Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Random soundings - Britten

Just a few days ago I picked up a bargain from a charity shop: the orchestral study score of Britten's War Requiem for two UK pounds. The War Requiem was one of the works I studied for a GCE Music examination, but then we had the vocal score only. As well as Britten we also studied Walton- here the selected works were Belshazzar's Feast and Facade. I vaguely remember listening to the premiere on BBC Radio 3, and subsequently borrowing the LPs from our local record library. So I already knew the work when we started studying it at school.

Britten has always ranked highly in my estimation. His operas were the main argument for me overcoming my deeply set prejudice against opera as a musical genre. I found the Covent Garden production of PETER GRIMES with Jon Vickers in the title role quite overwhelming, and THE TURN OF THE SCREW never loses its power to be eerily beguiling and quite frightening in equal measures.

Yesterday I again came across Britten's name, whilst reading David Attenborough's autobiography 'Life on Air'. He first met Britten when he was Controller for BBC2 in its early days. Britten was to write an opera for television (OWEN WINGRAVE) and Attenborough found him quite forbidding and daunting to deal with. This didn't quite square with my view of Britten through his music, but I guess that it may well be that Britten may well have had some nervousness and misgivings about creating an opera for the relatively new medium of TV and it showed in his behaviour.

Before I leave this thread of the blog, apropos of the WAR REQUIEM - one of the choristers in the original performances of the WAR REQUIEM was John Rutter who went on to be a composer. I recently came across a CD of his where he mentioned this involvement in the sleeve notes, and it was his desire in the music featured to write a rather sunnier Mass with children's voices. The music sounded perfect for Classic FM, in the same way that recent compositions by Jon Lord (he of Deep Purple fame) have struck a chord with Classic FM listeners, charming but uninvolving.

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