Accessibility Tools

  • Content scaling 100%
  • Font size 100%
  • Line height 100%
  • Letter spacing 100%

Benjamin Britten

Awakening Shadow 

Sydney Chamber Opera
03 October 2022

Understandably, the focal point of musical interest in Sydney in recent months has been Bennelong Point, more specifically the newly revamped Concert Hall at the Opera House. Central here has been the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the new leadership of Simone Young, offering a series of wide-ranging and exhilarating concerts. But there has been other music making. Sydney’s indefatigable Sydney Chamber Opera has not been idle, and Friday saw the première of Awakening Shadow, an intriguing new/old work by Australian expatriate composer, Luke Styles, It comprises a melding of original music by Styles that enfolds the five Canticles of Benjamin Britten (1913–76).

... (read more)

War Requiem 

23 August 2022

Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was written for the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962, after the old cathedral had been destroyed by German bombing raids in 1940. He dedicated the work to four friends, three of whom were killed while on active service during World War II, and the fourth of whom survived the war but later committed suicide. As an avowed pacificist who had been a conscientious objector during the war, Britten took the opportunity to compose a work combining the traditional Latin Requiem Mass with the anti-war poetry of Wilfred Owen: a fellow pacificist (and fellow gay man) who had served as a lieutenant in World War I and who was killed on the Western Front one week before the Armistice was declared in 1918.

... (read more)

Peter Grimes 

18 March 2022

Sadly, stage productions of Benjamin Britten and Montagu Slater’s opera Peter Grimes are now few and far between in Australia, notwithstanding the fact that the work’s exploration of psychological distress and social ostracisation has lost none of its currency. Britten’s score, while incorporating significant modernist musical elements, also remains both accessible and attractive. And Australia can also boast of having produced two of the finest exponents of the title role in Ronald Dowd and Stuart Skelton (who sang the role in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s concert version in 2019).

... (read more)

In 2002 the English filmmaker John Bridcut visited The Red House in Aldeburgh, the archive housing the papers of Benjamin Britten and his long-time partner, Peter Pears. Bridcut was early in his research for a project he would realise two years later as the documentary film Britten’s Children, and then, after another two years, as a book of the same name. I was then head of music at the Aldeburgh Festival, with a few books of my own on Britten under my belt. Partly because the topic interested me and partly because I was soon to leave Aldeburgh, I sidestepped the archive’s historical rectitude regarding Britten’s sexuality and told John that he really needed to track down and interview Wulff Scherchen, Britten’s lover in 1938, who had moved to Australia and was now known as John Woolford. I dug up the last address we had on file for him and left Bridcut to it.

... (read more)

A question of syphilis

Dear Editor,

I enjoyed Jeffrey Tate’s excellent review of Paul Kildea’s biography of Benjamin Britten (June 2013). It is always interesting when doctors disagree with a diagnosis – especially with the benefits of hindsight.

I agree that syphilis seldom gets to the tertiary stage without being picked up earlier (and Britten’s own cardiologist has disputed the claim that Britten contracted it). Presumably, Peter Pears would have had symptoms as well – assuming that there was no treatment with penicillin, which was available from the early 1940s. If the surgeon was correct (and, like Jeffrey Tate, I would want to see more concrete evidence), then the other possibility is that Britten may have had some fleeting liaisons of his own!

Dr Alastair Jackson, Melbourne, Vic.

... (read more)

The four years prior to the period covered by this new volume of Britten’s letters had been difficult for the composer, with the first real setbacks in a hitherto charmed career. In 1954, his opera Gloriana celebrated the dawn of a new Elizabethan age by looking back to the final, troubled years of the first Elizabeth’s reign, in particular her private life. Not only did the opera fail to please the first-night toffs, it was also the subject of questions in the House of Commons, the Establishment having hoped for something more like Merrie England in the coronation year. Then, in 1956, Britten’s only ballet score, The Prince of the Pagodas, caused him unprecedented difficulty: this most fluent and professional of composers was encountering something like writer’s block.

... (read more)