Michael Tippett

Royal Philharmonic Society Storytelling Award, 2019

Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781474606035

Price: £14.99

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‘A delight to read’ Philip Pullman
‘Essential reading … a genuine landmark publication’ Tom Service
A BBC Radio 4 ‘Book of the Week’

The music of the British composer Michael Tippett – including the oratorio A Child of Our Time, five operas, and four symphonies – is among the most visionary of the twentieth century. But little has been written about his extraordinary life. In this long-awaited first biography, Oliver Soden weaves a century-spanning narrative of epic scope and penetrating insight. His achievement is to have enriched our understanding not only of Tippett but of the twentieth century. Figures such as T.S. Eliot, E.M. Forster, Barbara Hepworth, and W.H. Auden jostle in the cast list. An Edwardian world of gaslight and empire cedes to turmoil and warfare and his operas’ game-changing attitudes to gay and civil rights, against a backdrop of the Cold War and the Space Race.

The result is a landmark in the study of twentieth-century culture, simultaneously an astonishing feat of scholarship and a story as enthralling as in any great novel.


A beautifully written, emotionally comprehensive account of one of our finest twentieth-century composers. Tippett's burning idealism and frequent impracticality - in matters of both music and love - shines through Soden's sensitive prose, and his conjuring of the spirit of the place in the diary entries that intersperse the chapters is exceptionally well done
Nicholas Kenyon, Times Literary Supplement </i>Summer Books<i></i>
[A] page-turner of a biography whose irresistible brio drills deep into a psychologically complex man, painting a portrait studded wit fraught emotional entanglements and passionately-held political affiliations. On both counts Soden's formidable research is able to contradict previous erroneous claims ... His verve and flair for lassoing a vivid simile are illuminating, and he's happy to spice up the narrative with dissenting views ... [U]nputdownable, [the biography] crackles with a life force worthy of Tippett himself
Paul Riley, BBC Music Magazine
Oliver Soden is a young but impressive writer who has taken on the task of re-evaluating Tippett. And he does it well, with a generosity of spirit that's arguably too forgiving of Tippett's failings as a human being (which were many) but properly celebrates his strengths as a creative artist (which were legion)
In a strong year for books on music, Oliver Soden's generous, game-changing biography of Michael Tippett topped the list
Fiona Maddocks, best classical music of 2019, Observer
A delight to read ... Oliver Soden's vivid biography of this major figure in twentieth-century music brings Tippett very clearly to life
Philip Pullman
Compelling ... an exceptional piece of work ... The joy of Soden's biography is largely in its novelistic grasp of the telling details ... It has so much to say about the 20th century from an unusual and compelling angle that it ought to appeal to many readers who don't necessarily find themselves deep in the world of art music ... The Britten bibliography may be 100 times the size, but it contains hardly anything as brilliant as this book. Let the revival begin
Philip Hensher, The Spectator
[A] narrative in which readers can effortlessly lose themselves. Anyone wishing to discover the life of Tippett as a way into his music - his works include A Child of Our Time, five operas and four symphonies - will find in Soden's book meticulously researched biographical detail and a good story well told ... Soden's biography paints an authoritative, intricate portrait of Tippett, providing a stunning, delicate and engrossing portrayal of the composer as very much a child of his time
Yvonne Sherratt, Literary Review
[T]horoughly researched ... [Soden] tells the story of this socially fertile life with skill
Michael Henderson, The Times
[E]xcellent ... The challenge to a biographer is to make us feel the of a talent unfolding in slow obedience to its own laws. Soden succeeds at this difficult task wonderfully well. The early chapters are especially rewarding, summoning up the Edwardian ambience of Tippett's country childhood ... Soden is especially good at tracing Tippett's increasing involvement in Leftwing politics, which eventually led to membership of a Trotskyite Militant faction - an episode Tippett was keen to gloss over in later life ... Soden doesn't shrink from suggesting that Tippett's cold determination to protect his inner life at times caused huge damage to those near him. It's a measure of his searching and beautifully written biography that, despite that, Tippett comes across as essentially generous and lovable. The exultation of his music finds its echo in the passionate intensity of his life
Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph
This first full biography of Tippett is a treasure trove of detailed information and yet it reads as compellingly as a thriller or psychological novel ... [T]o get inside the mind, and under the skin, of such a complex figure so completely is nothing short of miraculous
Geraint Lewis, Gramophone
Soden spent three years writing his book, and clearly developed a strong bond with his subject . . . Soden soaks up the atmosphere of the places where Tippett lived and worked. He strikes gold on one trip when he unearths the autograph manuscript of the First Piano Sonata. As a final coup de théâtre he produces a long tube that Soden knows, even before he opens it, must contain Tippett's ashes. . . It would be going too far to claim that the revival of Tippett's reputation rests in Soden's hands, but any such revival must begin with his plea that we listen to Tippett again, with fresh ears
London Review of Books
Exhaustively researched, lovingly detailed, epic in scale, revelling in gossip, stuffed with information, this book furnishes every event ... from birth to death, with comment, observation, quotation ... [A] super-abundant, loving account. Its like will not come again
Fiona Maddocks, Observer
Oliver Soden's Michael Tippett was exemplary and placed this wonderful, neglected, undeniably silly composer in his world of political idealism and radical experiments
Philip Hensher, THE SPECTATOR 'Books of the Year'
That rarest of things: a genuine landmark publication ... As much a biography of the twentieth century as it's about Tippett's music ... Essential reading
Tom Service, Music Matters </i>on BBC Radio 3<i></i>
I very much enjoyed this book and wholeheartedly recommend it. Soden writes with a rare poetic quality and imagination - especially elusive qualities when one is describing music
Philip Borg-Wheeler, Classical Music </i>magazine<i></i>