Thursday, October 20, 2011

Britten's Post-War Glory : Peter Grimes

Benjamin Britten had been a child prodigy. It has been said that he wrote over 800 compositions among his juvenilia; by 10 he was proficient on both the piano and viola He began composition lessons with Frank Bridge at age 14 and already was composing for the voice; his Quatre Chansons Fran├žaises is remarkably advanced for a teenaged composer. He also completed a course of studies at the Royal College of Music, but his dream was to go to Vienna to study privately with Alban Berg, but his parents wouldn't allow it.

In 1939 he and the singer Peter Pears decided to follow a friend, the poet W.H. Auden, to America .There he encountered the music of Aaron Copland that greatly inspired him and the two men became friends. While in America he composed a sinfonietta and a concerto for violin. During a vacation trip to California Peter Pears showed him a poem he had brought to read by the 19th century English writer and naturalist George Crabbe (1754-1832) called The Borough, a work and poet admired by Byron. In it was the germ of the figure of Peter Grimes and an evocation of the coast of England which Britten so loved. He and Pears together began to develop the idea for the opera and carried the sketches back with them to wartime England.

After their return to London Pears was offered roles with the Sadler's Wells Opera and found great success. The final transformation of poem to libretto was offered to Christopher Isherwood (creator of Sally Bowles and Cabaret) but he declined ; the libretto was completed by Montague Slater and was accepted for production by Sadler's Wells in 1945 , it found immediate popular and critical acclaim from that day to this. Most praised is the transformation of the character Grimes into a a brooding and obsessed man who is still sympathetic despite his flaws because of his striving. The orchestral portrayal of the seascape and it's ever changing moods are especially noted for their power and effectiveness and now they now stand alone as a four part suite that is considered among the great concert works of the twentieth century. Conductor Colin Davis found a very special sympathetic affinity for the work and extraordinary success in his interpretations.

This Saturday Afternoon at the Opera we present his second commercial from a concert with the LSO. Tune in this Saturday at noon for a twentieth century classic, Britten's Peters Grimes here, on KPAC and KTXI.

host, Ron Moore

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