Composer Thea Musgrave celebrated her 90th birthday this year, an event marked by celebrations and concerts around the world, including the BBC Proms and the Edinburgh International Festival. She has published more than 150 compositions, including major orchestral works and numerous operas, and continues to write every day. Thea was born in Edinburgh in May 1928, and still has sharp memories of hearing news of the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. She learned the piano as a child, but had ambitions to become a doctor. She began medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, but after struggling with the sciences, she switched to the music department, which happened to be in an adjacent building. In the early 1950s, she spent four years studying composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris before moving to London and establishing herself as a prominent member of British musical life. In 1970 she became Guest Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1971 she married the American opera conductor Peter Mark, and she has lived in the United States since 1972. She was awarded a CBE in 2002, and earlier this year she was presented with The Queen's Medal for Music. Presenter: Lauren Laverne Producer: Sarah Taylor
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This. Is the bbc hallo unlearn event, and this is the desert island discs podcast every week I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they want to take with them if they were castaway to a desert island and for rights reasons. The meat It is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. the MIKE passed away. This week is thea musgrave, one of the most successful and well respected composes of contemporary classical music in the world, her extra Mary korea has spanned seven decades and shit
was no signs of slowing down twenty eighteen. Her ninetieth birthday year has been a cause for celebration on tributes throughout the classical world and beyond that was approved in her honor and she received the. means medal for music. Despite It being a: u s: residence since nineteen. Seventy two, the landscapes and history of her home country have recurred in her work throughout her life from ten. paintings of the british countryside to the loch ness monster and the life of mary, queen of scots, the rich drama of her creative output belies a pragmatic attitude The rice sense of humour asked about her achievements in the traditionally male dominated field of composition, she famously replied. Yes, I am a woman I am a composer, but rarely at the same time, thea musgrave, I'll come to desert island discs. Thank you very much so etc.
Landmark year your ninetieth birthday, and it's been the cause for many celebrations. You've crossed the atlantic four times so far this year. Is that right? Look if you're w due note zairean back, so we ve done form a half. Ok, ok, don't want we're. Gonna have to get back to america. How much does the reality of performed music differ from what you have written on a page, ass, a composer or if it's different. want to know why. Sometimes it's your fault, because you ve written things that are just not possible someone just one fault. So you, if it's really patent you talk to the performers and and and What it out, but I have to say But when I was starting out, I was very jealous of painters because a painter could finish his homework and put it up on the wall.
And invite friends around, and they all say goodness, that's, wonderful or you'd hope they say that now. If I put a score up on the wall, who is who is going to be able to say, that's wonderful, most would not know so. I learned very early on. It was very important to make friends with performers and they bring something of their own personality into the way they play it so that motor performances, if their life does not cds. Obviously life performances another exactly the same, and that's what makes alive concept so exciting. You still composing and tell me little bit about your composition process. Do you write every day I work every day like staying in shape and exercise and go to the gym hope I don't do that, but I know I should to stay and shape. So, yes, I work every day and this
went in my life. I probably work only about two or three hours every day, but the very focused I really love to do that. Time for some music. Tell me about your first peace today. Well, I was talking a moment ago about performers. One of Performers have met Nicholas Daniel, a fabulous fabulous oboe player. So I have idea of helios nick would be helio striving the sun, god driving his chariot over the world and then at night. Coming back drawn up under the world and an starting the next day. So, if you just imagine what a platform looks like with the orchestra sitting there, You see the conductor in the middle with the salaries. the side and then the strings around. But what I did was to put right up stage the solar trumpet than to hope
and then before solar wins and this it in such a way that, in the middle this journey by helios those storm nick turned round face up stage. A waste the audience and beckoned these solo players to stand and when stand, you see a v with the trumpet, the two homes and the winds. So it's as, if he's driving his chariot. But when we came to the performance nick arrived on stage in a bright red donna jacket was the sun, god I the and
the the the the the spy. My castaway thea musgrave, performed by Nicholas Daniel with the scottish chamber orchestra conducted by nicholas kramer. The most your ideas come from.
and very unusual places and, of course, you well known for developing a performance style that you call dramatic abstract. Really was inspired by a dream. Thoughts right on IRAN. But this dream vividly today, even though it actually happened. Way in the middle of nineteen, sixty is what I have just begun. to conduct and here, I was in my dream, conducting an orchestra and all of a sudden. I wonder the players stood up and started playing something quite different, so I tried to put my left hand up and sort of low sit down and be quiet and so on, and he was very defiant and went on and Finally, I think I got all the brass to their feet and got them to blast him off anyway. I woke up and started to laugh Same evening, I went out to dinner with some friends
the dream and we all started laughing and the very next morning I mean I'm not joking the very next morning letter arrived from the city of Birmingham symphony. Would I write an orchestra peace? Guess what happened? I wrote, something which I called the concerto for orchestra and about half way through the peace, play a sudden stands up and thus something unexpected and, what's more, he then turned to some of the other players stood to stand up and he suggests themes for them to play and saw the conductor gets very upset and, in the end, brings all the brass section to their feet and shot sum up. So that is the peace which is essentially my dream. So I had the idea to call this a kind of idea: dramatic
abstract, because it's not based on a story or anything. It's just based on interplay between different players in the orchestra and those several pieces like that so. It just shows that occasionally, if you have a dream, it's a good thing to think about it. The His grave tell me about your second disk regos, a way way back to when I was at school and there was a wonderful sister of the head mistress who she lived in london. She used to come up to visit a system at the weekend and she taught us dancing not classical point dancing but sort of. I guess you'd call it modern dance, but what She did wasn't. She always brought wonderful music that she invented the choreography too, and this remote sought Jim on a symphony one of those works that are used to dart too, and so it brings back wonderful memories,
of learning music through your body, not playing it dancing it so little example from this would be wonderful, the the the
The the first went from mozart symphony number forty in g, minor performed by the starts Pelo Dresden, conducted by Davis, so musgrave you in edinburgh, nineteen? Twenty eight? What do you remember about your you childhood years of work I run wild. We lived just outside edinburgh. I think problem inside edinburgh now, but in those days it was a little bit outside edinburgh, so I ran pretty wild, but then I had to be tamed. Go to school, but
Came the war world war two, and at that point I had gone to boarding school because my parents split, but my mom worked the red cross and I think that she couldn't do that and looked after me at the same time, so I sent off to boarding school, but I remember, the day of dunkirk because it was a may just before my birthday- and I remember thinking at that point that the whole of the coast there we go from Norway. All the way down to spain was in not she hands. I felt so alone, as I guess my oh, my countrymen did too, but I remember Horror thought I was still having nightmares about that when I married. husband. You know many years later stayed with me, so little local. My work is about war and the horrors of war. and how we have to get out of it. You began
the piano lessons when you were five that at a young age, to start later on. When I went to my boarding school, I learned the beethoven symphonies biplane pillar, do it not by listening to them as we do with a cd now. You know, Sweden have cds. We had seventy eights song and hearing alive concept. Thus just didn't happen at that point. Not at school. So I remember playing several beethoven. Some this with my teacher as piano. Girouette was absolutely wonderful. Tell me about your a disk. This covers armed from learning the beethoven simplicity and to do it but why I chose this particular example. Which is the last moment the beethoven eighth simplicity is because I have to digress a moment about teachers. I had lots of tea as that all the time I'm still being taught by certain people. But at that point there two main teachers
in my twenties when I was really beginning one who never met and the one miserable oj that I spent four years in paris and studied with now the one I never met is an edinburgh and donald francis tovey and I never met him, although he was a professor at edinburgh university because he died just before I started, which was in forty six but I studied piano with the person who worked with him. wrote his biography later and why have chosen. This particular example is because right near the beginning, which is an f, does Hoddan loud, see, shop which doesn't really belong and f, major and Toby explains that Thus a sudden see shop is only explained. later in the movement. I thought this was incredible. It's what he called long term harmonic planning when you're composing
Of course, you think about moment to moment. Hurt or works, but you also thinking of the journey of the whole peace where going to go with this? What is the overall shape? A modest going happen and what leads to what
the Part of the final movement from beethoven symphony number eight performed by the start, capella dressed in conducted by bicycling Davis, thea grave after school,
went back to edinburgh to study medicine at university, but it didn't take. Why not well with the arrogance of a young person I decided music was always going to be part of my life, but does an amateur, but I was going to discover the queues. Everything knows The practice met some law. I was going to felt kind. The queues thought for cancer for tb. Aids hadn't happened that that point, but of course that would have been part of it later on, and I had found that I haven't done right, subjects to get right into medical school went into pre mad, and I found myself doing sort of chemical experiments and cutting. frogs and I didn't see how this was quick to realise my dream. Now it so happens in edinburgh the music school is a magical adjacent to the medical school. So I guess swap when I got very bored with do up frogs. I find myself going into the muse
school to see what was happening, and I was much more intrigued with that than the frogs and so I made the inevitable decision. I thought you live once you go away. Your passion lies so your first year at university, was nineteen forty, seven and, of course that coincided with the very first edinburgh festival, which nowadays is a huge event. I think almost half a million people attended asked her. What was the first one like? What It was no fringe to begin with, but imagine. This is just two years after the end of the war, we were still rationed. You only got, I think about, twenty five pounds tooth if you wanted to go abroad It was all marked on your passport. My country was thankful, the war was over, but things were pretty gray, but the first edinburgh festival edinburgh used of trams unless she not I've just come back alone every holder. Where the lines of the electric lines were held. There was a huge bouquet of flowers
all the way along the main street of Adam princess street. It was wonderful that was just a glimmer of how it could be in peacetime. And how did you get to see, performances are very low money in those days. So I couldn't afford to go all these incredible singers the foremost, so we got to usher got in free of charge. That was great. Their musgrave tell me about your fourth disk. Monteverdi octavius lament from prepare Why I chose this. Was it saying this opera papaya made me realize what an absolutely superb opera composer he is and how apt,
and will handle the libretto was, and it made me think about the relationship with the breakfast and composer. It is also a really beautiful piece of music and beautifully sung. saw really
always seen another tool. Yeah six hundred octavius limb, and from the coronation of poppea, by monteverde sung by cathy barbarian, accompanied by the consensus, means gus from vienna, conducted by nicolaus han and call
You wanna scholarship to study in paris with knotty abou known J. Now other notable pupils of hers include philip glass, Charles strauss quincy jones. What kind of teacher was she? She was up, salute lou amazing shoe could look at the school uno immediately what it sounded like on how to advise you saw on, but I'll tell you story which sort of can show this. I was late, of course, just put in the pursuit part at the end just very quickly in order to get to my class on time, and I put the music up on the stand and she looked right away at this. Was I just put in late? She said casks So what's that I said well, you know I was late and I put that in and she said you just cannot do that. Nothing is going to be perfect, but you're going to make it is perfect, as you possibly can. She then took off her ring and she said, look at this and then looked
the top and beautiful setting with stones and and so on, but then she turned it. Over and she said, look underneath to see its also beautiful, underneath, in other words, you make things as perfect as you possibly can. So you don't put in a note like that for the bassoon it because you're late, and what was life in paris like as a student at that time, one interest thing was that she had what you call a myth, could be the wednesdays ones afternoon, she would have a kind of gathering of people huh students with common various guests who might be in town and maybe so you would play or she would talk a lot of it and they were really wonderful gatherings and I met several people through that as well. Later on was motley maitre d At another occasion, with bernajoux there were students. Ski saw, of course,
went up to him. I was too shy to say anything, so I was standing right behind him and I saw this bald pate with just a few who has carefully gathered across that was exciting to me,
and what did you say to him? I didn't I was too shy now. I would. However, the next example is: maybe we should plate first and then we can talk a little bit about it. May we let's hear it at thea musgrave. This is your fifth disc, oh ooh, the
The right of spring by striven ski performed by the city of Birmingham symphony orchestra conducted by sir Simon rattle, tell me about that choice. There Musgrave, who would afford book, move opening moat roy up, there is a bassoon. Did you sleep? two octave slower and there he is right up an atop, see above middle see incredible, sound and I think at the first performance, those sort of out cry of rage from the audience and they left. That's both is peace as a scandal hard not to love the drama of that's right. So when move to london in the mid fifties. You very quickly became part of the city's musical life thinking back about britain in the fifties, I think of the the postwar optimism that everybody talks about, and you see it in order to see in architecture, there's a desire to
experiment and do things differently. Did you have that sense as a musician working in the sis? Absolutely? Yes, we will have a chance I think this always there, but I think it's much much more difficult nowadays than it was then partly because it was still very closely war. People all remember that, and he was a new beginning, a new era. Will you seeing? How much of what you were saying did you enjoy? I wanted, what you like as an audience member. I think I went on almost every night to something or other you know too concerts to opera from time to time I'm too badly off into the festival hall too, many rehearsals. I could because you know, was expensive. We were a kind of adventurous audience member as well as an experimental. Oh yes, I want to everything you bet obsolete, breathing new europe. gender alerts, and am you said that there were battles to be fought, but I decided that it wasn't my bottle. It was a big enough bottle to be a good composer, but was more battle
an hour later on objective and I went to america all sorts of outcries and people right think about it and saw my fault. I haven't time to do that, taking all energy and all my time to be a really good composer. it takes time to learn all the stuff. I tell you, I'm still a mighty, I'm still learning, and so that's, why put my energy Was an end to the works and hopefully than they will speak for themselves, one way or another like any here. Your sixth disk if you wouldn't mind, thea Musgrave, tell me about this one I was commissioned by the scottish opera, and I decided that I was going to write about mary queen of scots, I am a member and I was writing the libretto. I said Mary talk, Mary, both or can't you see that was really stupid about it here. While she didn't take my advice and look what happened
the the the the yeah the name lullaby from the mass graves opera, Mary queen of scots, some by actually putnam an Gloria capone accompanied by the virginia opera orchestra, with Peter monk, conducting what
it like hearing that again, can your mentally and incredibly exciting to hear that again ashley, who we see sometimes in new york, allow ass, no longer singing but she's, a wonderful teacher- and am I right in thinking that when the opera was transferred to america used quite usual method to transport, the costumes because more focus a major naval base on the east coast, through our contacts- you are all love incredible board members they managed range at the cautious would come from scottish opera was a nuclear submarine lived in holy law. The costumes from scottish opera put aboard the submarine and brought to charleston, and then they came by truck up. the opera. So I thought that was all the niceties of contemporaries. submarine, would you be used to transport the costumes for the opera company, since I can use of resources to. I thought so so the two of you,
be married forty seven years and counting thea, you told us about long term harmonic planning earlier. What's the sea, to a long term, harmonic marriage touch of a good question I don't know, I think you have to be yourself and you talk about things. If an adult to hide them. If something is not good is to talk about it, but hopefully hoping to angry about it or to accusing about it and to sort where you can to sort it out at tat time. I had a lot of pay fuels. I wish we live more patients and him, but I think they would disagree. The musgrave tell me about your seventh disk owes very good friend with richard. New bennett. So when we got married, he decided to give us a wedding present and the wording present was when he wrote his next film,
school for lady caroline lamb for favila sallow, an orchestra, and my husband of that point was still playing viola and he, included peter in this and that we were in the abbey wrote studios recur putting this music lady, caroline lamb, the
the eighty caroline lamb by richard rodney, bennet, allergy formula and orchestra, with peter mark on Vila, accompanied by the new fellow mono orchestra and conducted by marcus towards artists. lie on their physical senses, of course, and in these days you struggle a little bit with some hearing. Loss has the affected your work effort more welcome. And so they can't listen to things so
easily anymore, because my is things get mushed up and or how to cure that I've hearing aids, so speech, usually is ok, but hearing live concerts depends. Some holes are easier than others, but I work firstly in my head in the work of the desk and in my head, so that's fine, my my observation can go all sorts of places. My ears won't follow suit your hearing in your imagination. Is perfect, perfect! No, but I do what I want up up up up up up thea musgrave. I am, of course, about to cast you away to solitary life on a desert island. How are your survival skills? I wonder very bird hope because does it and we're stranded on, I wonder, are dates. Hanging on trees that these sunday dont have to close all you have to gather sticks
in things and learn how to rub them together to get a flame to start a fire. A lot of things to have to learn: thea musgrave, it's time for your eighth desk. Tell me about this one. I chose work of benjamin britten, who I knew and I have months. Admiration for him for his operas and also for his imagination in instrumental works. I chosen instrumental work, which is the serenade for tenor, home and strings britain put the instruction the home, not to use the valves but to play on open home, not survey strange, it's that some of the notes that played on a natural home sound to us out of tune, but in fact there not that in june, but Because of the very strange thing that certain mode, like a sharp g flat.
On the piano, of course all the same moat. But if you play so harmonies with it, it comes like an f shop, all like a g flat when Britain said on the natural home. It's the same kind of idea that some to us out of tune- and I think my on the example here, but have a funny story that is a very well known home, player or very well known when I was still living here and I'm not by chance and we got talking and he suddenly said to me. You know I'm not going to play what then said I'm going to use the valves because it, but why did you do that? a ban would be furious I know, but the thing is that the critic keep saying Playing out of children is damaging my career, as I said. Don't the critics know that that's what they wanted. A pouch remarked well
all know better. Now, so let's hear it the most grave go. Eight I I yeah yeah I.
The prologue from Britain, serenade, bettina, horn and strings performed by dennis brain conducted by eugene goose's, so thea musgrave, I'm sending you away to the island with three books, the bible and the complete works of shakespeare and one of your choosing. What will it be? I come across a wonderful work recently called anthology of world poetry and it was first printed in america, nineteen twenty five- and I think it was one of the first books of poetry which showed poem. of all centuries worldwide actually all in english translation, but that's an incredible book. I had no idea of the range of stuff because it's in a bar different language I can deal with european languages. Is you can find trend relations or you. You know something about the language, but these were points that were
absolutely out of my knowledge, and so I think that would be great. Then you shall have it and a luxury, something that will make the time on the island more bearable for what I wanted to take my ipod alone, with a solo charge. Well, I've heard, but that's not love, it's not, unfortunately, too bad. I would if I could, but I can't okay so what they are and what you must give me two packs of cards, because there are some very good games of patients to play, but I need two packs a mile or two Absolutely absolutely don't have one patient store was taught us a kid. I forget, retorted aren't mazes patients, very good one. I've never seen it anywhere in any book or anything swordplay, that's a lot. Fabulous game of patients definitely doable. And finally, Perhaps this is the most difficult for you. If the way.
Swear to wash away all of these discs, but one which would you safe. I think I would have to save a cream of scott, they must Thank you very much indeed for letting us here. Your desert island discs great pleasure to be here although I will be really enjoyed that podcast with them Grave, we have cast away many other composes to our island and you can hear their programmes in our archive at BBC dakota uk slash desert island disks, they include sir James macmillan, Debbie weissmann and the very same richard roared me bennet, who composed the vila energy as a wedding present for thea and her husband, peter
here. He is talking to sue back in nineteen. Ninety seven, you apparently started composing at the age of five richard that was very precocious little, I think composers, don't actually stop people say. When did you write your first piece? That's like asking a job. When do you do your first drawing you mess around your finger paint or what Run then, gradually something comes out which looks like some are. You vote notes on a paid? Yes, my mother had been a composer and was a very good thing is that I used to pretend I was writing music by drawing dots and lines and giving them titles. I was much more into titles and natural nooks. What sort of titles when I remembered pete my first existing pieces when I was about five as residents called from neptune's caverns, which I thought was the most lovely if at all possible- and it was all very romantic and then gradually gradually, I started actually to be able to write tunes down. So it was. This
if the person you used to harmonize nursery rhymes, those dominoes nosotros, I I was sent to the pictures quite a lot with one or other of my sisters to get me out of that has stopped me playing the piano because I was always banging away and trying to play the water and yet that your mother tat, you thought you were too romantic. Resources poured cold water, momo mothers or other everything, lady, but I started to hear music at the movies I mean guzman, amino music of nineteen, forty musicals and said, I didn't really know the tunes I used to try and harmonize nursery rhymes like like popular tunes. It sounds a bit bizarre now, but it's true and you listen to jazz in those days there wasn't that that this huge gulf between John and pop music. There is no, and I mean I'm a man of its children example having had songs during the war so that it wasn't, there was
a great divide that again, your your parents, apparently poured cold water on this because they thought that listening to jazz on the radio was a bad habit. You grow out of thought. It wasn't quite right and you must have been slightly odd for a little boy and the depths of devonshire, not having been told that this was worth listening to just being avidly listening to Ella Fitzgerald or whatever, on the radio. My guest next week is another musician, sheikh soup, primo and super produce, and now we're just gonna get anson she's on and join us. Then this is the baby say hello. I'm dumb but loud, and I want to tell you about a special edition of the composer of weak podcast marking the nineteenth birthday of the among grave, a truly remarkable person. I thought that I would go into medicine. I was going to discover the cures for everything in over count,
of tb. In the end, it was music that benefited from her extraordinary drive and creativity and at the age of ninety cms grave, is we'll composing and inspiring everyone who meets. I love you too. Meta too. You can hear a whole conversation by subscribing to the composer of the weak podcast. Wherever you get your broadcasts
Transcript generated on 2022-06-12.