The Composers of DOCTOR WHO: Humphrey Searle

Christopher Morley takes a look at the work of the one time Doctor Who composer Humphrey Searle.

Our road through the music of Doctor Who next brings us to another one-time composer, of the same vintage as Francis Chagrin! Humphrey Searle's sole contribution to the Doctor's adventures in time & space came in the form of the score to The Myth Makers, which found the First Doctor, Steven & Vicki in Troy.

Starting out as a Classics student at Oxford, he switched to the Royal College of Music where he studied under John Ireland. But it was not until he had completed his formal study with Ireland & embarked on a six- month private scholarship in Vienna as a pupil of Anton Webern that he really began to take the idea of a career in composition seriously. After becoming a BBC producer in 1946 ( his first majour composition having been 1942's Suite No.1 for Strings), he used his role to champion serialism- an abstract/alternative approach to music dating from 1921 & the mind of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg. Not entirely unsurprisingly Webern embraced it, too- Schoenberg had been his own teacher! It can also be found in the music of yet another of Arnold's students, Alban Berg.

Just a year after taking up his BBC post he accepted an offer from conductor Edward Clark to become the General Secretary of the International Society for Contemporary Music. In the meantime he'd followed up his Suite No.1 with Suite No.2 ( 1943), Night Music ( also 1943), Piano Concerto No.1 ( 1944) & Poem For 22 Strings ( 1950- Part One, & Two).

Moving into the later Fifties, his first foray into ballet came with his score for Sadler's Wells choreographer Kenneth MacMillan's ( later to become Sir Kenneth) 1956 work Noctambules. He'd return to the form the following year for The Great Peacock & 1963's Dualities. His first symphony was written in 1953 & later recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra with Adrian Boult conducting.

This was the first of a run of five- the second followed three years later, the third in 1958, fourth in 1961 & last in 1964. A sixth, unrelated to the first five & called Three Ages came along in 1982, the year of his death.

Opera was his next step, following up Noctambules with 1958's Diary Of A Madman, presumably an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's short story as opposed to a forerunner of Ozzy Osbourne! The Photo Of The Colonel ( 1963), which featured input from the Radiophonic Workshop ( as confirmed by his memoir:
"We flew back to Europe at the end of May. As the aeroplane stopped at Luxembourg, we decided to stop off there and spend a few days in this quiet and pleasant city before going on to Frankfurt for the rehearsals of "The Photo of the Colonel". We explored the countryside of Luxembourg, and enjoyed the excellent food and wine, which was a contrast to the somewhat crude, if copious, fare which was typical of South African restaurants. Then we took the little train which travelled down the Moselle valley towards Frankfurt. Here rehearsals were well under way, with a good cast and quite an adequate production, although the singer who took the part of Berenger found it necessary to make several cuts in his role, especially in his final monologue. We used the electronic effects which we had made in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for the London production, and the opera was quite a success with both public and critics."
A 1964 interpretation of Hamlet rounded off a hat-trick of such works. You can read an interview with Searle by Martin Kingsbury here.

Humph was something of an authority on the music of Franz Liszt too! He wrote a monograph- a sort of specialist essay- on the subject in 1954, with a ' revised edition' also published in 1966, which is available here, & had co-founded the Liszt Society in 1950. His devotion to the works of the great Hungarian composer would later see his 'Searle System' of cataloguing his works adopted as a standard. There are 350 works accounted for by it thus far, across various categories- choral, chamber, piano concerto, symphony etc!

If you've ever seen The Haunting ( 1963), its musical score is Searle's handiwork too. He even found time to write a memoir, Quadrille With A Raven, published posthumously in 1985 ( though he had begun writing it in 1976 during a spell in America as Composer in Residence at the University of Southern California)- the title comes from an Edward Lear poem:
There was an old man of Whitehaven
Who danced a quadrille with a raven.
They said "It's absurd
To encourage that bird",
So they smashed that old man of Whitehaven.
He remembered of his early years that:
"Oxford was peaceful in those days. We were met at the station by horse-drawn landaus, and the Morris-Oxford and the Morris-Cowley cars which were being manufactured just outside Oxford by Mr. W.R. Morris (later Lord Nuffield) did not yet appear in sufficient quantities to disturb the academic calm of the city. (My mother remembered Morris as the proprietor of a bicycle shop in Holywell before the First World War). My grandfather's house was opposite the Parks, and I was often taken there in a pram, or later for walks. (I remember a German aeroplane appearing over Oxford on one occasion, and my nurse rushing me home in terror). My Aunt Gertrude used to play the piano, and I would enjoy listening to this, though I can't pretend that I showed any musical aptitude at that time. My grandfather was very kind to me and sometimes allowed me to use his typewriter; I loved the smell of cigar smoke in his study."
Webern grew fond of him during their time as pupil & tutor, too- writing him a letter of reference at the culmination of his studies.
"This is to certify that Herr Humphrey Searle was my pupil during the period from September 1937 to March 1938; he studied harmony.

But I would also like to express the fact that the course of instruction which he undertook with me has given me very special pleasure.

In Searle I had an extraordinarily industrious and loyal pupil and I regard his talent as absolutely remarkable and worthy of promotion.

So I wish from my heart that Searle will take part in this career to the utmost limits and recommend him with my best conscience and sincere pleasure."
Alas, Webern would never see The Myth Makers...what he would have made of it is anyone's guess!
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