Britten Programming Ideas for anniversary in 2013

Britten Programming Ideas for anniversary in 2013
Britten’s music is so widely known and frequently played, that making a special celebration for 2013 (the hundredth anniversary of his birth) presents concert planners with quite a challenge.

However, the abundance of Britten’s creative talent resulted in a large number of works that remain eclipsed by his better known achievements.  Many of these are not worthy of the neglect that has become their lot, and would be in the forefront of another composer’s oeuvre.  2013 must surely be the moment to revisit these pieces.  See below for ideas for short concert openers, jazz-related works, and the extraordinary collection of music for BBC plays that produced some of the composer’s most imaginative work.


Overtures & Concert Openers
The festal brass, bustling strings, brilliant solo writing and dazzling textures of the Occasional Overture were written in less than two months, during a particularly fertile compositional period.
Britten drafted this overture and intended its inclusion in the first production of Paul Bunyan. When Britten revised his popular operetta in the final years of his life, he composed a new brief introduction. Following Britten’s death, Colin Matthews orchestrated the original overture, using the instrumentation and colours of the opera, and it now stands as an exciting work in its own right.
The 1967 Aldeburgh Festival opened with a visit from Queen Elizabeth, a concert in the new Snape Maltings Concert Hall, and with this overture, composed to celebrate the ‘building of the house’. The work itself is as lively as the wonderful acoustic in which it was first performed, and although the version for choir and orchestra was most suitable for its premiere, the alternative versions for organ and orchestra or extra brass are just as effective.


Britten & Jazz
These four Cabaret Songs, composed between 1937 and 1939 but not published until 1980, were written for Hedli Anderson (later wife of the poet Louis MacNeice), a singer specialising in the performance of high quality ‘light music’.
They are lively and witty settings, clearly influenced by the popular hit songs of the day (à la Cole Porter) while the onomatopoeic train noises of Calypso clearly point forward to Midnight on the Great Western from the Thomas Hardy cycle Winter Words of 1953.  There is also a version for ensemble arranged by Daryl Runswick, Britten’s Blues.
J. B. Priestley’s Johnson Over Jordan is a modern morality play, in which a man on the verge of death revisits earlier periods in his life as he contemplates what he has become and where he is going. These different periods in the protagonist’s life stimulated Britten to write a remarkably evocative incidental score. ‘The Spider and the Fly’, his music for the play’s most climactic scene, set in a decadent night-club, incorporates 1930s jazz with great skill.
Concert Suites for Orchestra
Less of a suite and more of an operatic symphony, this continuous orchestral work functions as a précis to Britten’s final operatic utterance. It flows logically through the salient points of action, falling into several clearly differentiated sections, and thus includes some of the most dramatic and beautiful music of this extraordinary score, with its exotic gamelan-like ballet music.
There is also a suite available compiled by Paul Hindmarsh from the complete incidental music.

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