George Lloyd

George Lloyd

"It is untrue to say 'they don't write music like that anymore'.

They do: George Lloyd does" The Daily Telelgraph

The British composer George Lloyd (1913-1998) resisted trends in 20th Century music by continuing to write lyrical, romantic tunes. His works include three operas, twelve symphonies, three large scale choral works, seven concertos, piano and violin music, and virtuoso pieces for brass band.

Born in Cornwall, Lloyd was a musical prodigy, his opera Iernin being performed in London when he was 21. His career was interrupted by the World War II, which left him with severe physical and mental injures, from which he slowly recovered. In later years, he achieved hard earned success as a composer, conductor and recording artist.

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 George Lloyd (1913 - 1998

George Lloyd was born in St Ives, Cornwall on 28 June 1913.  He started to learn the violin at the age of five and was a pupil of the violinist Albert Sammons for six years.  He began composing when he was ten.  A rigorous musical training ensued, including lessons in counterpoint from C. H. Kitson and composition studies with Harry Farjeon. National prominence came with George Lloyd’s first opera, Iernin (1933-1934), featuring a libretto by his father, William Lloyd.  Based on a Cornish legend, the opera was premiered at The Pavilion, Penzance in November 1934, conducted by the composer.  An endorsement by Frank Howes, music critic of The Times, led to Iernin being performed by the New English Opera Company at London’s Lyceum Theatre in June 1935.  It was a sell-out for three weeks. 

The following year, whilst holidaying in Switzerland, George met Nancy Juvet.  They married in January 1937.  Nancy’s love and support throughout six decades of marriage was to prove pivotal to her husband’s continued creativity and indeed to his very survival.  Lloyd’s second opera, The Serf, was premiered by the English Opera Company at Covent Garden in London in October 1938.  William Lloyd supplied the libretto, setting the story in Yorkshire at the time of King Stephen.  A review in The Stage newspaper described the opera as ‘full of promise for the future’.  This prospect of even greater musical attainment was about to be shattered.

When war broke out in September 1939, Lloyd joined the Royal Marines as a bandsman.  In 1942 he served as a radio signaller on Arctic convoys to Murmansk on the cruiser HMS Trinidad.  During one of these convoys the ship was struck by one of its own malfunctioning torpedoes.  An oil tank was ruptured and the transmitting station which Lloyd was helping to operate filled with oil.  There were heavy casualties and he was almost drowned.  He was mentally and physically traumatised to the extent that his doctors believed he would never recover.  Nancy Lloyd refused to accept this verdict and slowly nursed her husband back to health.    Convalescing at Nancy’s lakeside home at Neuchatel, Switzerland, Lloyd began to write music again.  The resulting Fourth and Fifth Symphonies (1946, 1948), among his finest works, were not performed at the time.  After returning to England, he won an Arts Council commission to compose an opera for the Carl Rosa Company to tour around the country during the Festival of Britain in 1951.  The ensuing stage work, John Socman, featured another libretto by his father, which told the story of a Wiltshire solider returning from Agincourt.  The production, which premiered in Bristol in May 1951, was ruined by artistic differences between conductor and director.  Shortly after this debacle, William Lloyd died and George’s health collapsed again. 

George and Nancy Lloyd bought a small cottage at Folke, near Sherborne in Dorset and began earning a living as market gardeners.  After growing and selling carnations, they started mushroom farming.  During these years of self-imposed exile, George composed for three hours before the working day.  Consequently, when the Lloyds sold their smallholding in 1973 and returned to London, they brought with them a portfolio containing 20 years’ worth of scores.

A friendship with John Ogdon had far-reaching consequences.  Lloyd assisted with the orchestration of the pianist-composer’s Piano Concerto and Ogdon recorded for EMI Lloyd’s piano piece African Shrine, shortly after premiering it in 1969.  In the same year Ogdon took the score of Lloyd’s Eighth Symphony to the BBC and had it accepted.  Eight years elapsed before it was broadcast.  In the meantime, another of Lloyd’s champions, conductor Edward Downes, premiered the Eighth Symphony (1961, orchestrated 1965) with the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, broadcast on Radio 3 in July 1977.  In the succeeding five years, Downes tirelessly promoted and disseminated Lloyd’s music, including a performance with the BBC Philharmonic of the Sixth Symphony (1956) at the Proms in July 1981, the first appearance of the composer’s music at the celebrated summer music festival.

Inspired by his new-found popularity, Lloyd took up the baton himself.  In 1986 he conducted the premiere of his Eleventh Symphony (1985) with the Albany Symphony Orchestra in New York.  He also wrote his Twelfth Symphony (1989) for the orchestra.  Other notable products of a glorious Indian summer of creativity include the brass band piece, Royal Parks (1984), A Symphonic Mass (1992) and a cello concerto (1997).  Having suffered heart problems for a year, George Lloyd died at University College Hospital, Marylebone, London, on 3 July 1998.  A service was held a week later at Golders Green crematorium.  His last work, the Requiem, written in memory of Diana, the Princess of Wales, was completed shortly before his death and premiered at the 2000 Oxford Contemporary Music Festival. Paul Conway, 2023

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