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  • A Clockwork Counterpoint: The Music and Literature of Anthony Burgess by Paul Phillips
  • Carly Eloise Rowley (bio)
Paul Phillips (2010) A Clockwork Counterpoint: The Music and Literature of Anthony Burgess Manchester: Manchester University Press, 512pp.

Anthony Burgess’s relationship with film music began at an early age. His father, Joseph Wilson, would play piano accompaniment for the silent films and newsreels at the Palace Cinema in Manchester. It was located next door to the Golden Eagle pub, which was the Burgess family home at this time (Biswell 2005: 13–15). Furthermore, it was cinema that provided a particularly fond early memory for Burgess. In 1927, he saw Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, remarking that it was ‘one of the major artistic experiences of my life’ (Burgess 1998: 74). Lang’s film stirred an interest in science fiction and dystopia, an influence readily seen in Burgess’s novels of the 1960s, such as A Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed (both published in 1962). A Clockwork Orange is probably his most successful novel and much about both the book and Kubrick’s filmic adaptation of 1971 is illuminated through Paul Phillips’s study. Burgess’s fame may partly be attributed to Kubrick’s adaptation, which has created a synonymous relationship between the two versions of the story. However, readers might be far less familiar with the many musical works that Burgess composed throughout his life, which form the principal focus of A Clockwork Counterpoint. Ranging from larger works such as symphonies and concerti, to chamber music and songs, Burgess’s musical output is highly varied in both style and genre. In his approach to film, Burgess was a man who whole-heartedly immersed himself in the project at hand, often producing scores (usually not requested) to accompany scripts that had been commissioned from him. Amongst the plethora of musical material discussed in Phillips’s text are nine instances of composition for film and television. These include projects such as A.D, a five-part mini-series on the birth of Christianity, for which Burgess composed forty minutes of substantial score (155); proposed filmic adaptations of the novels Beard’s Roman Women and the Enderby series (125, 229); and the TV mini-series Moses the Lawgiver, for which his score was rejected, with Ennio Morricone replacing him for the final version (151). Such activity demonstrates Burgess’s persistent desire to control the reception of a work: unfortunately, he seems to have had rather bad luck when it came to scoring music for film and television.

Nothing of the scope of Phillips’s A Clockwork Counterpoint has been seen within the area of Burgess Studies. However, this text is largely a series [End Page 95] of observations, as opposed to an analytical or academic tract. Rather than presenting a central argument at its heart, Phillips instead shows us the depth of Burgess’s output through ‘snapshots’: themed chapters in a loosely biographical structure. This structure widens the appeal of the text, for one can view it as many things: a biography; an interdisciplinary study of music; an introduction to Burgess as polymath, etc. Therefore it is possible either to ‘dip in’ or read the book from one end to the other and still gain something valuable.1

Phillips states his aim for the text as follows:

As long as Burgess’s musical side has remained largely unknown, understanding of his twin accomplishments has been incomplete … This book’s primary aim is thus to examine this heretofore disregarded aspect of his creative life and, by doing so, reveal both halves of this remarkable dual artist.


In other words, Phillips’s aim is to place Burgess’s music at the forefront of the discussion of his creative work, an area that has received notably less critical attention in comparison with his novels. Phillips’s own observations predominate within this text, with references to other scholars where applicable often being contained in the endnotes to a chapter. It would have been useful to observe Phillips’s engagement with the ideas of scholars such as Christine Lee Gengaro, for her work has directly approached the music of the book, film and play versions of A...


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pp. 95-99
Launched on MUSE
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