Tippett: A Style Guide

We analyse the common themes of Tippett's major works

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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.

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Landscapes

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.

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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.