Britten 100

Episodes

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Albert Herring20131123

Live from the Barbican, Steuart Bedford conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra and a fabulous ensemble cast including Christine Brewer as Lady Billows, Gillian Keith as Miss Wordsworth, Roderick Williams as Mr Gedge and rising star Andrew Staples as Albert himself.

Presented by Donald Macleod with contributions from Steuart Bedford who knew and worked with Britten, and members of the cast. Plus, in the Radio 3 Opera Guide at about eight o'clock, soprano Dame Josephine Barstow and Britten experts Paul Kildea and Christopher Wintle uncover the sophistication that lies at the heart of Brittten's comic masterpiece.

Britten: Albert Herring

Lady Billows - Christine Brewer (soprano)

Florence Pike - Gaynor Keeble (mezzo)

Miss Wordsworth - Gillian Keith (soprano)

Mr Gedge - Roderick Williams (baritone)

Mr Upfold - Adrian Thompson (tenor)

Superintendent Budd - Matthew Rose (bass)

Sid - Marcus Farnsworth (baritone)

Albert - Andrew Staples (tenor)

Nancy - Kitty Whately (mezzo)

Mrs Herring - Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo)

BBC Symphony Orchestra

Steuart Bedford (conductor)

Kenneth Richardson (director)

In the Suffolk town of Loxford, the lax morals of the local girls preclude local worthy Lady Billows from finding an appropriate candidate to crown May Queen. Desperate times call for desperate measures and she finds a suitably virtuous May King in Albert Herring, whose domineering mother has kept him on the straight and narrow. But it only takes lemonade spiked with rum for Albert to go off the rails and discover there's more to life than than doing what mother tells him.

Once again Britten found inspiration on his doorstep but unlike the grim tale of Peter Grimes from a couple years earlier, Albert Herring's affectionate parody of small-town life is a comic tour de force.

Backgrounds To Britten20131124

The BBC Singers perform some of Britten's most popular and best-loved pieces for choir, plus music by other composers he admired, including Purcell and Bridge, and a world premiere. Presented live from St Edmund's Church, Southwold by Sean Rafferty.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia

Bridge: Music when soft voices die

Britten: Choral Dances from Gloriana

Sean Shepherd: Daffodils (first performance)

Purcell: I was glad

Britten: Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria

Ireland: Ex ore innocentium

Britten: A Shepherd's Carol

Britten: Rejoice in the Lamb

BBC Singers

Iain Farrington (organ)

David Hill (conductor)

Music for voices - both solo and in ensemble - is at the heart of Britten's compositional output, reflecting both his personal fascination with vocal timbres as well as his lifelong preoccupation with creating a body of work which could be performed and enjoyed by amateurs and professionals alike. Choral works, in fact, form an arc which reaches from his earliest compositions to some of the very last he wrote. In this afternoon's concert the BBC Singers - who themselves have premiered a number of Britten's most important pieces - perform a selection of his best-loved choral works, together with some by other composers he admired and who influenced him - including teachers John Ireland and Frank Bridge, and the great 17th-century master Henry Purcell. Alongside these, Britten's most substantial solo work for the organ, and the first performance of a new choral piece by Sean Shepherd - one of several commissioned by Aldeburgh Music to mark this Britten centenary year.

Bbc Symphony Orchestra Centenary Concert20131122

Who better to lead the Britten Centenary Concert than Oliver Knussen? Since first meeting Britten as a young child, to becoming Artistic Director of the Aldeburgh Festival, and helping to shape the Britten-Pears School, the composer-conductor has been inextricably linked with Britten's legacy. Any Knussen concert is special but this one, coming from the superb Snape Maltings Concert Hall, created by Britten himself, is unmissable with its combination of the rarely heard, well-known and new.

The concert's first part has the ebulient Cantata Academica, whose tongue-in-cheek title has surely kept it a rarity, and the famous Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes. A specially commissioned world premiere by Ryan Wigglesworth starts the second half which ends with Britten's first major orchestral work, the Spring Symphony. It's a vibrant celebration of the seasons, with wonderful settings of English poetry (and cow-horn), the perfect piece to end a special occasion.

Presented by Tom Service, who talks to composer Ryan Wigglesworth and Lucy Walker from the Britten Pears Foundation in the interval.

Britten: Cantata Academica

Britten: Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia (Peter Grimes)

Ryan Wigglesworth: Locke's Theatre (world premiere)

Britten: Spring Symphony

Claire Booth (soprano)

Monica Groop (mezzo soprano)

Robert Murray (tenor)

Christopher Purves (baritone)

Norwich Cathedral Choristers

Choirs of Norwich School and Norwich High School for Girls

BBC Symphony Chorus

BBC Symphony Orchestra

Oliver Knussen (conductor).

Bridcut's Britten20131122

Suzy Klein finds out from award-winning film-maker and writer John Bridcut about the inspiration Britten drew from children, film, sport and his need to win. Including excerpts from Simple Symphony, Quatre chansons françaises, Sinfonietta, A Ceremony of Carols, The Turn of the Screw, and Night Mail.

Britten Answers20131124

Tom Service and John Bridcut answer your questions about Britten and ask which performers and composers inspired him and why. Live from Snape Maltings

Mozart: Allegro molto (Sonata in D major for two pianos, K 448)

Sviatoslav Richter and Benjamin Britten (pianos)

Schubert: Die Sterne, D 939; Nachtviolen, D 752; Auflösung, D 807

Peter Pears (tenor)

Benjamin Britten (piano)

Mahler (arr. Britten): "What the wild flowers tell me" (Minuet from Sympnony No 3)

English Chamber Orchestra

Benjamin Britten (conductor)

Purcell (realised Britten): I attempt from love's sickness to fly; I'll sail upon the Dog-star; There's not a Swain of the plain; Man is for the woman made

Schubert: Allegro Moderato (Arpeggione Sonata, D 821)

Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)

Tchaikovsky: Finale (Souvenir de Florence, Op 48)

email: britten@bbc.co.uk

#britten100.

Britten Round-up20131124

Live from Snape, Suzy Klein, Tom Service and John Bridcut look back over the centenary weekend and its highlights to see what it has revealed about Britten as composer, performer and man.

Cd Review20131123

Live from Snape Maltings, Andrew McGregor and John Bridcut pick some of the plums from a bumper year for recordings of Britten's music. And on a day themed 'Festival of Britten', they look at the recorded legacy of the Aldeburgh Festival, including some highlights from Britten's own performances.

britten@bbc.co.uk

#britten100.

Family Concert20131123

Live from Snape Maltings, Suzy Klein presents a fun concert for children of all ages. It includes Britten's virtuoso introduction to the family of orchestral instruments, 'The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra' (with CBBC's Johny Pitts as narrator) and 'Soirées Musicales', his sparkling arrangement of Rossini tunes. The boy from Lowestoft who became one of the greatest of English composers would surely have relished the three specially commissioned choruses by young composers sung by local schools' choirs. And the concert begins with his last ever piece, the jolly 'Welcome Ode', also written for Suffolk schoolchildren.

Britten: Welcome Ode

Britten: Soirées Musicales

Luke Fitzgerald: A Wish

Jay Richardson: And Death Shall Have No Dominion

Anna Meredith: My Car

Britten: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

Choirs of: County Upper School Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich School, Woodbridge School

Julian Jarvis, Andrew Leach, Claire Weston (conductors)

Johny Pitts (narrator)

BBC Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Gourlay (conductor).

In Tune: Britten Centenary Weekend Launch20131122

Sean Rafferty launches BBC Radio 3's weekend marking Britten's centenary with a special edition of In Tune, live from The Britten Studio at Snape Maltings. There's live performance from Aldeburgh Strings, tenor Allan Clayton and horn player Richard Watkins. And linking up to London and Salford, the BBC Singers perform Britten's Hymn to St Cecilia and the BBC Philharmonic join the celebrations with two newly orchestrated songs from his 'Friday Afternoons' sung by 230 voices from the Greater Manchester Music Hub Junior Choir. Sean and his guests will be reflecting on the integral connection between Britten's music and his Suffolk surroundings, and two local children's choirs will give the world premieres of works by young composers Tom Rose and Emily Hall.

From the actual afternoon of Benjamin Britten's 100th birthday on Friday 22 November until the following Sunday evening, Radio 3 will be relocating to Suffolk, the county of Britten's birth and where he felt most firmly rooted. Based in Snape Maltings, where Britten created one of the UK's finest concert halls, it will be a weekend packed with broadcasts of live and specially recorded performances from Suffolk venues, including those in Aldeburgh, Snape, Orford and the town of Britten's birth, Lowestoft.

There will also be features, discussions, contributions from those who knew and worked with Britten, plus his recordings both of his and others' music, bringing to life Britten the composer, Britten the performer and Britten the man.

The weekend will include selections from two sepcially recorded interviews excerpted for broadcast and available online in full:

Pianist Murray Perahia talks about his unique insight into Britten's extraordinary piano playing. When he took over from Britten as Peter Pears' accompanist, Perahia received personal coaching from the composer.

Marion Thorpe, one of Britten's closest friends, reveals a very personal portrait of the composer she knew so well.

Twelve mini-features get closer to Britten the man. 'Britten at Home' looks at Britten and Cars, Sport, Pets, Food, Clothes, Games, while 'Britten's Suffolk' explores the importance to Britten of his environment and look at The Sea, Churches, Lowestoft and Greshams, Aldeburgh, The Red House, The Maltings.

Regular Radio 3 presenters Suzy Klein, Tom Service, Sean Rafferty, Louise Fryer and Andrew McGregor are joined by Britten expert John Bridcut for an unmissable weekend.

Noye's Fludde20131124

Britten wanted to be at the centre his community, a composer who wrote demanding and satisfying music for that community, whether his musicians be children, amateur or professional. With Noye's Fludde he reached that ideal (even the audience plays a part) in a work that is celebratory, serious, fun and profoundly moving. Performed in Britten's birthplace, it's a fitting musical end to the centenary celebrations.

Louise Fryer presents this live performance from St Margaret's Church in Lowestoft. Andrew Shore is Noye, Felicity Palmer is Mrs Noye and Zeb Soanes is The Voice of God. The Navarra Quartet and young people from Lowestoft schools and choirs are conducted by Paul Kildea.

Britten: Noye's Fludde

Noye - Andrew Shore (baritone)

Mrs Noye - Felicity Palmer (soprano)

The Voice of God - Zeb Soanes (speaker)

The Navarra Quartet

Paul Kildea (conductor).

Saint Nicolas20131123

Britten's cantata Saint Nicolas, at once theatrical and solemn, humorous and quirky, was premiered in the opening concert of the first Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. As on that occasion, this live performance comes from Aldeburgh Parish Church. With its mainly amateur forces, including the community itself in the shape of the audience, it set a pattern that established the values at the heart of Britten's artistic credo: 'I want my music to be of use to people, to please them, to enhance their lives.' Introduced by Sean Rafferty in conversation with Ben Parry.

Britten: Saint Nicolas

Alan Oke (tenor)

Jubilee Opera Chorus

Aldeburgh Voices

The Suffolk Ensemble

Ben Parry (conductor)

David Briggs (Children's Chorus conductor).

Singing For Britten20131123

Benjamin Britten was notoriously particular about the professional musicians he worked with (a close-knit circle of friends) and he had famously high musical standards. Yet all his life he embraced working with amateurs and children. John Bridcut tracks down amateur singers from Suffolk and beyond to share their experiences of singing for Britten - and to discover why it was so special.

John Bridcut sang for Britten as a student in 1971, on the recording of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. It's an experience he will never forget:

'How I wish I could remember every moment of those recording sessions. But at the time I was far too busy getting the notes right. What has stayed with me is Britten's crystal-clear beat, and his nervous intensity. He demanded the most of you. When he first appeared, he greeted our chorus master with a kiss on both cheeks - that sort of thing was quite rare in those days - and the whole of the London Symphony Chorus cheered!'

John returns to Suffolk, to Britten's Snape Maltings, to swap memories with two fellow singers from that summer more than forty years ago. He also talks to long-standing members of Britten's 'house choir', the Aldeburgh Festival Singers; Suffolk children who sang for Britten in the 1940s and 1950s; and two retired doctors who've not seen each other since they sang on Britten's celebrated recording of his War Requiem as schoolboys.

Britten worked with amateur singers right to the end of his career. John Bridcut asks what he drew from them, and why working with amateurs was so central to his vision of music being 'useful, and to the living'.

Producers: Jane Greenwood and Elizabeth Burke

Words And Music: Britten's Poets20131123

Benjamin Britten's settings of poetry have earned him comparisons with Schubert. He spoke of his desire to 'restore to the musical setting of the English language a brilliance, freedom and vitality' and this he did through the poets he loved, from John Donne and Henry Vaughan to Rimbaud and W.H Auden. In this special edition of Words and Music Alex Jennings and Diana Quick read a selection of verse by the poets who captivated Britten, alongside recordings of some of his best-loved settings, including the Canticles, Les Illuminations and the War Requiem.

Both readers have an association with Britten: Alex Jennings played the composer in Alan Bennett's play The Habit of Art about a fictional meeting between Auden and Britten.

Diana Quick has a home on the Suffolk Coast and has been involved in Britten centenary celebrations.

01Britten, The Boy From Lowestoft20131118

, becomes the enfant terrible of British music.

From relatively humdrum origins in the coastal fishing port of Lowestoft, Benjamin Britten rose to become the pre-eminent British composer of his day, celebrated not just in his native land, but internationally. Although he initially saw himself as an outsider to the British musical establishment, he would rapidly transform music-making in Britain, introducing new sounds, and insisting on the highest standards of performance. By the time of his death in 1976, in the arms of his long-term companion Peter Pears, Britten was celebrated as a composer of operas, string quartets and song cycles, and of a War Requiem that touched the hearts of millions of listeners around the world.

Born in Lowestoft on St Cecilia's Day (the patron saint of music) on November 22 1913, the son of a dentist and a doting mother, Britten soon demonstrated prodigious musical gifts. Composing from at least the age of six, Britten would often mine his early manuscripts for inspiration. As a boy, Britten managed to impress the composer Frank Bridge, who took him on as a pupil (and to whom he payed tribute in his Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge). Later, Britten would enter the Royal College of Music, to be taught composition by John Ireland and piano by Arthur Benjamin.

At the age of 19 Britten delighted his dying father with the prospect of having one of his compositions played on the BBC. 'Son, how does it feel?' asked his father.

By 1936, Britten had a number of published works to his name. Now employed to write film music for the innovative GPO film unit, he was introduced to the dazzling presence of poet WH Auden while working on films about postage stamps or coal trucks. Their collaborations for film were adventurous; even more daring was the song cycle they devised, reflecting man's relationship with the animal kingdom. With Our Hunting Fathers Britten truly felt that he had written his Opus 1. Unfortunately, the critics and the orchestra rather wished he hadn't bothered!

Donald Macleod focuses on Britten's early years.

02Britten In The Late 1930s20131119

Donald Macleod focuses on Britten's work in America.

Britten sails off to America for a new life with his companion Peter Pears

From relatively humdrum origins in the coastal fishing port of Lowestoft, Benjamin Britten rose to become the pre-eminent British composer of his day, celebrated not just in his native land, but internationally. Although he would initially see himself as an outsider to the British musical establishment, he would rapidly transform music-making in Britain, introducing new sounds, and insisting on the highest standards of performance. By the time of his death in 1976, in the arms of his long-term companion Peter Pears, Britten was celebrated as a composer of operas, string quartets and song cycles, and of a War Requiem that touched the hearts of millions of listeners around the world.

Amid the national influenza outbreak, illness struck Britten's sister, and subsequently his mother. Although his sister would survive, his mother would not and her death both closed one chapter, and opened another in his life. Her legacy allowed him to buy the Old Mill at Snape, and it was there he completed work on his uncharacteristically dazzling Piano Concerto ? a popular success, but a critical failure.

As Britten came to terms with his homosexuality, he sought companionship among members of his own sex, meeting Peter Pears and a wider circle of friends.

The complexity of Britten's own romantic attachments is demonstrated by his settings of poems by Rimbaud, in Les Illuminations. And as Donald McLeod observes he was also capable of a popular touch, setting Auden's thought-provoking lyrics on the nature of love in a set of Cabaret Songs.

From good friends, flatmates and travel companions, Britten and Pears become lovers whilst in America. But they enjoyed mixed fortunes there, and feeling homesick they decide to head back to the UK in 1942. Aboard the ship home Britten completes his last collaboration with Auden: Hymn to St Cecilia.

03The Return To Wartime Britain20131120

Donald Macleod focuses on Britten and his companion Peter Pears's return to their homeland

Reviled as a pacifist, Britten ends the War finding critical favour.

From relatively humdrum origins in the coastal fishing port of Lowestoft, Benjamin Britten rose to become the pre-eminent British composer of his day, celebrated not just in his native land, but internationally. Although he would initially see himself as an outsider to the British musical establishment, he would rapidly transform music-making in Britain, introducing new sounds, and insisting on the highest standards of performance. By the time of his death in 1976, in the arms of his long-term companion Peter Pears, Britten was celebrated as a composer of operas, string quartets and song cycles, and of a War Requiem that touched the hearts of millions of listeners around the world.

Returning to their homeland, Britten and Peers faced possible vilification, arrest and imprisonment for their pacifist beliefs. Instead, they managed to achieve recognition as conscientious objectors. They were free to perform. Moreover, they were able to perform some of the exciting compositions Britten had completed whilst in the US.

At last Britten began to achieve critical approval for both his Michelangelo Sonnets and his Serenade for tenor and horn - featuring the talents of a promising young horn player, Dennis Brain, whom Britten had encountered in the RAF orchestra. Britten completed his project to write an opera, the tale of Peter Grimes which was so improbably successful that even bus conductors are heard to talk about it! In July 1945 Britten accompanied Yehudi Menuhin in a series of recitals among the survivors of Belsen. One response to that experience, about which he spoke very seldom, was his 2nd String Quartet. In the same year, Britten would also create a lasting and invigorating legacy for young people with his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Originally a film score, it is now enjoyed in its own right.

04Britten During The 1950s20131121

Donald Macleod on how Britten became the foremost composer of opera in English.

Britten becomes the foremost composer of opera in English, and establishes his own festival.

From relatively humdrum origins in the coastal fishing port of Lowestoft, Benjamin Britten rose to become the pre-eminent British composer of his day, celebrated not just in his native land, but internationally. Although he would initially see himself as an outsider to the British musical establishment, he would rapidly transform music-making in Britain, introducing new sounds, and insisting on the highest standards of performance. By the time of his death in 1976, in the arms of his long-term companion Peter Pears, Britten was celebrated as a composer of operas, string quartets and song cycles, and of a War Requiem that touched the hearts of millions of listeners around the world.

Britten has become almost synonymous with Aldburgh, after moving to the coastal town and making it his home. There he and Pears conceived the idea of a small-scale festival to perform works by Britten and other composers. Among these would be chamber operas, such as the comic masterpiece Albert Herring.

Although, financially, Britten was better off than ever, he had more than his share of critical failures. As Donald explains, it was in a state of depression in 1949 that he struggled to write his Spring Symphony, the first movement somehow echoing the bleakness of his mood.

Always a man with several projects on the go, it was while working on the score for Billy Budd that Britten wrote the exquisitely beautiful second canticle, Abraham and Isaac, for the voices of Peter Pears and Kathleen Ferrier. Sadly, Ferrier succumbed to cancer before she was able to record the work for posterity.

Donald ends today's story with the strange tale of abused children and a ghostly presence. With the Turn of the Screw, Britten discovered a future film star of the 1960s (David Hemmings), and took Venice by storm.

05 LASTFinal Years And Late Masterpieces20131122

His health in decline, Britten produces his final masterpieces.

From relatively humdrum origins in the coastal fishing port of Lowestoft, Benjamin Britten rose to become the pre-eminent British composer of his day, celebrated not just in his native land, but internationally. Although he initially saw himself as an outsider to the British musical establishment, he would rapidly transform music-making in Britain; introducing new sounds, and insisting on the highest standards of performance. By the time of his death in 1976, in the arms of his long-term companion Peter Pears, Britten was celebrated as a composer of operas, string quartets and song cycles, and of a War Requiem that touched the hearts of millions of listeners around the world.

By the late 1950s and the early 1960s Britten's pacifism was no longer a particularly eccentric position to hold. A supporter of the Peace Movement, Britten was delighted to be commissioned to write a piece to mark the opening of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral. That piece, the War Requiem, would become one of the fastest selling classical records of all time! One inspiration throughout the 1960s was cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Despite linguistic differences (they spoke in 'Aldeburgh Deutsch') they got on famously well, and among other things Britten composed a Cello Symphony in Rostropovich's honour.

Dogged by increasingly frail health, Britten struggled to complete his final opera, Death in Venice. And yet, despite increasingly insistent intimations of his own mortality, his last years witnessed an extraordinary burst of creativity, including a chamber cantata, Phaedra.

Donald concludes this week's look at the life and music of Benjamin Britten with the last two movements of one of the last pieces he completed: his third string quartet.