British composer, knighted in 1974. Berkeley was not in the main tradition of British composers: being partly of French ancestry and having studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, he had more in common with Fauré; and the neoclassicism of Stravinsky.
Born at Oxford, he read modern languages at the University before taking up music as a career. In 1936 Berkeley met Britten at the ISCM Festival in Barcelona, the start of a long friendship and the impetus for a joint composition: the Mont Juic Suite, based on folksongs heard together in the Mont Juic park, outside Barcelona.
Berkeley's music has a natural melodic flow, interesting instrumental textures, and a sobriety and restraint that sometimes suggest a great intensity of feeling. It was tonally based until the early 1960s, when his second symphony (1956–58), a transitional work, showed him to be moving towards a more complex atonality; this eventually led to a serialism that brought with it the same problem that Schoenberg had had to face: that of sustaining length. Berkeley has written some of his best works for particular performers: the Four Poems of St Teresa of Avila (1947) for Kathleen Ferrier, Five Songs (1946) for Pierre Bernac (1899–1979) and Francis Poulenc, a guitar sonatina (1957) and concerto (1974) for Julian Bream, and Songs of the Half-Light (1964) for Peter Pears. His works include four operas, four symphonies, music for ballet, theatre, film, and radio, concertos, and some deeply-felt sacred liturgical choral music (he became a Roman Catholic in 1928).