Benjamin Britten

Canzoni contro la guerra di Benjamin Britten
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Benjamin BrittenLowestoft, nel Suffolk, figlio di un dentista, musicista amatoriale ma dotato di un certo talento. Iniziò a comporre in modo alquanto prolifico già da bambino e nel 1927 iniziò delle lezioni private con Frank Bridge. Studiò anche, con minor entusiasmo, al Royal College of Music con John Ireland ed altri. La sua prima composizione che attirò l'attenzione generale fu la variazione corale A Boy was Born, scritta nel 1934 per i BBC Singers.

L'anno successivo incontrò W. H. Auden col quale collaborò al ciclo di canzoni Our Hunting Fathers e anche in altri lavori, ambedue radicali sia per la visione politica, sia per le interpretazioni musicali. Ancor più importante fu l'incontro nel 1936 con il tenore Peter Pears, che divenne un fedele collaboratore e compagno di vita. All'inizio del 1939 i due seguirono Auden in America, dove Britten compose la sua prima opera su libretto di Auden e la prima delle sue numerose canzoni per Pears. Lo stesso periodo è memorabile per il numero di opere per orchestra, tra cui numerosi concerti per pianoforte e violino e la Sinfonia da Requiem.

Britten e Pears fecero ritorno in Inghilterra nel 1942 e Britten completò l'opera corale Inno a Santa Cecilia (la sua ultima collaborazione con Auden) e A Ceremony of Carols durante il lungo viaggio in mare. Aveva già cominciato a lavorare alla sua opera Peter Grimes, e la première al Sadler's Wells nel 1945 fu il suo, fino ad allora, maggior successo. Britten, comunque, stava incontrando una certa opposizione in settori del mondo musicale inglese e, gradualmente, si ritirò dalla scena londinese fondando l'English Opera Group nel 1947 ed l' Aldeburgh Festival l'anno successivo, parzialmente anche se non solo per rappresentare i suoi stessi lavori.

Grimes segnò l'inizio della serie delle opere inglesi fra le quali furono particolarmente ammirate Billy Budd 1951 e The Turn of the Screw 1954. In quest'ultima, il ruolo di Miles fu creato per il dodicenne David Hemmings del quale Britten, sempre attratto dai ragazzi, si era infatuato. La voce di ragazzo come simbolo di innocenza e di tentazione allo stesso tempo, è un motivo ricorrente nella musica di Britten.

Un'altra influenza fu la musica dell'Est, un interesse promosso dal viaggio con Pears nel 1957. Britten fu molto colpito dalla musica di Bali e del Giappone. I frutti di questo viaggio comprendono il balletto The Prince of the Pagodas (1957)e la serie di semi-opere Parables for Church Performance": Curlew River (1964), The Burning Fiery Furnace (1966) eThe Prodigal Son (1968).

Il maggiore successo nella carriera di Britten fu il - musicalmente più convenzionale - War Requiem scritto per la riapertura della Cattedrale di Coventry nel 1962

Nell'ultima decade della sua vita Britten soffrì di sempre più gravi malattie e i suoi ultimi lavori divennero sempre più inconsistenti. Comprendono: l'opera Death in Venice (1973), la Suite on English Folk Tunes "A Time There Was" (1975) e la cantata drammatica Phaedra (1976), scritta per Janet Baker. Britten morì per un attacco cardiaco a Aldeburgh, poco dopo essere stato nominato baronetto, nel 1976.
Una delle opere più note di Britten è Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946), che venne composta per accompagnare Instruments of the Orchestra, un film educativo prodotto dal governo britannico. L'opera ha come sottotitolo Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, ed usa come tema centrale una melodia tratta dall'Abdelazar di Henry Purcell. Britten crea variazioni individuali per ognuno degli strumenti dell'orchestra, partendo dai legni, quindi le corde, gli ottoni e infine le percussioni.

Britten riunisce quindi l'intera orchestra per una fuga, prima di riprendere il tema e concludere l'opera. Nel film originale era presente un commento parlato, ma questo viene spesso omesso nelle esibizioni concertistiche e nelle registrazioni.

Britten fu anche un affermato pianista, e talvolta si esibì con questo strumento nella musica da camera o accompagnando dei lieder. Comunque, ad eccezione del Piano Concerto (1938) e delle Diversioni per piano e orchestra (scritte per Paul Wittgenstein nel 1940), scrisse poca musica per tale strumento, e in un intervista del 1963 per la BBC disse che lo considerava come "uno strumento secondario".

Lo status di Britten come uno dei più grandi compositori britannici del XX secolo è consolidato tra i critici professionisti. Negli anni '30 egli compì uno sforzo cosciente per distaccarsi dalla corrente principale della scena musicale inglese, che considerava compiacente, isolana e dilettantesca. Molti critici dell'epoca, in compenso, diffidavano della sua abilità, cosmopolitanismo e ammirazione per compositori quali Mahler, Berg e Stravinsky, non considerandoli modelli appropriati per un giovane musicista inglese.

Ancor oggi, la critica alla sua musica si adatta a venire coinvolta in considerazioni sulla sua personalità, opinioni politiche e sessualità. La pubblicazione nel 1992 della biografia di Humphrey Carpenter, con le rivelazioni sulle spesso tese relazioni personali, professionali e sessuali di Britten, ha assicurato che la sua rimarrà una figura controversa.

Per molti musicisti comunque, la sua tecnica impeccabile, la grande simpatia musicale e umana, e l'abilità a trattare le forme musicali più tradizionali con freschezza ed originalità, lo pongono a fianco dei principali compositori della sua generazione.

da Wikipedia

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Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft, England, on November 22, 1913 - St. Cecilia's Day. His earliest exposure to music came from his mother, who was an amateur singer. He began composing his first works at the age of five, and produced prolifically throughout his childhood, despite his lack of musical guidance. When he was six, he wrote a play, "The Royal Falily" [sic]; it was about the death of Prince John, the fifth son of George V, at the age of 13 in 1919. He would compose before breakfast, to have time to go to school. As a young boy he enjoyed mathematics, and was the captain of the cricket team. When he was eleven, Britten was discovered by Frank Bridge, a composer who had recently become interested in experimental styles and the work of Bartók and Schoenberg. Bridge gave Britten a technical foundation on which to base his creativity and introduced him to a wide range of composers from many different countries.

In 1930, Britten entered the Royal College of Music to study piano and composition under Harold Samuel and Arthur Benjamin. He did not find the RCM to be very helpful; in his later years Britten remarked that he "did not learn much." This was partially because the director was Sir Hugh Allen, an associate of Ralph Vaughan Williams, who was a professor there. Vaughan Williams disliked "brilliance", and "technical virtuosity for its own sake", and showed great distaste for the work of Frank Bridge.

One of Britten's first jobs was composing music for documentary films produced by the General Post Office, starting in April 1935. This gave him a good background for writing operas in the future, because of television's unconventional challenges (New Grove, p. 293). An example of this is from the music to the film Coal Face. In order to recreate the effect of a train approaching through a tunnel, Britten recorded a cymbal crash, and reversed it.

Through his work at the GPO, Britten also met W.H. Auden (4 July 1935); Britten used Auden's poetry in Hymn to St. Cecilia (1942).

Trip to America

Eventually Auden emigrated to the United States. This led Britten to make up his mind to go to America in 1939, along with his friend, the tenor Peter Pears. Britten went to the United States out of discontent; he was also a conscientious objector. Britten's anti-war feelings show quite prominently in the War Requiem.

In 1942, though, Britten decided to go back home to England. One contributing factor to this decision is said to be his reading of an article on the Suffolk poet Crabbe (New Grove, p. 293). The poem "The Borough", particulary its section about Peter Grimes, moved Britten. Later the opera Peter Grimes would be one of his most important works. During the voyage home in March, 1942, he wrote Hymn to St. Cecilia. Shortly after his return, in 1943, he composed Rejoice in the Lamb.


War Requiem

The War Requiem was completed 20 December 1961, and first performed 30 May 1962. It was held as the most impressive British choral work since Walton's Belshazzar's Forest in 1931. The work enjoyed enormous popularity among critics. William Mann of the Times, in a preliminary article, had some typical descriptions: "disturbing", "denounces barbarism", and "Britten's masterpiece." Some critics railed against its great popularity, including Stravinsky, who was annoyed that it wasn't really allowed to be criticized, because, in criticizing it, one would "be made to feel if one had failed to stand up for 'God Save the Queen.'"

Stravinsky, however, had some reasons to be annoyed at Britten, especially after Auden reported to him that Britten liked The Rake's Progress - "everything but the music." Stravinsky followed in Britten's footsteps on a few pieces, sometimes too close; he changed the title of his original Sinfonia da Requiem to Requiem Canticles because of the existing Britten work by that name.

After the War Requiem, the Cantata Misericordium was his next "public" work, composed for the centenary of the Red Cross, with Latin text describing the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Another anti-war work of Britten's was Owen Wingrave, by Myfanwy Piper; this came after the Vietnam War and the incident at Kent State.

Later Life

Britten received many prizes and honors, including becoming a Companion of Honour in 1952, and a member of the Order of Merit in 1965. The Order of Merit was his most cherished honor; only twenty-four people are allowed to be members at one time. Since its creation in 1902 only two composers prior to Britten received this honor: Elgar in 1912, and Vaughan Williams in 1935. In 1964 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society. At fifty he won the Robert O. Anderson Aspen Award in the Humanities, which was a $30,000 prize, and two citations from the New York Music Critics Circle for A Midsummer Night's Dream and the War Requiem. In 1974 he won the French government's Ravel Prize. He was also made a life peer in 1976, the year of his death; the Encyclopedia Britannica entry calls him Baron Britten. He was the first musician to receive this honor.

However, Britten was not arrogant; he stated, "People sometimes seem to think that, with a number of works now lying behind, one must be bursting with confidence. It is not so at all. I haven't achieved the simplicity I should like in my music, and I am enormously aware that I haven't yet come up to the technical standards Bridge set me."

After the 1968 Aldeburgh Festival, Britten came down with an infection, which was diagnosed as sub-acute bacterial endocarditis. This disease had killed Mahler, but Britten had the advantage of massive doses of antibiotics. The illness led to the discovery of a valvular heart-lesion, which was probably caused by rheumatic fever as a child. In 1971-72, symptoms of a heart disease recurred. For several years during the latter period of his life Britten had complained of a pain in his left arm when conducting.

During Britten's year off composing, Peter Pears wished that Britten should never lose faith in music, so he resumed composing after taking a year off. Britten desperately wanted to finish his last opera, Death in Venice. He did not want to have surgery until he had completed it. Eventually he gave in, though. In 1973, he had an operation to replace a heart valve. He had to be wheeled in on a cart to see its performance for the first time.

According to Pears, Britten had no fear of dying, and no convictions as to what followed death. He died 4 December 1976, in Aldeburgh.

Important People


Peter Pears, Britten, and John Culshaw (a producer from Decca Records).

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
The World War I soldier whose poetry was used in the War Requiem.

Frank Bridge (1879-1941)
During Britten's youth, his teacher; Bridge met Britten at the Norwich Festival in 1924, when Britten was 10. He studied at the Royal College of Music, but was detached from the musical "establishment", causing many of his works to be ignored until Britten revived them years later at the Aldeburgh Festival.

Peter Pears (1910-1986)
The tenor that much of Britten's work is for; Britten and Pears were close friends and emigrated to North America together.

Major Works

War Requiem

Peter Grimes

Billy Budd

The Turn of the Screw

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Curlew River

Death in Venice

A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra

Ceremony of Carols

http://www.its.caltech.edu/~tan/Britte...