This chapter captures the voices of some leading performers of Howard Skempton's music: Peter Hill (PH), Thalia Myers (TM), John Tilbury (JT), James Weeks (JW), interviewed by Cavett (EC) and collated by Head. The chapter concludes with a few words from Skempton (HS). For details of Skempton pieces see the Authorized Worklist (Appendix One). For information about recordings, see the Discography (Appendix Two). Author-date references in the transcripts below are to items in the select bibliography, unless they are further annotated ‘Discography’.
“SIMPLICITY ABOUT HIM”: FIRST ENCOUNTERS WITH SKEMPTON
PH: I got to know Howard in the early 1970s through my sister who worked at Faber Music, as did Howard. The first time we met was at a supper party for my sister's colleagues and for composers associated with Faber. Howard at once impressed me as a person of complete artistic integrity, and when he talked about his music he had a sincerity that made a refreshing change from the relentlessly competitive and over-professionalized ambience of the Royal College of Music where I was then a student. He was engaged in writing miniatures, many of them for piano, each of which was a distillation of weeks or even months of thought. Indeed, Howard told me he liked the mundane office work he did at Faber since it left his mind free to concentrate on his music. I had the impression of someone who thought very deeply about very simple things, and he explained that for him composition involved paring his ideas down to their essentials. The appeal of his music to me was that it embodied the principle of “less is more,” in which every sound mattered, instead of being lost in a maze of complexity. Although his manner was serious, Howard was not solemn. I can still recall from that evening that he amused us all with a lengthy saga of the accumulated mishaps that had befallen him on a trip to the launderette – making us laugh through his ability to look at the everyday in a quirky way that brought out the unexpected in things we take for granted.
What Howard was writing at that time was so at odds with the world of contemporary music, as it then was, that one didn't think of him as a “career” composer.