Author Topic: Benjamin Britten  (Read 78338 times)

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Offline T. D.

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #520 on: December 11, 2020, 01:14:10 PM »
Turns out I have the ASV recording by the Lindsay Quartet: Tippett SQ nr 4 and Britten's nr 3.

Oh gosh, don't remind me.
I bought that one years ago because it was the most convenient way to get Britten's #3 at the time. It's the only recording of theirs I still own (culled a couple of others). I think Britten's quartets are magnificent.
Not meaning to offend fans or UK critics, but I've always strongly disliked the playing of the Lindsays. Bought some recordings based on Gramophone (maybe also Penguin Guide, not sure) recommendations. No longer consult those sources.
« Last Edit: December 11, 2020, 01:17:26 PM by T. D. »

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #521 on: December 11, 2020, 01:31:29 PM »
Oh gosh, don't remind me.
I bought that one years ago because it was the most convenient way to get Britten's #3 at the time. It's the only recording of theirs I still own (culled a couple of others). I think Britten's quartets are magnificent.
Not meaning to offend fans or UK critics, but I've always strongly disliked the playing of the Lindsays. Bought some recordings based on Gramophone (maybe also Penguin Guide, not sure) recommendations. No longer consult those sources.

Yeah, I don’t care for the Lindsay’s either. You’re definitely not alone, but you’re also not alone in thinking the Britten SQs are magnificent. :)
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Online Mandryka

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #522 on: January 17, 2021, 02:01:00 AM »
How original is the serenade?


I mean we all know that Britten took some inspiration from Wozzek for Grimes. Is there music which he took inspiration from for the serenade?

And I have another question.

Ages ago I’m sure I read that the first version of Grimes had an extremely violent hut scene, which Britten toned down for the final version at the request of Sadler’s Wells. Is that right? I even have a vague memory of seeing a video of the original - but all this could be a hallucination.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2021, 02:03:47 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline knight66

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #523 on: January 17, 2021, 02:50:42 AM »
I have always assumed that Britten created the piece deliberately so that we don’t know whether he systematically abused the boys or was clumsy and unlucky. It is a similar ambiguity to what is actual and what imagined in The Turn of the Screw. But of course, it might be that he had other things in mind. There is a quartet of women which starts ‘From the gutter’, I have always heard echos the Straussian vocal lines there as in Rosenkavalier.

I have no info on genesis of the Serenade.

Do you know his Four French Songs? He wrote them as a teenager, they could almost be Ravel. I remember visiting the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. There the young Picasso emulated about half a dozen styles of other artists while he worked towards his own voice. Fascinating to see or to hear.

Mike
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Offline pjme

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #524 on: January 17, 2021, 03:06:27 AM »
I have no info on genesis of the Serenade.
From the Britten/Pears / Red House site:
"The work was originally called ‘Nocturnes’ – changed to Serenade before the first performance, and the nocturnal title saved for another fifteen years for another song cycle.

Britten composed it in a somewhat heightened state: many of his works were written at a feverish pace, but this time he literally had a fever from measles and was in an isolation ward in a London hospital while he began to work on it. It was one of the few major works he wrote in the year after returning from the USA in March 1942. To the forces employed in his earlier cycle Les Illuminations (voice and string orchestra) Britten adds the contrasting sonority of the French horn. He had met the horn player Dennis Brain while working for the BBC on his return to the UK and was energised and inspired by his outstanding musical talent. Britten had offered him a concerto, but ended up giving him the Serenade – one of the most enduring showcases for the French horn in the twentieth century repertoire."

https://brittenpears.org/explore/benjamin-britten/music/work-of-the-week/26-serenade/

As to "inspiration", I found this comment quite interesting:

In the Hymn, a movement based on text by Ben Jonson, Britten continues in the tradition of the Mozart and Strauss Horn Concertos by writing a rondo-like figure in 6/8 time.
....
Whilst the piece is by no means humorous, I can’t help but find connotations with the humour written into the horn part of the Mozart Horn Concertos by the composer himself, often making fun of, and insulting, the horn player. It cannot be a coincidence, or at least Britten himself must have had it in his conscience, that following a 6/8 movement (all of Mozart’s Horn Concertos finish with a lively 6/8 Rondo), Britten writes one of the lowest notes available on the horn (perhaps he liked the idea that one may miss this note and then have to walk off stage embarrassed) before the horn player has to leave in an almost comedic effect.
https://crosseyedpianist.com/2019/02/25/repertoire-in-focus-serenade-for-tenor-horn-and-strings-by-benjamin-britten/
« Last Edit: January 17, 2021, 03:24:27 AM by pjme »

Online Mandryka

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #525 on: January 17, 2021, 03:34:14 AM »
I have always assumed that Britten created the piece deliberately so that we don’t know whether he systematically abused the boys or was clumsy and unlucky. It is a similar ambiguity to what is actual and what imagined in The Turn of the Screw. But of course, it might be that he had other things in mind. There is a quartet of women which starts ‘From the gutter’, I have always heard echos the Straussian vocal lines there as in Rosenkavalier.

I have no info on genesis of the Serenade.

Do you know his Four French Songs? He wrote them as a teenager, they could almost be Ravel. I remember visiting the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. There the young Picasso emulated about half a dozen styles of other artists while he worked towards his own voice. Fascinating to see or to hear.

Mike

I don't know the French songs.

I've heard before that there's a link between Grimes and  Rosenkavelier, a formal one. I have a vague memory that it's to do with the openings, the first interlude and the Rosenkav overture. If I remember I'll post. I must say I think it's hard to let Grimes off the hook even in the final hut  scene, it's not good what he does.

"From the gutter" -- we used to call it The Feminist Music (I'm ashamed to say)  -- is my least favourite part of the opera.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2021, 03:39:26 AM by Mandryka »
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Online Mandryka

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #526 on: January 17, 2021, 03:36:22 AM »
From the Britten/Pears / Red House site:
"The work was originally called ‘Nocturnes’ – changed to Serenade before the first performance, and the nocturnal title saved for another fifteen years for another song cycle.

Britten composed it in a somewhat heightened state: many of his works were written at a feverish pace, but this time he literally had a fever from measles and was in an isolation ward in a London hospital while he began to work on it. It was one of the few major works he wrote in the year after returning from the USA in March 1942. To the forces employed in his earlier cycle Les Illuminations (voice and string orchestra) Britten adds the contrasting sonority of the French horn. He had met the horn player Dennis Brain while working for the BBC on his return to the UK and was energised and inspired by his outstanding musical talent. Britten had offered him a concerto, but ended up giving him the Serenade – one of the most enduring showcases for the French horn in the twentieth century repertoire."

https://brittenpears.org/explore/benjamin-britten/music/work-of-the-week/26-serenade/

As to "inspiration", I found this comment quite interesting:

In the Hymn, a movement based on text by Ben Jonson, Britten continues in the tradition of the Mozart and Strauss Horn Concertos by writing a rondo-like figure in 6/8 time.
....
Whilst the piece is by no means humorous, I can’t help but find connotations with the humour written into the horn part of the Mozart Horn Concertos by the composer himself, often making fun of, and insulting, the horn player. It cannot be a coincidence, or at least Britten himself must have had it in his conscience, that following a 6/8 movement (all of Mozart’s Horn Concertos finish with a lively 6/8 Rondo), Britten writes one of the lowest notes available on the horn (perhaps he liked the idea that one may miss this note and then have to walk off stage embarrassed) before the horn player has to leave in an almost comedic effect.
https://crosseyedpianist.com/2019/02/25/repertoire-in-focus-serenade-for-tenor-horn-and-strings-by-benjamin-britten/

Yes this morning I typed into spotify "horn strings" and of course it came up with the Mozart and Strauss! I was planning on listening later in the week.
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Offline knight66

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #527 on: January 17, 2021, 04:22:38 AM »
From the Britten/Pears / Red House site:
"The work was originally called ‘Nocturnes’ – changed to Serenade before the first performance, and the nocturnal title saved for another fifteen years for another song cycle.

Britten composed it in a somewhat heightened state: many of his works were written at a feverish pace, but this time he literally had a fever from measles and was in an isolation ward in a London hospital while he began to work on it. It was one of the few major works he wrote in the year after returning from the USA in March 1942. To the forces employed in his earlier cycle Les Illuminations (voice and string orchestra) Britten adds the contrasting sonority of the French horn. He had met the horn player Dennis Brain while working for the BBC on his return to the UK and was energised and inspired by his outstanding musical talent. Britten had offered him a concerto, but ended up giving him the Serenade – one of the most enduring showcases for the French horn in the twentieth century repertoire."

https://brittenpears.org/explore/benjamin-britten/music/work-of-the-week/26-serenade/

As to "inspiration", I found this comment quite interesting:

In the Hymn, a movement based on text by Ben Jonson, Britten continues in the tradition of the Mozart and Strauss Horn Concertos by writing a rondo-like figure in 6/8 time.
....
Whilst the piece is by no means humorous, I can’t help but find connotations with the humour written into the horn part of the Mozart Horn Concertos by the composer himself, often making fun of, and insulting, the horn player. It cannot be a coincidence, or at least Britten himself must have had it in his conscience, that following a 6/8 movement (all of Mozart’s Horn Concertos finish with a lively 6/8 Rondo), Britten writes one of the lowest notes available on the horn (perhaps he liked the idea that one may miss this note and then have to walk off stage embarrassed) before the horn player has to leave in an almost comedic effect.
https://crosseyedpianist.com/2019/02/25/repertoire-in-focus-serenade-for-tenor-horn-and-strings-by-benjamin-britten/

Thanks for digging that out, very interesting material. I have read about the piece, but more really on the very diverse texts. Very few composers chose their texts as carefully, it is a mosaic of great poetry. Britten and humour would be a whole topic to itself.

Britten was also inspired by the percussionist James Blades to write for exotic instruments, having conferred with him about various sounds he wanted to achieve. I think I remember correctly that as well as Blades sourcing far eastern instruments, he commissioned some makers to produce instruments to his design on behalf of Britten.

Mike
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Offline knight66

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #528 on: January 17, 2021, 04:33:52 AM »
I don't know the French songs.

I've heard before that there's a link between Grimes and  Rosenkavelier, a formal one. I have a vague memory that it's to do with the openings, the first interlude and the Rosenkav overture. If I remember I'll post. I must say I think it's hard to let Grimes off the hook even in the final hut  scene, it's not good what he does.

"From the gutter" -- we used to call it The Feminist Music (I'm ashamed to say)  -- is my least favourite part of the opera.

Oddly, that quartet is about my favourite part of it. I waited for it in the new version by Edward Gardner on Chandos. I had attended one of the concert performances given with the same forces, about the best performance of anything I have seen. But it was not on the first disc, nor on the second. Eventually I realised it would not play because my old CD player could not cope with a disc of over 80 minutes. I have just bought a new player, so Grimes and the Currentzis Mahler 6th can now annoy the neighbours in their entirely

As for letting Grimes off, he was to blame for sure. But I think we are supposed to be in doubt as to whether it was stupidity of a rough adult or whether Grimes was brutal and got something out of dominating and being abusive. 

Mike
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Online Mandryka

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #529 on: January 17, 2021, 04:39:09 AM »
To lose one boy apprentice may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.

When I read your post all I could think was that the combination of Peter Pears and "rough adult" is verging on the oxymoron.

It's years since I heard Grimes. I used to love it so much, I could practically sing all of it (in fact I remember singing most of it one cold winter's day waiting for a delayed train in Rome somewhere, but that's another story.) I may check out this new performance.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2021, 04:43:15 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline knight66

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #530 on: January 17, 2021, 05:35:04 AM »
I could never take Pears seriously in the part, either vocally or watching him. But Vickers really embodied the uncouth, socially dysfunctional poet. And Skelton is very fine. Britten never liked Vickers in the part.

Mike
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Offline pjme

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #531 on: January 17, 2021, 05:39:11 AM »
Article by James Conlon ( the conductor, I suppose....?). Precise and illuminating, I thought.

https://hudsonreview.com/2013/10/message-meaning-and-code-in-the-operas-of-benjamin-britten/#.YAQ5e-hKiHZ

3 fragments:

"The abuse of innocence is another Britten theme. Grimes is not guiltless, but his victimization by the townspeople qualifies him in this category nonetheless. It cannot be established that he was responsible for the death of one boy, and we see the circumstances of a second’s accidental death. It might be more just to place the blame for this second young death at the doorstep of the townspeople themselves. The “outraged” innocence of the two dead apprentices is beyond question.

Pears further remarked, “Grimes is not a hero nor is he an operatic villain. He is not a sadist, nor a demonic character, and the music quite clearly shows that. He is very much a weak person who, being at odds with the society in which he finds himself, tries to overcome it and, in doing so offends against the conventional code, is classed by society as a criminal, and destroyed as such. . . . There are plenty of Grimeses around still, I think.”

All these statements taken together add up to an indictment of society. Peter Grimes is a powerful tale of the plight of the outsider. The status of any homosexual male in England at the time was to be a man who finds himself “at odds with the society in which he finds himself.” Britten, like Grimes, “is an introspective, an artist.” Britten and Pears together felt “the individual against the crowd with ironic overtones for our [Britten and Pears’s] own situation.”

For decades after its brilliant international success, there was no widespread consideration given to the notion that Peter Grimes is also the story of a homosexual outcast. That nearly universal silence helped to obscure a key element in this story. Now, in 2013, I find it impossible not to discuss it. In staging the work today, interpretive choices can and must be made, but the question cannot be ignored."

"I am skeptical of psychoanalyzing composers through their music. Biography, whether psycho- or not, is fascinating, interesting and informative. It is also very often irrelevant. In art, literature and music, it is not the sources, muses or background that matter but the final product. The work of art and the artist are distinct. None of this, code and all, would interest us if the works of Britten and Shostakovich were not first and foremost great music, which needn’t be about anything. Ultimately, it is an extraordinary collection of notes, harmony, rhythms, chords, dissonances, noises and sounds which, obeying only its own laws of organization, results in a coherent and compelling whole."

"The meaning of his code, or even its existence, can be argued. Such codes are for the initiated, and it is nearly impossible to penetrate them. The power of the extraordinary combination of Britten’s musical, dramatic and theatrical genius has bequeathed us a rich legacy of works, whose mysteries are deeply hidden. They cannot be, and perhaps should not be, completely unearthed. Fortunately, they are covered with music so powerful, so expertly realized, so gripping, that it will compel us to keep digging long into the future."

 
« Last Edit: January 17, 2021, 05:40:53 AM by pjme »

Online Mandryka

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #532 on: January 17, 2021, 06:09:22 AM »
Article by James Conlon ( the conductor, I suppose....?). Precise and illuminating, I thought.

https://hudsonreview.com/2013/10/message-meaning-and-code-in-the-operas-of-benjamin-britten/#.YAQ5e-hKiHZ

3 fragments:

"The abuse of innocence is another Britten theme. Grimes is not guiltless, but his victimization by the townspeople qualifies him in this category nonetheless. It cannot be established that he was responsible for the death of one boy, and we see the circumstances of a second’s accidental death. It might be more just to place the blame for this second young death at the doorstep of the townspeople themselves. The “outraged” innocence of the two dead apprentices is beyond question.

Pears further remarked, “Grimes is not a hero nor is he an operatic villain. He is not a sadist, nor a demonic character, and the music quite clearly shows that. He is very much a weak person who, being at odds with the society in which he finds himself, tries to overcome it and, in doing so offends against the conventional code, is classed by society as a criminal, and destroyed as such. . . . There are plenty of Grimeses around still, I think.”

All these statements taken together add up to an indictment of society. Peter Grimes is a powerful tale of the plight of the outsider. The status of any homosexual male in England at the time was to be a man who finds himself “at odds with the society in which he finds himself.” Britten, like Grimes, “is an introspective, an artist.” Britten and Pears together felt “the individual against the crowd with ironic overtones for our [Britten and Pears’s] own situation.”

For decades after its brilliant international success, there was no widespread consideration given to the notion that Peter Grimes is also the story of a homosexual outcast. That nearly universal silence helped to obscure a key element in this story. Now, in 2013, I find it impossible not to discuss it. In staging the work today, interpretive choices can and must be made, but the question cannot be ignored."

"I am skeptical of psychoanalyzing composers through their music. Biography, whether psycho- or not, is fascinating, interesting and informative. It is also very often irrelevant. In art, literature and music, it is not the sources, muses or background that matter but the final product. The work of art and the artist are distinct. None of this, code and all, would interest us if the works of Britten and Shostakovich were not first and foremost great music, which needn’t be about anything. Ultimately, it is an extraordinary collection of notes, harmony, rhythms, chords, dissonances, noises and sounds which, obeying only its own laws of organization, results in a coherent and compelling whole."

"The meaning of his code, or even its existence, can be argued. Such codes are for the initiated, and it is nearly impossible to penetrate them. The power of the extraordinary combination of Britten’s musical, dramatic and theatrical genius has bequeathed us a rich legacy of works, whose mysteries are deeply hidden. They cannot be, and perhaps should not be, completely unearthed. Fortunately, they are covered with music so powerful, so expertly realized, so gripping, that it will compel us to keep digging long into the future."

One horrible thing about Grimes is that everyone lets him down, even Balstrode. I just find Grimes a really unsympathetic character -- I mean all he wants to do is win the respect of the Borough gossips by setting up household and shop, making money. He's a lumpenproletarian, aspiring middle class, Thatcher voter. If he lived in 2020 he would be gammon -- now eating his words because of the new fishing regulations.

One thing I'm sure of, Grimes wasn't

"an introspective, an artist.”

When John Vickers played him!
« Last Edit: January 17, 2021, 06:19:31 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline knight66

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #533 on: January 17, 2021, 07:56:47 AM »
Article by James Conlon ( the conductor, I suppose....?). Precise and illuminating, I thought.

https://hudsonreview.com/2013/10/message-meaning-and-code-in-the-operas-of-benjamin-britten/#.YAQ5e-hKiHZ

3 fragments:

"The abuse of innocence is another Britten theme. Grimes is not guiltless, but his victimization by the townspeople qualifies him in this category nonetheless. It cannot be established that he was responsible for the death of one boy, and we see the circumstances of a second’s accidental death. It might be more just to place the blame for this second young death at the doorstep of the townspeople themselves. The “outraged” innocence of the two dead apprentices is beyond question.

Pears further remarked, “Grimes is not a hero nor is he an operatic villain. He is not a sadist, nor a demonic character, and the music quite clearly shows that. He is very much a weak person who, being at odds with the society in which he finds himself, tries to overcome it and, in doing so offends against the conventional code, is classed by society as a criminal, and destroyed as such. . . . There are plenty of Grimeses around still, I think.”

All these statements taken together add up to an indictment of society. Peter Grimes is a powerful tale of the plight of the outsider. The status of any homosexual male in England at the time was to be a man who finds himself “at odds with the society in which he finds himself.” Britten, like Grimes, “is an introspective, an artist.” Britten and Pears together felt “the individual against the crowd with ironic overtones for our [Britten and Pears’s] own situation.”

For decades after its brilliant international success, there was no widespread consideration given to the notion that Peter Grimes is also the story of a homosexual outcast. That nearly universal silence helped to obscure a key element in this story. Now, in 2013, I find it impossible not to discuss it. In staging the work today, interpretive choices can and must be made, but the question cannot be ignored."

"I am skeptical of psychoanalyzing composers through their music. Biography, whether psycho- or not, is fascinating, interesting and informative. It is also very often irrelevant. In art, literature and music, it is not the sources, muses or background that matter but the final product. The work of art and the artist are distinct. None of this, code and all, would interest us if the works of Britten and Shostakovich were not first and foremost great music, which needn’t be about anything. Ultimately, it is an extraordinary collection of notes, harmony, rhythms, chords, dissonances, noises and sounds which, obeying only its own laws of organization, results in a coherent and compelling whole."

"The meaning of his code, or even its existence, can be argued. Such codes are for the initiated, and it is nearly impossible to penetrate them. The power of the extraordinary combination of Britten’s musical, dramatic and theatrical genius has bequeathed us a rich legacy of works, whose mysteries are deeply hidden. They cannot be, and perhaps should not be, completely unearthed. Fortunately, they are covered with music so powerful, so expertly realized, so gripping, that it will compel us to keep digging long into the future."

The ambiguities that Britten inserts into this story are part of what makes it so three dimensional. I refer to it as an opera for grownups, as against the cardboard figures of some composers who mainly want to provide a display of the voice. Any production that highlights a gay interpretation is just mining what is there. The constant outsider element in Brittens operas is obviously connected to his own perceived status. Despite being left in peace and being at the centre of English cultural life during a time when many were prosecuted, there would have been plenty of prejudice encountered. Britten had lots of input into the adaptation of the character in the original poem and made him less clearcut, less of a villain.

Grimes hardly seems to be a member of the lumpenproletariat. The words he is given to sing indicate a man with a tortured inner life about which is is positively poetic. He wants a normal looking life, but that is not going to happen. He is frightened a lot. There are a number of valid ways to play the character.

It is a long time since I have seen Conlon’s name. About 1978 I was in a gig of his at the Hollywood Bowl, Alexander Nevsky. We had prepared using the British daughter of a Russian to smarten up our pronunciation. Conlon very pleasantly deconstructed our Russian and put it back together in double quick time. There were some players in the LA Phil who had come over from Russia after the war. As we were walking through the grounds after the performance, two of the violinists, with what sounded like Russian accents, asked me who had trained us in Russian They were amused at the answer saying that, there was nothing ‘Jimmy’ did not know, he was a whiz kid. End of digression.

Mike



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Online Mandryka

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Re: Benjamin Britten
« Reply #534 on: January 17, 2021, 08:44:29 AM »
The ambiguities that Britten inserts into this story are part of what makes it so three dimensional. I refer to it as an opera for grownups, as against the cardboard figures of some composers who mainly want to provide a display of the voice. Any production that highlights a gay interpretation is just mining what is there. The constant outsider element in Brittens operas is obviously connected to his own perceived status. Despite being left in peace and being at the centre of English cultural life during a time when many were prosecuted, there would have been plenty of prejudice encountered. Britten had lots of input into the adaptation of the character in the original poem and made him less clearcut, less of a villain.

Grimes hardly seems to be a member of the lumpenproletariat. The words he is given to sing indicate a man with a tortured inner life about which is is positively poetic. He wants a normal looking life, but that is not going to happen. He is frightened a lot. There are a number of valid ways to play the character.

It is a long time since I have seen Conlon’s name. About 1978 I was in a gig of his at the Hollywood Bowl, Alexander Nevsky. We had prepared using the British daughter of a Russian to smarten up our pronunciation. Conlon very pleasantly deconstructed our Russian and put it back together in double quick time. There were some players in the LA Phil who had come over from Russia after the war. As we were walking through the grounds after the performance, two of the violinists, with what sounded like Russian accents, asked me who had trained us in Russian They were amused at the answer saying that, there was nothing ‘Jimmy’ did not know, he was a whiz kid. End of digression.

Mike

Re lumpenproletariat, I don't want to do it now but it would be interesting to compare Grimes and Wozzeck in Marxist terms. I have a feeling that Berg will come off better (in Marxist terms!)

Wozzeck was also an outsider, he wanted to set up household with Marie, he was ultimately let down by everyone including his friend Andres and his wife and indeed the whole community, he had strange visions (Great bear type visions), both suicided in a watery way. The structure and the content are both very similar in many respects.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2021, 08:48:52 AM by Mandryka »
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