Humphrey Searle

Biography

Born: August 26, 1915; Oxford, England   Died: May 12, 1982; London, England  
This British composer created a highly expressive and personal style by uniting elements of twelve-tone music with traditional subjects and dramatic spirit. His output includes three operas, six symphonies, two piano concertos, several ballets, and a considerable number of fine chamber and vocal works.

Searle's education is described in charming detail in his memoir, Quadrille With a Raven. He began at Winchester, then went to Oxford
Read more where he was a classical scholar. He studied composition with Gordon Jacob and John Ireland at the Royal College of Music (1937) and continued at the New Vienna Conservatory (1937 - 1938) while studying privately with Anton Webern who strongly affected Searle's thinking. At an early age, Searle was attracted to the music of Franz Liszt; he became a noted scholar of the composer, and drew connections between Liszt and the newly emerging twelve-tone style in his book The Music of Liszt (1954).

In 1938, Searle joined the BBC as a program producer, then served in army intelligence and in the paratrooper training division from 1940 until 1946. Surprisingly, he found time for composition and performances during this period, creating two Suites for string orchestra (1942, 1944), Night Music for chamber orchestra (1943), Vigil for piano (1944), his romantic Piano concerto No. 1 (1944), and a Quintet for bassoon and strings (1945). After 1946, almost all of Searle's music employed twelve-tone compositional procedures but, like Alban Berg, he felt free to employ tonal progressions when they were expressively appropriate.

Searle aided Trevor-Roper in his research for the book The Last Days of Hitler while still living in Germany, and then returned to the BBC until 1948. Various freelance work occupied him from 1948 - 1951, during which time he wrote Gold Coast Customs, Op. 15 (1949), a setting of a poem by Edith Sitwell for speakers, male chorus, and chorus. This was Searle's first large-scale twelve-tone work. By accentuating the word imagery, dramatic structure, and the euphonious nature of words as divorced from meaning, Searle was able to express lyrical and satirical qualities while bypassing dry, formalist serialist mannerisms. This was true for the other two parts of this trilogy, The Riverrun, Op. 20 (1951), with words by James Joyce, and The Shadow of Cain, Op. 22 (1952), with words by Sitwell. Searle's operas, the one-act The Diary of a Madman (1958) (with a text by the composer based on Gogol and sound-effects heightening the mad scenes), The Photo of the Colonel (1964) (on a text by Eugène Ionesco with many sound effects and vocal mannerisms), and the three-act Hamlet (1965 - 1968) all incorporate the approaches initiated in this first trilogy. Searle's six symphonies progress from traditional format to programmatic (especially the excellent No. 5, a sort of musical biography of Webern).

From 1951 to 1957, Searle was a music advisor to the Sadler's Wells Ballet and has since been with many organizations promoting modern music. He was one of the most respected British composition teachers of his generation; he held professorships at the Royal College of Music and also served as guest professor at Stanford University in California, the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, and the Staatliche Hochschule fur Musik in Karlsruhe. He was installed as a CBE in 1968 and became an Honorary Fellow of the RCM in 1969. Read less
Browse 1-10 of 10 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    Music By Bax, Bridge & Serle / Adamson
    Label: Centaur Records   Catalog: 3060 Release Date: 05/24/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Humphrey Searle,  Frank Bridge,  Arnold Bax
    Performer:  Philip Adamson
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  • 2.
    Benjamin Britten Conducts Benjamin Britten
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 94213 Release Date: 09/28/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Benjamin Britten,  William Byrd,  Arthur Oldham,  Michael Tippett  ... 
    Conductor:  Benjamin Britten
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
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  • 3.
    Still, Searle: Symphonies / Krips, Fredman, Goossens
    Label: Lyrita   Catalog: 285 Release Date: 06/09/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Robert Still,  Humphrey Searle
    Conductor:  Myer Fredman,  Sir Eugene Goossens,  Josef Krips
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  London Symphony Orchestra,  London Philharmonic Orchestra
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  • 4.
    David Starobin - Favorite Tracks Vol 2 - 20th Century Classics
    Label: Bridge   Catalog: 9292 Release Date: 04/14/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Mario Lavista,  Elliott Carter,  Michael Starobin,  Humphrey Searle  ... 
    Performer:  David Starobin,  Susan Jolles,  Peter Press,  Patrick Mason  ... 
    Conductor:  David Starobin
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Speculum Musicae
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  • 5.
    English String Miniatures Vol 5 / Sutherland, Royal Ballet
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8557752 Release Date: 06/20/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Ireland,  Albert Cazabon,  Paul Lewis,  Percy Fletcher  ... 
    Conductor:  Gavin Sutherland
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Ballet Sinfonia
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  • 6.
    Searle: Complete Symphonies / Francis
    Label: Cpo   Catalog: 777131 Release Date: 04/05/2005   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Humphrey Searle
    Conductor:  Alun Francis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
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  • 7.
    Themes & Variations / Jac Van Steen, Bbc Symphony Orchestra
    Label: Nmc   Catalog: 62 Release Date: 06/26/2001   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Sir William Walton,  Malcolm Arnold,  David Bedford,  Colin Matthews  ... 
    Conductor:  Jac Van Steen
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
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  • 8.
    Byways Of British Music / Hickox, Thomson, Et Al
    Label: Chandos Collect   Catalog: 6611 Release Date: 09/26/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ralph Vaughan Williams,  Sir Arthur Bliss,  William Alwyn,  Sir William Walton  ... 
    Performer:  Michael Davis,  Phillip Joll,  David Haslam,  Rachel Masters  ... 
    Conductor:  Bryden Thomson,  Richard Hickox
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  Northern Sinfonia,  City of London Sinfonia  ... 
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  • 9.
    Searle: Symphonies 2, 3 & 5 / Alun Francis, Bbc Scottish So
    Label: Cpo   Catalog: 999376 Release Date: 11/05/1996   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Humphrey Searle
    Conductor:  Alun Francis
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
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  • 10.
    New Music With Guitar Vol 4 / David Starobin
    Label: Bridge   Catalog: 9022 Release Date: 09/11/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Tod Machover,  Ronald Roxbury,  Barbara Kolb,  Robert Saxton  ... 
    Performer:  David Starobin,  Oren Fader,  Daniel Kennedy,  Tod Machover  ... 
    Conductor:  Tod Machover
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