Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Thanks to my secondary-school music teacher Keith Walters, in the 1970s I was lucky enough to sing in the children’s chorus for Benjamin Britten’s orchestral song cycle: Spring Symphony (1949) with the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Festival Chorus, conducted by André Previn. What a piece! What an experience! The mezzo soprano was Dame Janet Baker (b.1933), who has a gorgeous, rich, powerful, refreshingly un’affected’ voice. The poetry set to music conjours images of the seasons across eras of human existence: from icy landscapes inhabited by wolves; past a lady lying on her lawn, looking up at the stars; to a pastoral, whistled announcement of spring. Each performance gave me tingles. We recorded it commercially.
Britten has written much music always recognisable as his own. My composition teacher David Morris said Britten liked using chains of thirds in his melodies. Britten handles the orchestra deftly and understands each instrument intimately. His Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945) has a thrilling fugato finale. The War Requiem (1961-2) is profoundly moving.