For thirty-six years Antony (sic — not, please to be confused with the actor pretending to be a composer!) Hopkins talked about and analyzed music in regular weekly BBC radio programmes and we of that generation who listened so attentively learned very much from the simple clarity of his guided tours through music new and old, his gentle voice and the carefully well-defined structure of the lectures designed to communicate clarity to all who heard and paid attention to them. Only very rarely did they disturb, as when his suggested method of remembering the finale of Beethoven’s violin concerto was to fit in the words ‘There was a young lady of Bonn, went to bed with her riding boots on’ — an aid that was so successful with me as to be a miserable irritation each time I heard the tune! Fortunately I was not too fond of the concerto.
Antony Hopkins CBE was ninety a couple of years ago, is still lively and entertaining, and in honour of the occasion this tribute pair of discs has been conceived and organized by the distinguished and apparently tireless recorder-player John Turner who has, over the years, done so much to promote his instrument with British composers.
The first disc contains a selection of more substantial works, products of a few post-war years when he was involved with Morley College, the adult education centre on London’s South Bank which maintained a notable staff including Holst, Tippett and Vaughan Williams & among its tutors. The earliest is a Pastiche Suite written in 1944 for Walter Bergmann, a past director of the Society of Recorder Players, who died in 1988.
A Viola Sonata came the following year, a potent, vigorous and well-made piece of work in which three of its movements are skillfully based on transformations of a motto theme, blossoming in the third movement Scherzo .
The same year Hopkins wrote a second piano sonata, dedicated to Michael Tippett, a friend and colleague at Morley, and a cantata for high voice and piano, A Humble Song to the Birds , the last movement of which (to the mystical words of Rosenkreutz) begins ‘Some may be priests or kings …’)
A Partita in G minor for solo violin, with a cleverly persistent idea worrying its third Mésuré movement, followed in 1947 and a third piano sonata in 1948, written for the Australian-born pianist Noel Mewton-Wood whose suicide in 1953 at the age of thirty-one prompted the composition of Britten’s Canticle Still falls the rain and deprived the powerful Hopkins sonata of its intended performer.
The second disc is altogether lighter, featuring several pieces from scores written for thetheatre, three clever little pieces called Seductions for recorder from 1949 and a lovely song, First Love , more recently written (1980) and taken out of a choral work, Early One Morning.
This second disc also contains eight short ‘tributes’, affectionate pieces written by composers who all owe much to the Hopkins ‘music appreciation’ legacy — Andrew Plant, David Matthews, David Dubery, Anthony Gilbert, Gordon Crosse, David Ellis and Joseph Phibbs. There are also two extracts from the musical Johnny the Priest and a brief excerpt from the opera Three’s Company. For those who remember the temperate voice, there are also three poems read by Antony Hopkins. Altogether this is a warm and generous tribute to one who meant so much to the many who listened to his words, his music and his wisdom.