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Peter Dickinson

Publisher: Novello & Co

Larkin's Jazz (1989)
Text Writer
Philip Larkin
Novello & Co Ltd
Solo Voices and 1-6 players
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
speaker, baritone
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Programme Note
Peter Dickinson Larkin's Jazz (1989)
Larkin's Jazz was commissioned by Keele University with assistance from West Midland Arts.

For many years I have admired the poetry of Philip Larkin and the opportunity to compose a tribute to him was particularly welcome. I wanted to do this in a way that would be characteristic of his interests much as my Stevie's Tunes relates to Stevie Smith. This drew me to four of Larkin's poems related to music, two specifically to jazz. When I discussed poetry and music with Larkin in 1981, I realised that he had reservations about his poems being set to music at all. As a result I decided to use the spoken voice with the minimum of musical background for the actual poems and then use the speaker (who is also a singer) as part of the instrumental ensemble. On either side of each of the poems there are purely musical commentaries elaborating the situations the poems expose.

Larkin's Jazz is based on two of the poet's favourite tracks: Riverside Blues with King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, recorded in 1923, and Blue Horizon with Sidney Bechet (clarinet) and His Blue Note Jazzmen, recorded in 1944. I took these down from the recordings so that I could work with them in detail. Each movement is related to one of the tunes and sometimes both. The offstage trumpet at the start comes from Larkin's first poem and the offstage saxophone (soprano) at the end quotes Riverside Blues. The tune in sections III, VII and VIII is Blue Horizon turned into a popular song.

Larkin's Jazz, which - lacking improvisation - is not jazz, plays without a break:

1. Prelude to Reasons for Attendance
2. Reasons for Attendance (reading)
3. After Reasons for Attendance
4. Prelude to For Sidney Bechet
5. For Sidney Bechet (reading)
6. After For Sidney Bechet
7. Prelude to Love Songs in Age
8. Love Songs in Age (reading)
9. After Love Songs in Age
10. Prelude to Reference Back
11. Reference Back (reading and epilogue)

Larkin's Jazz was commissioned for the Nash Ensemble and first performed at Keele University with Henry Herford (speaker-baritone) and the Nash, conducted by Lionel Friend on February 5, 1990.

Larkin's Jazz is scored for:

Flute (doubling piccolo and alto flute)
Clarinet (doubling bass clarinet)
Soprano Saxophone
Trumpet in Bb

© Peter Dickinson

  • Soloist(s)
    Lullaby: Duke Dobing (flute), Peter Dickinson (piano) | Mass: Revd Donald Reeves (speaker), Jo Maggs (soprano), Meriel Dickinson (mezzo soprano), St James’s Singers, James Holland, David Johnson (percussion), John Alley (piano), Ivor Bolton (conductor) | Larkin’s Jazz: Henry Herford (baritone-speaker), The Nash Ensemble, Lionel Friend (conductor) | Five Forgeries: Peter Dickinson, John Flinders (piano) | Air, Metamorphosis: Duke Dobing (flute)
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