Friday, January 21, 2005


I am hugely looking forward to the English National Opera performance, tonight, of Michael Tippett's choral work, A Child Of Our Time. I almost wrote 'oratorio', and ineed this is the closest formal category to which it belongs. I have seen it described as 'a secular oratorio', but that isn't quite right, either.

Tippett, whose spiritual leanings were at once traditionally sceptical and romantically Jungian, was no straightforward 'believer', certainly. He respected many Christians but was rightly critical of what had been and was done in their name. And he wasn't one for metaphysics.

But by replacing the Bachian chorales with fantastically orchestrated African-American spirituals, he disclosed what faith might look like set free from its trdaitional moorings and facing up to the horrors of genocidal war. He also demonstrated a global consciousness at a time when it was far less usual, paying homage to 'those twentieth century blues' (the title of his autobiography).

Some critics remain snooty towards A Child of Our Time. We live in a cynical age. It is definitely the one work by Tippett, in his early lyrical phase, which has come close to being a 'war-horse' (sic!) of the classical tradition. But in spite of its popularity it is a tremendously powerful and coherent work - as deserving of major performance as it is of the regional repertoire.

What a fine way to mark the Tippett centenary. Well, a start, anyway. There's much more to come in 2005, and NFE will be following it closely.

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