The Society for the Promotion of New Music (originally The Committee for the Promotion of New Music) was founded in London, 1943, by composer Francis Chargin, for the purpose of promoting the creation, performance and appreciation of new music by young and unestablished composers. The SPNM was a membership organisation which sought to find the best new composers and to help support their careers, especially in the UK. All schools, styles and nationalities (as long as the composer was a UK resident) were welcome. Composers would submit work to the SPNM and, if their work was found to be of merit, the young composer would have a chance to hear it performed in concert. The panel reviewing submissions were not looking for masterpieces and expected works to be rough and ready in part, allowing for the inexperience of the composer. What the SPNM’s reading panel were looking for was originality and potential. After the performance, constructive feedback was provided not only by professional musicians but audience members as well. If a composer’s work was judged to be of outstanding quality, then it would find its way onto the List of Recommended Works, meaning that it would be recommended for publication and performance outside of the SPNM.
Despite its charitable ambitions, the SPNM faced criticism throughout its history. The SPNM’s chief concern of providing self-help to composers meant that the music played at its concerts was not always popular with a general audience. The SPNM’s criteria for choosing its repertoire was also broad and inconsistent. Although older and more established composers’ work still counted as ‘new music’, if the composer was ‘unrecognised’, some felt that there was a bias in favour of younger composers. Nevertheless, the SPNM’s significance should not be undermined by these criticisms. The organisation helped a number of contemporary classical composers gain recognition. Composers such as Harrison Birtwisle, Roger Smalley, and Peter Zinovieff benefitted from the SPNM’s support. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Music (6th edition), in its first 50 years, over ‘8,500 composers were represented in its concerts and over 9,000 scores were submitted to it’. In 2008, the SPNM merged with other organisations, including the British Music Information Centre, to form Sound and Music, ‘the national charity for new music in the UK’.
The SPNM’s archive at Heritage Quay contains records relating to the administration of the Society, including correspondence and papers, recordings, calls for work from composers, and programmes.
Have a look at our recent post on Arthur Arathoon Paul, whose fascinating story was unearthed during work on the SPNM archive.