The first full-length biography of Michael Tippett,
one of the twentieth century's greatest composers.
(Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2019)
Hardback, £25; Paperback, £14.99; Kindle Edition, £9.99
Winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society Storytelling Award
Shortlisted for the Elizabeth Longford Prize
for Historical Biography
Book of the Year, Spectator
Book of the Year, Times Literary Supplement
Best Classical Music 2019, Observer
A BBC Radio 4 "Book of the Week"
read by the author, with Sir Derek Jacobi
"The year's stand-out biography... I hope its success will help save Tippett's music and remind publishers that there is a market for such books." Douglas Murray, Spectator, Books of the year
"An exceptional piece of work. It has so much to say about the 20th century from an unusual and compelling angle that it ought to appeal to many readers who don't necessarily find themselves deep in the world of art music... Soden has excavated much fascinating material...with irresistible elan... The Britten bibliography may be 100 times the size [of Tippett's] but it contains hardly anything as brilliant as this book.... The joy of Soden's biography is largely in its novelistic grasp of the telling details... This splendid biography ought to hasten [a Tippett revival]."
Philip Hensher, Spectator
"In a strong year for books on music, Oliver Soden's generous, game-changing biography of Michael Tippett topped the list."
Fiona Maddocks, Observer, Best Classical Music of 2019
"***** Timely as well as dashing is Oliver Soden's page-turner of a biography whose irresistible brio drills deep into a psychologically complex man... Soden's formidable research is able to contradict previous erroneous claims... His verve and flair for lassoing a vivid simile are illuminating... unashamedly approachable, buttressed by pertinent asides and telling insight, and un-put-downable, it crackles with a life force worthy of Tippett himself."
Paul Riley, BBC Music Magazine
"Exemplary" Philip Hensher, Spectator, Books of the year
"I very much enjoyed this book and wholeheartedly recommend it. Soden writes with a rare poetic quality and imagination - especially elusive qualities when one is describing music."
Philip Borg-Wheeler, Classical Music
"Soden’s is the first comprehensive account of the life, with access to the papers, correspondence, and surviving friends. And perhaps it is important that it is written by someone who was too young to have known Tippett and so approaches his subject with a fresh eye as well as enthusiasm. In any case, the book is expertly done."
Douglas Murray, National Review
"Oliver Soden's outstanding new biography, comprehensive and very readable, will surely do something to enhance Tippett's current reputation... it contains many revelations..."
David Matthews, Musical Opinion
"The strengths of Oliver Soden's biography are obvious from the opening pages. Here is a writer who engages the reader with a style direct, uncluttered but always inventive... contains superb moments imagining alternative histories... Soden's principle achievement is to have formulated a continuity, a flowing narrative, for a life that seems to have been lived, from Tippett's own perspective, permanently in the present tense.... I would dismiss the entire argument for a decline in [Tippett's] music. Soden does too... The thoroughness of Soden's research and the style and attractiveness of his writing have clarified the life." Thomas Hyde, Twentieth-Century Music
"A delight to read... Oliver Soden's vivid biography of this major figure in twentieth-century music brings Tippett very clearly to life"
"This first full biography of Tippett is a treasure trove of detailed information and yet it reads as compellingly as a thriller or psychological novel... This volume brings him to uncanny and vivid life ... that Soden never met Tippett makes his achievement all the more astonishing ... to get inside the mind, and under the skin, of such a complex figure so completely is nothing short of miraculous... Soden was the inspired and perfect choice... this is the most detailed and intimate study of any great British composer to date... brings Tippett to living, breathing life, as if he had just walked into the room... Soden doesn't flinch at anything and some revelations are both breathtaking and heart-stopping."
Geraint Lewis, Gramophone
"That rarest of things, a genuine landmark publication … essential reading for anyone interested in twentieth-century music and culture."
Tom Service, Music Matters,
BBC Radio 3
"a brilliant, sympathetic but by no means hagiographic account... much new material... Soden discusses [the compositions] without technical analysis, but with plenty of musical intelligence... a beautiful story"
Stephen Walsh, The Oldie
"Portrays a ceaselessly creative man who combined great wisdom – about art, society, politics, ethics – with considerable unwisdom... Soden treats these mismatches non-judgementally and insightfully. Even more importantly he interprets and evaluates his subject’s profoundest works..." Paul Binding, Books of the Year, Times Literary Supplement
"This thoroughly researched biography ... [Soden] tells the story of this socially fertile life with skill"
Michael Henderson, The Times
“An excellent biography ... Soden is too young to have met the composer but he has done him proud... this readable, informative and fascinating biography, sympathetic without being hagiographical, will be the standard work for a generation.”
Charles Grant, Reaction
"A marvellous new biography... Soden's research involved is impressive in itself, replacing Tippett's own rather wayward recollections of his life with a wealth of documentary evidence, but the way he draws it all together is even more compelling.... Oliver Soden's generously perceptive writing brings Tippett and his music vividly back to life"
Christopher Fox, Tempo
"One of the very finest music biographies... Lovingly written, and peopled with vivid characters, you feel like you are discovering a friend, and sense Oliver Soden's joy in telling his story."
RPS Award Panel citation
"A narrative in which readers can effortlessly lose themselves... meticulously researched biographical detail and a good story well told. From the outset, Soden beautifully captures the details of Tippett's world ... a stunning, delicate and engrossing portrayal"
Yvonne Sherratt, Literary Review
"Remarkable debut... a beautifully written, emotionally comprehensive account ... Soden's sensitive prose, and his conjuring of the spirit of place in the diary entries that intersperse the chapters is exceptionally well done... the research seems impeccable"
Nicholas Kenyon, "Summer Books 2019", Times Literary Supplement
"Exhaustively researched, lovingly detailed, epic in scale, revelling in gossip, stuffed with information ... this super-abundant, loving account. Its like will not come again... monumental... a panoramic view of an artistic, political, sexual and social life in the past century"
Fiona Maddocks, Observer
"**** An excellent biography... Soden succeeds at this difficult task wonderfully well. The early chapters are especially rewarding [...and] Soden is especially good at tracing Tippett's increasing involvement in Left-wing politics. ... Soden doesn't shrink from suggesting that Tippett's cold determination to protect his inner life at times caused huge damage to those near him. It's a measure of his searching and beautifully written biography that, despite that, Tippett comes across as essentially generous and lovable."
Ivan Hewett, The Daily Telegraph
"As an account of the life of a composer whose music showed genuine empathy for the human condition and reflects some of the most pressing issues of the last century, Soden has produced the definitive work."
Nicholas Clark, Brio
"Very accomplished in the way it combines scholarly research with a balanced interest in Tippett as a human being... Highly recommended." Martin Bussey, Finzi Friends
"Tippett appreciation and scholarship alike will undoubtedly benefit from Soden's work ... the vitality of Soden's narration and a contagious enthusiasm for his subject ensures that this biography will remain a valuable addition to any music lover's shelves." Nicholas Haralambous, British Music Society Journal
"Oliver Soden is a young but impressive writer who has taken on the task of re-evaluating Tippett. And he does it well, with a generosity of spirit that's arguably too forgiving of Tippett's failings as a human being (which were many) but properly celebrates his strengths as a creative artist (which were legion)" Michael White, Catholic Herald
"Creates a plausible cultural and historical environment for the story of a life that spanned two world wars as well as their 50-year-aftermath... use of Tippett's letters to the South-African-born composer Priaulx Rainier is just one instance of previously uncited material that adds considerably to what is known about [Tippett's] compositional processes... strongly argued conclusion... controversial in stressing the later rather than the earlier compositions." Arnold Whittall, Musical Times