- 20 Nov 23
A previously unknown piece for a string quartet written by Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange , is to receive its world premiere following its recent discovery.
In spite of his renown as an author, Anthony Burgess considered himself as much a composer as an author, and composed over 250 works in his lifetime.
A previously unknown piece for a string quartet penned by Burgess is set to receive its world premiere at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on December 1st, where it will be performed by the Hallé Orchestra.
Although widely known as a novelist, music was Burgess' primary focus, inspired by his mother who a singer and dancer, and his father, who was a pianist in music halls and silent cinemas.
A self-taught musician, Burgess learned how to play the piano at age 14.
Burgess described listening to Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy for the first time as "a psychedelic moment ... a recognition of verbally inexpressible spiritual realities", which he credited as the epiphanic moment which birthed his deep love of music.
In 1991, Burgess wrote: “I wish people would think of me as a musician who writes novels, instead of as a novelist who writes music on the side.”
The 250 works of music that Burgess composed over the course of 60 years included symphonies, concertos, librettos, chamber music, piano music, and works for the theatre.
The score selected for the December 1st performance was discovered in the archive of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, an educational charity in Manchester, Burgess' home city, where it had been lying among uncatalogued papers donated by his widow, the late Liana Burgess.
Burgess passed away in 1993, and is best known for his novel 'A Clockwork Orange' which was adapted into a cult film of the same name by Stanly Kubrick. He is also known for his work as a literary critic, book reviewer, lecturer in phonetics and now, composer.
Professor Andrew Biswell, Burgess’s biographer, director of the Anthony Burgess Foundation, and professor of modern literature at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “He [Burgess] always said that he was a failed musician or a thwarted musician.
All of his novels are obviously the work of somebody for whom music is deeply important. Often, there’s a character who’s a composer, or there are very elaborate musical metaphors. So, you get more out of the books if you know a little about music.”
The hero of his novel A Vision of Battlements, for example, is a reluctant soldier and thwarted musician.
Speaking further on the newly discovered piece Biswell said that the composition is undated but stylistically would suggest it was composed sometime after 1980 as it is reminiscent of 1980 string quartet which was influenced by Dmitri Shostakovich.
The upcoming performance is part of a greater revival and renewed interest in the work of Burgess as both a musician and a composer, and perhaps in part fulfilling his 1991 wish of being 'a musician who writes'.
In September of 2023 Naxos Records (the leading publisher of classical music records) released a recording of his Complete Guitar Quartets, performed by the award-winning Mēla Quartet.
In January of next year, a new collection of Burgess’s writings on music titled The Devil Prefers Mozart, edited by the composer and conductor Paul Phillips, will be published by Carcanet.
The anthology is set to include reviews and essays from his 30 year stint at the Observer, as well as his work with the Guardian and other publications. Many are on his favourite composers, including Beethoven and Stravinsky, and explore topics such as the relation between literature and music.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 05 Dec 23