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  • Oliver Soden

Michael Tippett called T.S. Eliot his ‘spiritual and artistic mentor’, but the relationship between the two men has never been studied in detail. Eliot's numerous discussions with Tippett in the 1930s proved a lasting influence on the composer's beliefs about the coming-together of words and music. This article has three aims: first, to use Tippett's correspondence and writings to bring together the most accurate and complete biographical description of the relationship to date; second, to show that Tippett quoted from and alluded to the work of T.S. Eliot not only in his early pieces (as has hitherto been thought) but in much later compositions such as The Ice Break, The Mask of Time, and Byzantium; and third, to examine the libretto of Tippett's oratorio A Child of Our Time in the light of the composer's talks with Eliot. This article suggests that the inclusion in the oratorio of Negro spirituals was influenced by Eliot, and provides an analysis of the composer's own libretto through the lens of T.S. Eliot's essay ‘The Three Voices of Poetry’. Eliot's essay examines the number of voices in which the ‘I’ of a poem can speak, freed from the specificities of prose, and this article argues that Tippett, influenced by Eliot, harnessed the form of oratorio, freed from the specificities of opera, to allow it to speak in many voices.

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2 Calum MacDonald, personal correspondence with the author, 2 August 2012.

3 Tippett, Michael, Those Twentieth Century Blues (London: Hutchinson, 1991), p. 50.

4 Norman Lebrecht, ‘Michael Tippett – A Composer to Forget’, La Scena Musicale, 22 December 2004, <accessed 25 May 2013>.

5 Blues, p. 191.

6 Robinson, Suzanne, ‘The Pattern from the Palimpsest: Convergences of Eliot, Tippett, and Shakespeare’, in T.S. Eliot's Orchestra, ed. Cooper, John Xiros (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), p. 149.

7 Rees, Jonathan, ‘Chronology of Tippett's Life and Career’, in The Cambridge Companion to Michael Tippett, ed. Gloag, Kenneth and Jones, Nicholas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. xxiv; Latham, Alison, ‘Tippett's Life: A Chronology’ in The Selected Letters of Michael Tippett, ed. Schuttenhelm, Thomas (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), p. 440. Many of the letters in this volume can be found in other publications, not least Tippett's autobiography: I have referenced all letters to the Selected Letters.

8 Tippett, Michael, Music of the Angels: The Essays and Sketchbooks of Michael Tippett, ed. Bowen, Meirion (London: Ernst Eulenberg, 1980), pp. 117126.

9 The Composer's Point of View, ed. Hines, Robert S. (Oklahama: Oklahama University Press, 1963), pp. 111122; Blues, pp. 50–51; Tippett, Michael, Tippett on Music, ed. Bowen, Meirion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 109116. This article references the account in Music of the Angels.

10 Blues, p. 271.

11 For an account, see Suzanne Robinson, ‘“Coming out to oneself”: encodings of homosexual identity from the First String Quartet to The Heart's Assurance’, Companion, p. 88.

12 Letters, p. 146.

13 Blues, p. 21.

14 Blues, p. 188.

15 I am grateful to Richard Oram, of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, for sending me an (incomplete) inventory of the books the Center received from Tippett's library.

16 Angels, p. 117.

17 Blues, pp. 107–108.

18 Angels, p. 117.

19 Angels, p. 117.

20 Angels, p. 117.

21 Eliot, T.S., The Complete Poems & Plays (London: Faber and Faber, 1969, paperback edn 2004), p. 137. The poem is one of Eliot's Five-Finger Exercises and is an affectionate reference to Edward Lear's ‘How Pleasant to know Mr. Lear’.

22 Orchestra, p. 150.

23 Angels, p. 118.

24 Tippett, Michael, ‘The Relation of Autobiographical Experience’, in Michael Tippett: Music and Literature, ed. Robinson, Suzanne (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), p. 25.

25 Angels, p. 118.

26 Angels, p. 119.

27 Angels, p. 119.

28 Angels, pp. 127–187.

29 Letters, p. 25.

30 Letters, p. 127.

31 Blues, p. 110.

32 Letter from T.S. Eliot to Eric Walter White, printed in White, Eric Walter, Tippett and his Operas (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1979), p. 40.

33 Sigg, Eric, ‘Eliot as a product of America’ in The Cambridge Companion to T.S. Eliot, ed. Moody, A. David (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 25.

34 Pottle, Frederick A., ‘Drama of Action’, Yale Review 25 (December 1935), 426–429. See also Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 274.

35 See Suzanne Cole, ‘Tippett: Morley College and Early Music’, Music and Literature, pp. 151–173.

36 Angels, p. 118.

37 Letters, p. 89.

38 Letters, p. 86.

39 ‘Autobiographical Experience’, Music and Literature, p. 24.

40 Letters, p. 99.

41 Letters, p. 98.

42 Letters, p. 86.

43 Letters, p. 61.

44 Letters, p. 60.

45 Letters, p. 61.

46 Letters, p. 62.

47 Letters, p. 326.

48 Letters, p. 325.

49 Letters, p. 326.

50 Blues, p. 272.

51 Angels, p. 118.

52 Blues, p. 189.

53 Letters, p. 427.

54 Bowen, Meirion, Michael Tippett (London: Robson Books, 1982), pp. 157158.

55 Mike Thorne, ‘Michael Tippett in interview (1975)’, <accessed 28 May 2013>.

56 Music and Literature, pp. 1–19.

57 ‘Autobiographical Experience’, Music and Literature, p. 24.

58 Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 173.

59 Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 245.

60 ‘Autobiographical experience’, Music and Literature, p. 24.

61 Blues, p. 96.

62 Eliot: Complete Poems, p. 160.

63 Kemp, Ian, Tippett: The Composer and his Music (London: Eulenberg, 1981), p. 154.

64 Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 97.

65 Angels, p. 184. See also Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 281.

66 Kemp, p. 154.

67 Angels, p. 125.

68 See Eliot, Complete Poems, pp. 271, 172.

69 Eliot, Complete Poems, pp. 281, 167.

70 Eliot, Complete Poems, pp. 59, 13, 56.

71 Angels, p. 193.

72 Kemp, p. 154.

73 The Operas of Michael Tippett, ed. John, Nicholas (London: John Calder, 1985), p. 139.

74 Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 61.

75 Yeats, W. B., The Major Works, ed. Larrissy, Edward (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 131. This verse of ‘Byzantium’ (1930) alludes to Yeats' earlier poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ (1926): ‘Once out of nature I shall never take / My bodily form from any natural thing, / But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make / Of hammered gold and gold enameling / To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; / Or set upon a golden bough to sing / To lords and ladies of Byzantium / Of what is past, or passing, or to come’.

76 Woolf, Virginia, Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. Bell, Anne (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1978), Vol. II, p. 178.

77 See Eliot, Complete Poems, pp. 67–68, 73, 74.

78 Eliot, Complete Poems, pp. 67–68, 73, 74; Tippett, Michael, The Mask of Time – libretto (London: Schott, 1983), p. 6.

79 See Operas, p. 36; Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 62.

80 Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 172.

81 Tippett, Michael, New Year libretto (London: Schott, 1989), p. 29.

82 Kemp, p. 228.

83 Blues, p. 90.

84 Eliot, T. S., The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts, ed. Eliot, Valerie (London: Faber & Faber, 1971, repr. 1972) p.7, ll.96–103.

85 Sosostris is also a near-anagrammatic scramble of another ambisexual Seer in The Waste Land: Tiresias, the ‘old man with wrinkled dugs’.

86 Jim McCue convincingly rebuts challengers to this point in Editing Eliot’, Essays in Criticism, 56 (2005), 127, passim.

87 Huxley, Aldous, Crome Yellow (London: Vintage, 2004, orig. pub. 1921), p. 147.

88 Letters, p. 86.

89 Operas of Michael Tippett, p. 46.

90 Letters, pp. 292–301.

91 Cornford, F.M., The Origin of Attic Comedy, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914), p. 154.

92 Cornford, Attic Comedy, p. 154.

93 The Los Angeles Times was writing of transvestite homosexuals as ‘queers’ by 1914.

94 John Lloyd Davies, ‘A Visionary Night’, Operas of Michael Tippett, p. 60.

95 Eliot, T.S., Selected Essays (London: Faber and Faber, 1932, repr.1972), p. 296.

96 Gaius Petronius, Satyricon, XLVIII, (accessed 9 August 2013). See also Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 59 (I saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at Cumae hanging in a jar, and when the boys said to her: ‘Sibyl, what do you want?’ she answered: ‘I want to die’.)

97 Operas of Michael Tippett, p. 46.

98 ‘A Visionary Night’, Operas of Michael Tippett, p. 60.

99 Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (London: Penguin Books, 1973, first published 1902), pp. 99–100. See also Facsmile, p. 3.

100 Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume 1, 1898–1922, ed. Eliot, Valerie and Haughton, Hugh (London: Faber and Faber, 1988), p. 498.

101 New Year, p. 29.

102 Arthur Burton Rascoe, ‘A Bookman's Day Book,’ New York Tribune, V, (1922), 8.

103 Anonymous review of The Waste Land, Times Literary Supplement, 1084, (1922), 690.

104 Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 66.

105 Ellman, Maud, The Poetics of Impersonality (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 103.

106 Empson, William, Some Versions of Pastoral (London: Chatto and Windus, 1935, repr. 1986), pp. 249–50.

107 Pastoral, p. 249.

108 See Chinitz, David, T.S. Eliot and the Cultural Divide (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003).

109 T.S. Eliot, Sweeney Agonistes, draft synopsis, 1933, King's College Cambridge, HB/V/7A-B.

110 See Facsimile, p. 5.

111 Bowen, Tippett, p. 121.

112 Operas of Michael Tippett, p. 130.

113 Operas of Michael Tippett, p. 104.

114 Letters, p. 294.

115 Ellman, Poetics of Impersonality, p. 1.

116 Tamplin, Ronald, A Preface to T.S. Eliot (Harlow: Longman, 1988; repr. 2000), p. 104.

117 T.S. Eliot, ‘The Three Voices of Poetry’, National Book League Annual Lecture, 19 November 1953, Kings College, Cambridge. Four drafts, H/1/M/1-4, at King's College, Library, Cambridge.

118 Anonymous review of ‘He Do the Police in Different Voices’, Time Magazine, 1968, <,9171,841485,00.html> [Accessed 19 April 2011].

119 Dickens, Charles, Our Mutual Friend (London: Penguin, 1997; first published 1865), I,16. See also Facsimile, p. 1.

120 Eliot, Complete Poems, p. 78.

121 Ellman, Poetics of Impersonality, p. 96.

122 Angels, p. 138.

123 Tippett, Michael, A Child of Our Time, libretto (London: Schott, 1944).

124 British Library, Tippett Collection (Part IV), 72034, Vol. XXXIV. Notebook 1, ‘Sketch for a Modern Oratorio’.

125 Douglas-Fairhurst, Robert, ‘Shakespeare's Weeds’, in Victorian Shakespeare, ed. Poole, Adrian (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), vol. 2, p.19.

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