Constant Lambert

British composer and conductor

Leonard Constant Lambert (23 August 190521 August 1951) was an English conductor, critic and modernist composer. In the 1920s he was among the first to write jazz-influenced classical music.

A portrait of Constant Lambert painted by Christopher Wood

Quotes edit

  • The average English critic is a don manqué, hopelessly parochial when not exaggeratedly teutonophile, over whose desk must surely hang the motto (presumably in Gothic lettering) "Above all no enthusiasm".
    • Opera magazine, December 1950.

Music, Ho! (1934) edit

Quotations are cited from 1985 Hogarth Press edition.

  • Revolutionaries themselves are the last people to realize when, through force of time and circumstance, they have gradually become conservatives. It is scarcely to be wondered at if the public is very nearly as slow in the uptake.
    • "The Revolutionary Situation", p. 31.
  • Nothing is so common as to see a political upheaval pass practically unnoticed merely because the names of the leaders and their parties remain the same.
    • "The Revolutionary Situation", p. 31.
  • To the seeker after the new, or the sensational, to those who expect a sinister frisson from modern music, it is my melancholy duty to point out that all the bomb throwing and guillotining has already taken place.
    • "The Revolutionary Situation", p. 32.
  • Once embarked on a course of sensationalism, the composer is forced into a descending spiral spin from which only the most experienced pilot can flatten out in time.
    • "Music and the Naughty 'Nineties", p. 64.
  • The composer is now faced, not with further experiment but with the more difficult task of consolidating the experiments of this vertiginous period. He is like a man in a high-powered motor-car that has got out of control. He must either steer it away from the cliff's edge back to the road or leap out of it altogether. Most modern composers have chosen the latter plan, remarking, as they dexterously save their precious lives: "I think motor-cars are a little vieux jeu – don't you?"
    • "The Age of Pastiche", p. 70.
  • Music, from being an ordered succession of sounds, has become a matter of "sonorities", and anyone who can produce a brightly coloured brick of unusual shape is henceforth hailed as an architect.
    • "Toute réaction est vraie", p. 91.
  • The whole trouble with a folk song is that once you have played it through there is nothing much you can do except play it over again and play it rather louder. Most Russian music, indeed, consists in ringing changes on this device, skilfully disguised though the fact may be.
    • "The Conflict Between Nationalism and Form", p. 146.
  • There is a definite limit to the length of time a composer can go on writing in one dance rhythm (this limit is obviously reached by Ravel towards the end of La Valse and towards the beginning of Bolero).
    • "Exoticism and Low Life", p. 174.
  • The Appalling Popularity of Music.
    • Chapter-heading, p. 200.
  • It is only comparatively primitive machinery that affords a stimulus, and there is already a faint period touch about Pacific 231 and Le Pas d'Acier. One feels…that Prokofieff should have written ballets about the spinning jenny and the Luddite riots; that Honegger should have been there to celebrate the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and the death of Huskisson with a "Symphonie Triomphale et Funèbre".
    • "Mechanical Romanticism", pp. 209-10.

Criticism edit

  • Lambert, who admired Duke Ellington and proclaimed his harmonic roots in Frederick Delius (who in his turn had taken them from Debussy), was a fearless reconciler of what the academies and Tin Pan Alley alike presumed to be eternally opposed…In 1972, on a plane from New York to Toronto, I found myself sitting next to Duke Ellington, who spoke almost with tears in his eyes of the stature of Lambert.
  • Even in his palmiest days there were good friends who could stand only limited stretches of the Lambert barrage of ideas, jokes, fantasy, quotations, apt instances, things that had struck him as he walked through London, not because these lacked quality, on the contrary because the mixture was after a while altogether too rich.

External links edit

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