Please do get in touch with any thoughts on the blog, anecdotes on Britten or comments on anything you like! All welcome, and monitored by me (Ben Hogwood) at email@example.com
Excellent aritcle on the Britten realisations of Purcell. I am curious if you know where the score of the Purcell/Britten “Thou Wakeful Shepherd (A Morning Hymn)” can be found and purchased? I see that it is not in the recent Boosey/Hawkes collection.
Thank you! Very kind. I’m afraid having looked online I’m not sure – it is part of the Harmonia Sacra, however, if that helps!
I just wanted to say how enormously I have been enjoying this blog. As a lifelong Britten fan even I have learned a lot. I love a lot of composers – Elgar, RVW, Walton, Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler, Sibelius, Shostakovich – but whereas I come in and out of their work at different stages in my life, BB has always been there. I think the centenary year has cemented his justly towering reputation. Not an easy man – perhaps no-one who achieves so much ever is – but a staggeringly great one. I’ll say one thing though – we’re nearly into November and our hero is still only 33. I have no idea how you’re going to get to the Welcome Ode before the end of the year!
Thank you Joe, very nice to hear that. It’s been a complete discovery for me too and will continue to be I’m sure. I am cautiously optimistic (!) that I will get there by the end of the year – the number of published works starts to tail off a bit soon. 1945 has been amazing – 25 works – but there are years in the 1950s and 1960s where there are just one. Here’s hoping – but either way it has been a great experience and made all the better for people’s involvement!
It’s early morning, I am looking out over the North Sea the day after BB’s birthday, and I have discovered goodmorningbritten with last night’s String Quartet No. 3 still sounding in my mind. Life could hardly get better. What a staggering body of work you have provided to accompany the centenary year – and the visual treats are a delight. I was ‘bottle fed’ Britten as a Suffolk child and have never felt anything other than love and gratitude for the man and his music. Idomeneo in Blythburgh church after the fire and the first performance of the above mentioned string quartet are unforgettable moments. With any luck your work will help dispel the myth that his music is difficult. I hope you have taken as much pleasure from the project as you are giving. Thank you – I look forward to spending months listening to these gems.
Thank you, that’s really kind of you to say. It’s been an enlightening experience for sure, one I will never forget! What really has astounded me is the consistently high standard across such a wide range of performing mediums, and that has made the essential variety for the project and introduced me to so many new pieces.
It has been difficult at times, but hugely rewarding the whole way through. What makes it most worthwhile is to hear that people are enjoying it too, that’s really why I wanted to do it!
There is a lot more to come over the next couple of months, so I do hope you continue to enjoy reading it. Thanks again for your comments, they are greatly appreciated.
Dear Mr. Hogwood,
I would like to rectify a couple of mistakes that I found in your text :
Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears were not on holiday in Hungary. They went to Budapest in the Spring of 1964 for the first time to give concerts and to see a performance of Albert Herring at the Hungarian State Opera House.
In 1964 , when we met Britten we were 12 years of age, so we were primary school children and not students in their late teens.
The event where we had met Britten, was part of our school training and Britten drawn to it purely by accident. It was the idea of ” Országos Filharmonia ” the state owned concert agency of Hungary.
I agree with your critic, everything you write is true. We do not like that recording of DECCA at all, and we have been trying everything to organise means to produce a really good one. When we first heard it, we were just shattered. At the same time , we feel the recording from the Berlin Phil people is even worse then ours. We agree with you : Gemini Variations is a wonderful piece of music and the reason why it is unjustly neglected is that simply no good recordings of it are available.
Those days we did not have the technic and the necessary command ouf our instruments in order to bring everything out of the work, that is inside it. Now , after having studied and having lived in England we have a very strong concept of the piece and it is nothing like the DECCA recording.
We pressed DECCA to make a new one with us , but they are not interested.
You should consider,that we were not prodegies, we were completely normal children, who perhaps had the advantage of starting music at an early age with excellent guidance.
I do not think either that Ben meant this piece for prodigies. In fact he knew , he wrote it too difficult and he was extremely worried if we could learn it at all. That is why we had sent him a tape recording six weeks before the festival started for which he was very thankful and relieved.
That recording could be in fact better then the DECCA´s one, because the circomstances were much more favourable then in England. For instance after the first performance we went to London and had to perform every day for three days, but nobody thought about providing us an accomodation with a piano. So our performance had just got worse and worse.
In order to play Gemini Variations well, you have to practice every day both instruments three hours.
Franz Liszt said himself , “if I do not practice a day nobody notices , if i do not practice two days my critic will notice it .”….etc…. The DECCA recording was made at the very end of our duties. We were exhausted by then.
Also perhaps it was lack of professional experience, that we could not perform under studio conditions as though there was an audience present.
What you wrote about the recording certainly can not be said about the first performance : Britten came to us before the first performance and warned us, that we should not be offended or worry about it , but in England people do not clap in churches, so after we finished everybody will be silent, and just go home. It is tradition,and two days before Sviatoslav Richter played a concert and nobody clapped either.
Our piece came after several works sung by an eminent women´s chorus from Budapest singing Kodaly´s works : and indeed, nobody clapped. Now we knew, what it felt like. We started our piece, and everything went well, in the end the boisterous Fugue, where the two Fugue themes clash Fortissimo Finale, and the ice broke : Everebody jumped up for a standing ovation !!
If you don´t beleive my words , ask somebody , who was there and is still alive. Mrs Kodály for instance.
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Thank you, Zoltán, for taking the time to write such a detailed and interesting reply which puts everything in context. I fear I have been rather too critical here, for which I must apologise! That you have taken the trouble to give all the background behind the piece and its recording is very good indeed of you, and provides an extremely valuable record for this part of the listening exercise.
For reference the Listening to Britten record of the Gemini Variations can be found here
No, I think you have every right to criticise, anything if you really mean it, and if you really mean it. All the crits we had got at the time tried to be very polite and evasive of problems. One of the reasons why DECCA is not interested I presume, is because everybody is so uncritical of that recording. And as I imagine they have no problems with selling it since it has been always coupled with something else. They say it is a document of how we played it at the time, which is also a valid argument.
One of our biggest handicap was , that neither of us knew at that stage how to play on his instrument vibrato. Despite of this one of the British national newspapers critics claimed , I played the flute already at a professional level. After we had been given a vynil record and we were shocked how awful the recording was, I was thinking for years , how could the critic have such a positiv opinon of me, when we both couldnt even play vibrato.
Years later, when I came to study the piano in England and met a pupil of Garreth Morris it dawned on me why !! In those days in Britain Garreth Morris was Nr. 1authority on flute and flutist , who played everithing without vibrato, even the French literature and he had also played on a wooden instrument . it did not disturb anybody the slightest at that time in England.
That era had changed drasticly after Sir James Galway got the job with the Berlin Phil. Although we hardly ever play Gemini Variations because of the huge distance of our residences, a couple of years ago I discovered that one can play Variation Nr. VII and VIII. together as one piece and I perform it as part of my Solo Flute Recital.
I have played over 100 times by now and it is always a great success. I intend to make a private amateur recording of these two Variations and I will certainly let you have a copy. At this moment I can not ,because I just came out of a laryngitis.
P.S.: please correct any spelling or grammatical mistake I have made.
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Good Morning Britten