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An introduction to the music of Jonathan Lloyd by Stephen Plaistow

Jonathan Lloyd has never sought to distance himself from his contemporaries but his
long recognised preference has been to walk by himself. He is the least parochial of
British composers and his world has no evident boundaries of nationality and culture. He
could be called a maverick, but he is not a remote figure and certainly not an outsider.
He has written for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Philharmonic, for the London
Sinfonietta and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and for vocal and instrumental
ensembles up and down the land, and he has always tried to respond, at various levels of
musical society, to the gifts and enthusiasm of performers who wanted music from him.

He had a rigorous training but found a way of composing intuitively quite early on,
seemingly without monuments to set his course by or systems to generate notes, and his
work has been increasingly confident of its own voice. The traditions of modernism and
post-modernism have long included elements derived from popular music, but with Lloyd the
contrasts and incongruities run unusually deep. As Hugo Cole noted [Tempo No.164, March
1988] "when Lloyd introduces instruments from the world of popular music, he does not
insinuate them into the ensemble stealthily or apologetically...they announce themselves
as visitors from other worlds [and] question the values of the more refined concert-hall

There was an occasion nearly twenty years ago at a performance of Everything Returns
when the inclusion of a rock group caused outrage. Even now, when some would say anything
goes, Lloyd’s inclusion of popular tunes can still be startling: You are my
, an American hit-song of the 1940s, appears in the Second Symphony not
just as an intruder but as an invader. The use of popular references functions as part of
Lloyd’s style, without quotation marks. When he employs shock tactics, however, we
wonder where we are - is this for real, or fantasy? It is particularly characteristic of
his music to inhabit a state of limbo, Beckett-like, and to keep us waiting, unnerved by
our surroundings and unsure as to whether a goal will be reached, or whether a way out can
be found at all.

It is music sometimes about other music, Puckish and uninhibited, inviting response to
the here-and-now. But always it is in sharp focus, whether a montage of fantasies, a
conceit, a ceremonial, a meditation, a semi-theatrical progression or a play of cells and
motives. A characteristic Lloydian journey is one on which a destination beckons but we
are happy to keep returning and regrouping and to bump into things we have come across
before. We listen from moment to moment, recognising that discourse can pass into
narrative; that something big can come out of a lot of small and disparate bits; and that
repetition is an important element of form-building. Janácek might have considered Lloyd
a kindred spirit. In an admiring comment on the Mass for chorus and the linked Second
, Robin Holloway mentions another 20th century master: "The capacity to
tease the utmost out of a few haunting phrases can, as Stravinsky knew, produce profundity
as well as laughter".

As he enters his sixth decade, the five symphonies, together with Tolerance (in
effect, a concerto for orchestra), can be viewed as the centre of Lloyd’s
achievement. It has been hard won, particularly when his music has challenged the
formalities and economics of traditional concert life. But in bringing together the arcane
and the popular, the co-operative and the anarchic, in new ways he has frequently given us
a fresh angle on musical discourse. He has no trademark but we recognise him instantly,
and as the ambiguities and the richness of his work multiply it is time for it to be more
widely celebrated.

Stephen Plaistow, 1998

(pianist, writer and radio producer)

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