Broadcast June 17, 2013
Hello – and welcome, wanderers!
The opening excerpt from Benjamin Britten‘s Midsummer Night’s Dream, ushers in this Classical Hour, on BCB 106.6FM.
As we’re halfway through the centenary celebrations of Britten’s birth, I’m devoting my Modern Masterpieces show to a few extracts from his considerable body of work, with a couple of comments from Jean-Luc Picard, AKA the considerable Shakespearian actor, Patrick Stewart.
Back in my early days as a performer, when I was trying to move from bebop into folk, just about the only repertoire I could find were Britten’s rather arch recordings of songs like The Foggy Dew with Peter Pears. But one performance has always stuck in my memory, his lovely arrangements of The Sally Gardens, Yeats’s reworking of a traditional Irish melody.
Britten was a very precocious music student, and at age 18 he completed his Sinfonietta for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins, viola, cello, and double bass. He’d actually been working on a double concerto for violin, viola, and orchestra, not recorded until 1998. But this extremely sophisticated student opus reworks some of the themes from that abandoned piece.
In my last programme, I played one of the four interludes from Britten’s opera, Peter Grimes. Here are the three others: Dawn, Moonlight, and Storm.
Though he was never what you could call an orthodox Christian, Britten used many Biblical themes in his work. The following year after his Sinfonietta, his opus three was a celebration of the birth of Christ, A Boy Was Born.
Britten was interviewed for a full-time job in the music department of the BBC. He didn’t get it, which was just as well, but out of it came the chance to write music for John Grierson’s pioneering GPO Film Unit, notably Night Mail, in 1936, with verse by W.H. Auden.
Another early work, Britten’s Simple Symphony, composed in 1934, actually used themes he’d been working on during his early teens.
The programme finishes with the exciting fugue concluding Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, displaying all his virtuosity and accessibility.
Back on July 15!
- A Benjamin Britten Centennial (wqxr.org)
- Peter Grimes on the Beach? Shiver me tenors! (guardian.co.uk)
- Benjamin Britten exhibition launched at the British Library (britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk)
- Why Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes is the greatest British opera (thetimes.co.uk)