozart's Requiem, it proved to be his final work, completed three weeks before his death. Read less