Winds Of Change by Ruth Gipps
Ruth Gipps, who has died aged 78, belonged to that generation of English composers who came to prominence in the years immediately after the second world war, when the post-romantic afterglow of Vaughan Williams, Bax, Ireland and Holst finally faded in the face of more cerebral, even atonal, European models. Gipps was out of step with these trends and struggled to secure performances of her works and to gain acceptance as an equal in the male musical establishment.
Yet she composed steadily, producing more than 70 works, including five symphonies. She was also very successful as a conductor, academic teacher, performer she was an accomplished orchestral oboist and cor anglais player, and a brilliant pianist administrator, and impresario of tireless energy and determination. She may well have been the first woman in this country to gain a doctorate of music by examination (1948).
Gipps was born in Bexhill-on-Sea and studied initially with her mother, a piano teacher. Her prodigious talent led to public performances while she was still a child, including a performance at the 1936 Hastings Festival of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. In 1937 she entered the Royal College of Music, studying oboe with Leon Goossens, piano with Arthur Alexander and composition with Gordon Jacob, and later with Vaughan Williams himself. In the early war years, she studied at Durham University and composed furiously.
Following marriage to the clarinettist Robert Baker in 1942, she pursued a joint career as composer and performer, playing oboe under Malcolm Sargent, and regularly appearing with the City of Birmingham Orchestra. Its conductor, George Weldon, gave the first prominent performances of her own music, including the first two symphonies, of which the Second Symphony (1946) has been described by David Wright, an authority on her music, as ‘the first work of her maturity’.
Cast in one extended movement, the piece is a finely crafted and beautifully orchestrated idyll. Throughout her life, Ruth Gipps’s music was almost totally unknown through recordings, and it is only now that new CDs of her Second Symphony and Horn Concerto (1968) are to be released.
Her brother Bryan was a gifted violinist, and Ruth Gipps wrote a violin concerto for him; in 1948 her piano concerto was a great success. Many years later, it was revived and broadcast by Eileen Broster and the BBC Symphony, with Gipps herself conducting. By no means a ‘sophisticated’ work, it is none the less both confident and convincing, and moreover, appealing to audiences. But, as the 1950s progressed, her style of composition, modelled on the English pastoral school, began to look dated in the face of the new generation spearheaded by Peter Racine Fricker, Matyas Seiber, Humphrey Searle, Dennis ApIvor and Iain Hamilton.
Their acerbic, ‘purist’ language was not for her. She could do little to stem this tide of Darmstadt-inspired fashion, which took root in the BBC and left many composers excluded or frozen out. Undeterred, Gipps founded the London Repertoire Orchestra in 1955, and in so doing afforded many young performers the chance of a debut. Julian Lloyd Webber, Iona Brown and others speak of their gratitude to her for the opportunity she gave them.
She ran the orchestra virtually single-handedly for over 30 years, in conjunction with her teaching duties. She was successively lecturer in composition at Trinity College of Music, professor at the Royal College of Music, and senior lecturer at Kingston Polytechnic. Her contribution to the British Music Information Centre was substantial.
Although she derived no tangible benefit from the recent revival of interest in the lost generation of English romantics, Ruth Gipps can only have derived satisfaction that the wheel had begun to turn in her favour. She was an all-rounder in the best sense of the term, and her contribution to British musical life over five decades is both immeasurable and enduring.
Her husband and son Lance, a composer and horn player, survive her.
Ruth Gipps, composer, born February 21, 1921; died February 23 1999