Monday, 17 September 2012

Britten 100 in print and manuscript

In print and manuscript, there are a varied selection of contributions to Britten 100. The British Library will be displaying manuscripts from its fine collection of Britten's m/s, including its recent acquisition The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra, in print there are newly published pieces, new editions of classic Britten pieces and a clutch of books including two new biographies and memoirs by Ronald Blythe and Beth Britten.


The British Library has acquired the original manuscript to The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra and it is being displayed in 2013 as part of an exhibition which will demonstrate Britten's compositional methods, showing how pieces developed. Though in fact there are no known sketches for The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra and it appears to have been written into the manuscript directly. The library's exhibition will include not only manuscripts of key works such as the War Requiem, Gloriana, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Curlew River, but also unique recordings from the Library's sound collections.

One of the interesting things about Britten is how well documented in sound he is, especially as there are live or studio recordings of him conducting such a wide variety of his works. He must be one of the first composers to be so well self-documented in a such a way. Notable because many of his own recordings are not just historical documents, but remain essential musical performances as well.

In print, Music Sales are releasing Britten's Two Psalms, for the first time. They were written in 1931 but never performed, they get their first performance on 1 December 2012 with the Oxford Bach Choir and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Cleobury.

Over at Faber Musc, they are releasing new versions of the scores of the three Church Parables (Curlew River, The Burning Fiery Furnace and The Prodigal Son) in a boxed set, with new commentaries. They are also publishing a selection of Britten's chamber music. Britten was himself considering editing and releasing these works for publication, evidently he had a large and diverse collection of juvenilia and early works. Not every composer's early works are worth examining, but Britten as so prodigious, so early, that there is much of potential interest. Those being issued next year are the Trio for violin, viola and piano (1929), 6 Early Songs (1929-31), Variations for piano (1965, complete by David Mathews) as well as Nobuko Imai's transcriptions for viola of the cello suites.

Boosey and Hawkes, of course, already publish the vast majority of Britten's music. Their new publications for 2013 include three songs which Britten withdrew from Les Illuminations (these certainly should be more than fascinating), and David Matthews's orchestration, and expansion, of A Charm of Lullabyes which was originally written for mezzo-soprano and piano.

At Faber and Faber there are a selection of new books. These include a memoir by Ronald Blythe, of his time in Aldburgh in the late 1950's, being drawn in Britten's circle. They are also re-issuing Beth Britten's memoir of her brother.

Over at Boydell and Brewer, a landmark reaches conclusion in November 2012 with the sixth and final volume of Letters form a life: the Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten. The project started in 1991, supported by the Britten Pears Foundations, a chance to assess Britten in his own words. They are also publishing Britten in Pictures, a pictorial record of the composer's life. And they are re-issuing five volumes of the Aldeburgh Studies in Music, on topics such as Britten's relationship with Auden and the evolution and reception of Gloriana.

There are at least two biographies promised. Paul Kildea, writer conductor and ex-artistic director of the Wigmore Hall, has a biography published by Allen Lane. And Suffolk base biographer, editor and poet, Neil Powell has his biography Britten: A Life for Music published by Hutchinson. Both promise their own distinct points of view, but the acid test is of course to read them.

Further information from the Britten 100 website.

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