Tippett: A Style Guide

We analyse the common themes of Tippett's major works

Published: February 21, 2019 at 10:00 am

Madrigal rhythm

As a student, Tippett decided that classical music in England was too much in thrall to the remnants of Romanticism. He found a way forward in the rhythmic invention of vocal part-writing in Tudor and Elizabethan madrigals.



Tippett would surely have shunned the idea that his music connected with English ‘pastoralism’, but he loved the countryside, and aspects of its idealised musical tradition, including modes and drones, feature in his works.

Melody and harmony

Discussion of Tippett’s music generally focuses on its rhythmic counterpoint derived partly from the madrigal tradition, partly from Beethoven. But in the works up to the mid-1950s, there is an underrated gift for melody and an expressive harmonic sense.


Wider musical worlds

Tippett looked to draw on idioms from foreign cultures, particularly American blues. The Javanese gamelan sounds in his Piano Sonata No. 1, and the spirituals in A Child of Our Time are two further examples.


Freya ParrDigital Editor and Staff Writer, BBC Music Magazine

Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.

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