Benjamin Britten on Camera  21289


  • Composer of the broadcasting age
  • 00:20 David Attenborough – BBC constantly trying to court him.
  • Didn’t own a TV himself.
  • 03:00 Relationship with Pears in defiance of the law.
  • 08:15 Kenyon: born into era that was just about to discover broadcasting. Importance of radio. Britten’s musical education through broadcasting.
  • 09:50 Founding of Aldeburgh Festival. Venues. Ambitious productions.

Catalogued to 00:29:50



    Chacony in G Minor (arr. Britten)
    • music by Benjamin Britten, Henry Purcell
    Britten on audiences not liking his works
    • words by Benjamin Britten
    On writing operas for young people
    • words by Benjamin Britten
    Total items: 3

    Topics covered by this tv

    1. War Requiem (music) • 00:21:20 •
      • Humphrey Burton: "did you have any images when you've composed this." Expected derisory no. ... Britten: "normally I don't, but on this occasion would suggest Grünewald triptych."
      • Bombing of Coventry Cathedral, and rebuilding.
      • Tom Service: Projecting onto public stage his private world. Not needing to compromise his pacifism. Dramatisation of relationship between private grief and public grief.
      • David Willcocks: on dedication to four fallen friends
      • Colin Matthews: on genius of choice of Owen texts.
      • Charles Hazlewood: never bombastic, although it involves so many people, one of the most personal works
      • Interviews with percussionist and choir member from first performance.
      • Peter Maxwell Davis: some people saw is as a glorification of the memory of war. It does make war into a very profoundly moving experience without the horrible physical violence.
      • Oliver Knussen: People today taking it for granted. Part of English cultural wallpaper. So full of tenderness. The Agnus Dei is a very simple music scheme and it comes out as something transcendent partly because of the way Pears sings it. Simple device of going down a scale from one note (F#) and then going up another scale from the bottom note (C). Reharmonises these throughtout and then ends up on F# major chord. Tiny of music and a perfect piece of clockwork. That's a technical explanation, sounding a little too neat. But the impact, including Pears at the end, is overwhelming.
      • Nicholas Kenyon: by time of second TVed Proms performance, for end of WWI anniversary, was iconic national figure, despite being an outsider in many ways.
    2. Benjamin Britten: A Birthday Profile (tv) • 00:16:50 • Humphrey Burton: wanted to do 50th birthday programme (A Birthday Profile). Britten: "oh please don't, it makes me sound like an obituary. Can't you wait until I'm 80?". Programme more ambitious than just documentary about life – tried to be an overview of his work. Wheldon: "put together by his admirers. Those who think that in him have a great figure living among us." Footage: preparing for Aldeburgh Festival, relaxing together [with Pears] walking the dogs. Tippett: "out of all the musicians I have met, he is the one in whom music, and from whom music flows, always. Out of his mind, out of his body." First soundtrack to excerpt is "pizzicato piece composed when Britten was only 10". Britten not wanting to acknowledge the presence of the camera. "If it was André Previn, he'd like to talk to the camera. With Britten, it's just come on and do it. The important thing is the music." Clarity: not a fussy conductor, very straightforward. Ending with extract from new War Requiem. Documentary went out on the night that President Kennedy was assassinated; seemed fitting.
    3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (drama) • 00:14:00 • BBC radio recording of premiere. Pears: "The opera is, I think, one of Britten's most rich and varied achievements. He's freer in this than he has been for a long time." Tiny space of Jubilee Hall. April Cantelo: having to go outside to cross behind the stage. Great tribute to be asked to sing by Britten. Description of her character. "Working with him on a piece that had been written for me was just wonderful, because it all kind of fitted like a glove. If I obeyed everything he wrote in the score, it sounded like me, somehow or other." Positive critical response. Jenny Doctor: audience appreciation index lower than was usual for operas at the time. Responses inc "lacking in melody, harmony, form, beauty of interest", "a cacophony of rhythmless banging and clanging called music, by someone who obviously thinks melody is below his dignity to produce."
    4. Noye’s Fludde (drama) • 00:11:20 • As part of 1958 Monitor doc. Michael Crawford: on playing Japhet in this original production in Orford Church. Was 14/15 at the time, and voice was lower. Britten's markings in Crawford's score for the transposition. "He just spent any amount of time we needed. He was a kind man, he was generous. Everyone was so enthusiastic and you always wanted to impress Mr Britten." Over-exerting himself on hauling a rope and falling back off the art. Humphrey Burton: Britten's credo that he wanted to make music that was useful for the community came across. Britten: "I have a particular inclination as a composer to want to write music that is useful. And if someone asks me to do something, my inclination is to want to please them. Crawford: "He would work with all the children and be encouraging. That's the best kind of teacher. Especially as an introduction to classical music. You long for a teacher to make it live. To draw out of you something that you otherwise might never have discovered."
    5. Benjamin Britten (tv) • 00:10:00 • Filming of Monitor in 1958. Humphrey Burton: my first job was looking at rushes for the doc, and helping write the commentary. Imagines that the direction for Britten must have needed to be more prescriptive than it would do today. Sense of the festival, and focus on Noye's Fludde.
    6. Marine (music) • 00:09:00 • 1939 radio broadcast of premiere at the Queen's Hall. Nicholas Kenyon: sensing an audience that is open and receptive to Britten's music.
    7. Peter Grimes (drama) • 00:01:25 • 1969 recording of Peter Grimes at Snape. Listeners' comments on BBC Radio broadcast of 1945 premiere. Composition especially for Pears. Colin Matthews: "trying to be the young fisherman was not so easy in close-up". Joan Cross and Brian Large as stage/TV directors. Tightness of space in the Maltings. Britten finding it frustrating/limiting medium. Deborah Bull: limitations in space released an intensity. Nicholas Kenyon: Britten as great humane composer of the century, poss due to not being at ease with himself / his position in society. Musical landscape. Oliver Knussen: Aldeburgh right on the edge, days with very low skies when you can physically feel the pressure, the tension before the storm.
        [_edit_lock] => Array
                [0] => 1517751895:1
        [_edit_last] => Array
                [0] => 1
        [creative] => Array
                [0] => Andy King-Dabbs*producer and director
        [cast] => Array
                [0] => James Naughtie*narrator**David Attenborough*interviewee**Humphrey Burton*interviewee**Colin Matthews*interviewee**Nicholas Kenyon*interviewee**Deborah Bull*interviewee**Michael Crawford*interviewee**Jenny Doctor*interviewee (Syracuse University)**Nigel Douglas*interviewee (tenor)**April Cantelo*interviewee (soprano)**Tom Service*interviewee**David Willcocks*interviewee**Charles Hazlewood*interviewee**Maggie Cotton*percussionist at first performance of the War Requiem**Malcolm Lewis*in choir at first performance of the War Requiem**Peter Maxwell Davis*interviewee**Barbara Lewis*in audience at first performance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.