To coincide with the launch of the 2010 BBC Proms, a new photographic display at the National Portrait Gallery
celebrates remarkable achievements in twentieth-century British classical music. The display comprises 31 photographs of British composers who, collectively, define a great modern tradition. Beginning with Edward Elgar, whose music has links with nineteenth-century romanticism, the selection of portraits traces a trajectory linking Delius, Vaughan Williams and Walton to more recent developments represented by the music of Birtwistle and Adès.
Curator Paul Moorhouse says: 'A common thread linking these composers is the way their work refracted British musical traditions through wider, contemporary influences. Elgar is usually regarded as a quintessentially English composer, but his orchestral music has close affinities with a central European tradition typified at that time by Richard Strauss. Vaughan Williams's compositions were influenced by English folksong, medieval and Tudor music, but also drew on exposure to the music of Ravel. Walton's work absorbed influences ranging from jazz to Stravinsky. And from mid-century, Britten started including non-Western musical approaches, while Elizabeth Lutyens introduced radical serial techniques developed by Schoenberg.'
The opening of the display coincides with the launch of this year's BBC Proms, one of the world's biggest and most celebrated musical festivals, which is staged at the Royal Albert Hall between July and September. The display will run throughout the duration of the festival. Among the living composers featured in this year's BBC Proms and included in Great British Composers: From Elgar to Adès, are Mark-Anthony Turnage, Harrison Birtwistle and James MacMillan.
Many of the century's great portrait photographers are represented including Elliott and Fry, Bassano, Jorge Lewinski, Howard Coster, Lord Snowdon, Godfrey Argent and Angus McBean. Three giants of British music, Benjamin Britten, William Walton and Michael Tippett, are portrayed in classic studies by Cecil Beaton. Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies are captured by iconic 1960s photographer Lewis Morley.
The display is curated by the Gallery's 20th Century Curator Paul Moorhouse. His exhibitions at the Gallery include Gerhard Richter Portraits and Pop Art Portraits while his current Gallery displays include Philip de László and Bridget Riley Portraits.