Head Master’s Lecture: Oliver Soden OL

Oliver Soden speaking at Lancing College


The Head Master’s Lectures are a termly engagement where pupils listen to and meet speakers about an array of topics. This term we welcomed Oliver Soden OL (Teme 2003–2008) who spoke about his biography on British composer Michael Tippett.

The lecture was a fascinating insight into the life of the composer: we learned not just about how historical events such as WW2 influenced his life, but also how his reputation fluctuated after his death. Despite his and Britten’s apparent rivalry for the title of greatest English composer of their time, we were informed that they were close friends with much in common. We also heard about Oliver’s own changing relationship with the composer, and his opinion of what a biography should be: a supporting document to help understand more about its subject without forcing a judgement on their art. It was particularly moving to hear him read from the end of his book the passage describing when he ‘met’ Tippett and held his ashes.

We also heard about the challenges Oliver faced when writing and publishing a biography about a figure from the world of classical music. This was Oliver’s first major writing project and, having sent the first few chapters to 50 literary agents, he was frustratingly rejected by 49 of them, only to be signed up finally by agent number 50! This process was followed by a lengthy search for a publishing house; eventually, just as he was about to give up, he received a response from a publisher who was interested in his work. The book went on to receive much praise, having been described as ‘a joy to read’ by author Phillip Pullman.

During the lecture Oliver also spoke of his time at Lancing very fondly and felt a sense of nostalgia coming back 11 years after leaving the school. He mentioned how Lancing helped him to ‘learn how to learn’, which enabled him to carry out the research for his book.

Michail M, Max M & Cecily M, Upper Sixth