Remembering Julian Bream

Julian Bream, the English classical guitarist and lutenist has passed away. He was 87. Bream played a significant role in promoting the classical guitar as a solo instrument. He expanded the repertoire, inspiring new works by numerous twentieth century composers, including Benjamin Britten, Sir William Walton, Sir Michael Tippett, Peter Maxwell Davies, and Toru Takemitsu. One of the most influential works written for Bream is Benjamin Britten’s 1963 Nocturnal After John Dowland, Op. …

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Remembering Barry Tuckwell

Barry Tuckwell, the renowned Australian horn player, passed away last week. He was 88. Born into a musical family, Tuckwell began playing the horn at age 13. By 15 he was playing professionally as third horn of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. A year later, he joined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Eugene Goossens. He soon moved on to perform in Britain’s Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli. At age 24, he was principal …

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Britten’s “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge”: From Teacher to Student

Last week, we listened to the vibrant orchestral tone poem Enter Spring by the maverick English composer Frank Bridge (1879-1941). It was at the Norwich premiere of Enter Spring in 1927 that the 13-year-old Benjamin Britten first met Bridge, who would become Britten’s composition teacher and mentor. Britten recalled mammoth lessons: I remember we started at 10:30 and finished at tea time. Mrs Bridge came in and said “Really you must give the boy a break! …

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Benjamin Britten’s “A Hymn to the Virgin”: VOCES8

Benjamin Britten composed A Hymn to the Virgin at the age of 16 while a student at Gresham’s School in Norfolk, England. Yet there is nothing remotely youthful or immature about this brief work for unaccompanied double chorus. It unfolds with a sense of haunting mystery and quiet lament that seems timeless. The anonymous text, dating from around 1300, comes from the Oxford Book of English Verse. In an expansive, antiphonal dialogue, the main chorus sings in …

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Britten’s “Peter Grimes”: The Individual Against the Crowd

Benjamin Britten’s 1945 tragic opera, Peter Grimes, is a dark story of isolation and alienation- the solitary social outcast set against the collective insanity and “mob rule” of the crowd. For the composer, a homosexual, staunch pacifist, and conscientious objector during the Second World War, it was a subject very close to my heart — the struggle of the individual against the masses. The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual. The …

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Britten’s “War Requiem”: Libera me

In observance of Memorial Day, here is the final segment of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.  One of the defining works of the twentieth century, the War Requiem combines the traditional Latin Mass for the dead with nine poems written by Wilfred Owen in the trenches of the First World War. It was premiered on May 30, 1962 on the occasion of the consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral. The original fourteenth century structure (pictured above) …

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New Release: The Emerson’s “Chaconnes and Fantasias: Music of Britten and Purcell”

The Emerson String Quartet’s newest album spans three hundred years of English music. Chaconnes and Fantasias: Music of Britten and Purcell balances twentieth century composer Benjamin Britten’s Second and Third String Quartets with Chaconnes and Fantasias by baroque composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695). This year marks the Emerson Quartet’s 40th anniversary. This latest recording is the first to included British cellist Paul Watkins, who joined the group in 2013. The Emerson Quartet approaches Purcell’s Fantasias (probably all …

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