Tippett, Sir Michael (1905–1998) By Venn, Edward
Michael Tippett was one of the leading British composers of the twentieth century. His music and his writings are characterized by an enduring commitment to humanist values and traditions, mediated by an increasingly ironic and critically self-aware modern subjectivity.
Born into a relatively affluent middle-class family from rural Suffolk, Tippett’s environment at home and at boarding school cultivated his life-long intellectual curiosity and independence, but provided him with a patchy musical education. Adamant that he would be a composer nevertheless, he enrolled twice at the Royal College of Music where he painstakingly sought to develop both compositional technique and a heightened awareness of the Western classical musical tradition.
The experience of the global economic depression in the first half of the 1930s, heightened by working with unemployed musicians and providing musical opportunities at North Yorkshire work camps, politicized Tippett’s nascent left-wing sensibilities, though a brief spell in the British Communist party ended due to the incompatibility of his Trotskyist orientation with prevailing Stalinist thought. A more lasting commitment came through his pacifism, for which he was jailed in 1943; having joined the Peace Pledge Union in 1940, he went on to serve on its council in the 1950s and was Honorary President from 1958 until his death.