Benjamin_Britten by xiaopangnv

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									Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

    Youngest of four children born into a middle-class
    family
    His father was a dentist and seemed to have been a bit
    severe and not a contributor to the family’s musical life
    Benjamin received encouragement from his mother
    Edith, herself a singer and pianist. She was determined that
    he should succeed and controlled his life rigorously until
    her death in 1937.
    An early attempt at play writing as well as a substantial
    number of compositions written before he was ten
    He had piano lessons with Edith Astle and began viola
    lessons at ten with Audrey Alston. It was through her he met the composer Frank
    Bridge.
    Bridge was impressed, and persuaded Britten’s parents to allow him to travel to
    London for composition lessons. The cardinal principles of Bridge’s teaching were
    ‘that you should find yourself and be true to what you found. The other …scrupulous
    attention to good technique’.
    Attended the RCM, but was dismayed at the ‘amateurish and folksy’ atmosphere
    he encountered among the students.
    An early love of Beethoven and Brahms (though his attitude of Brahms would
    change later), Mahler
    Living in London gave him a chance to widen his knowledge of repertoire:
    Schoenberg, Walton, Stravinsky
    Early in 1935 he complained to the composer Grace Williams about the ‘“pi” and
    artificial mysticism combined with … technical incompetence’
    After graduation went looking for a job, and in May 1935 found ideal
    employment under Albert Cavalcanti in John Grierson’s General Post Office Film
    Unit, working on the documentary The King’s Stamp. It offered the challenge of
    writing to order at high speed, devising sound-effects and matching aspects of film
    technique that had a lasting impact on his composition.
    Through this position he met the poet W.H. Auden, one of his most influential
    friends, who quickly gave him the vacant post of composer in his ‘gang’ of artists
    and writers
    Within this new group of friends, politics went hand in hand with a growing
    awareness of his sexuality and its social implications.
    On 6 March, at lunch with the conductor Trevor Harvey, he met a tenor Peter
    Pears. A year later they were sharing a London flat. They became life-long partners
    (though had numerous wanderings in their relationship) and Pears was a primary
    interpreter of Britten artsong.
    He had a fascination with children and that perfect state symbolized by childhood
    Britten left for North America in April 1939.
    There were many reasons for him to try his hand abroad: the growing cloud of
    fascism over Europe; the plight of pacifists in the war that seemed inevitable; the
 frantic pace of his career and the need to determine his own direction; the opening up
 of new opportunities; and the curtailing of difficult emotional and sexual situations
 from which, from his letters, he appears to be trying to rescue himself
 After a trip to New York, he and Pears visited Copland
 His American years were important to his development. During this time he had
 a “realization” of the music of Purcell and his contemporaries – the Tudor composers
 (except for Dowland) were out of bounds because of their adoption by Vaughan
 Williams and the pastoralists. Two song arrangements date from at least 1939,
 several were done in the USA, and a much larger number were prompted by the
 1945 celebrations of the 250th anniversary of Purcell’s death. The choice was in tune
 with Britten’s aesthetic as an aspiring dramatic composer: he had already adopted a
 rhetorical style far beyond the parameters of contemporary English songwriters with
 their devotion to speech-rhythm, and was later in the booklet accompanying Peter
 Grimes to make a manifesto-like statement about restoring ‘to the musical setting of
 the English language a brilliance, freedom and vitality that have been curiously rare
 since the death of Purcell’
 Returned to England in 1942 to begin his hand at becoming a successful British
 opera composer, which no other contemporary Brit composer had been able to
 achieve.
 Began a close relationship with the Aldeburgh Festival, a venue where many of
 his works premiered.
 Wrote a “television opera” in 1970. Owen Wingrave, completed in August 1970,
 recorded in November and broadcast simultaneously in Europe and America in May
 1971.
 Britten went into hospital on 6 April 1973, and underwent an operation on 7 May
 to replace a failing heart valve. The operation was successful, but he suffered a slight
 stroke which affected his right hand, and the results were ultimately disappointing
 Died in the arms of Peter Pears.
 Like most remarkable composers he was inimitable, possessed of a distinctive
 voice which renovated every aspect of the classical tonal tradition in which he
 worked, a voice and sound too dangerous to imitate.
 His music is deceptively conservative but is rigorously individualistic and shirks
 the serialism and atonality
 Had appropriated some Asian influence that realized itself in exotic coloring and
 gamelan qualities.
 More attracted to Stravinsky than Schoenberg because Stravinsky’s music spoke
 to primary emotions
 He wrote few single songs, usually preferring interrelated sets of texts, such as
 The Holy Sonnets of John Donne (1945) and The Songs and Proverbs of William
 Blake (1965). The later is like Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte in that individual
 units cannot stand alone, a characteristic piano figure linking one to the next. In this
 cycle we hear Britten’s most advanced harmonic ideas, polytonality and atonality
 happily coexisting with diatonicism.
 His major contributions lie in the area of vocal music, specifically, solo songs,
 choral works, and operas. He also wrote a lot of challenging music for amateurs and
 children.
 Many of his works deal with Death
 Prior to 1942 his subjects tended to be instrumental but after they tended to be
 vocal
 Vaughan Williams and Britten were the first English giants since Purcell.
 Purcell’s music enjoyed a revival during the 20th century and several of Brittens’s
 works reflect his knowledge and appreciation of Purcell’s works.
 The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945) was a variation on a theme of
 Purcell followed by a fugue on an original theme by Britten.
 Some of the operas:
            Peter Grimes (1944-45)
            Paul Bunyan (1941)
            Albert Herring (1947)
            The Rape of Lucretia (1946)
            Billy Budd (1951)
            A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960)
            Owen Wingrave (1971)
 Fundamentally Britten’s operas deal with social issues
 The War Requiem (1961) performed at the consecration of the new Conventry
 Cathedral, is both a denunciation of war and a tribute to the British who died in WW
 II.
 “He was not an adherent to any set method or technique of composition, but was
 influenced by a number of widely varying composers in whose individual styles he
 found certain elements of interest.”
 Three types of songs most frequently heard:
            1. Purcell arrangements
            2. His own songs
            3. Folksong arrangements
 Britten loved to write music for children
 “In the folksong settings, Britten does not simply harmonize melodies, he gives
 them a new life through sparseness, simplicity, even independence of his
 accompaniment.”
 Britten was in constant contact with singers and knew their art. He was a
 conductor, pianist, and founder of the English Opera Company
 Three influences on song
            1. Enlargement of harmonic resource, particularly by simultaneous
                combination of tonic and dominant harmony.
            2. By florid, expansive, “Purcellian” treatment of melody, especially the
                extension of a single syllable (not necessarily in an emotional word)
                over a run of notes.
            3. By building of accompaniments not through the tension of chords into
                continuous flowing lines, but also through the use of short melodic
                motives often contrapuntally used and having both thematic and
                expressive value.
 Style of word setting was not text-oriented, but a conscious attempt to capture in
 music the essence of the poem the poet had created in verse.
 refused to go with the dogma, “tonality is exhausted”
-      Seven sonnets of Michelangelo
-       Les illuminations
-      The Holy Sonnets of John Donne
-      On this Island
-      Cabaret Songs
-      The Songs and Proverbs of William Blake
-      Winter Words
-      folk songs

Written by Britten to Pears about the 7 sonnets, “My will is yours alone, my thoughts are
                    born in your heart, my words are on your breath.”

								
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