Thursday, November 22, 2012

Benjamin Britten

Today is Benjamin Britten's 99th birthday. While I'm sure there will be much fanfare for his centenary in 2013, I'm not going to wait to celebrate this wonderful composer. Here's how I found my way to him.

Often I find new music through other music. When I was falling down the rabbit hole of Dmitri Shostakovich's oeuvre back in the late 80's, I kept seeing references to Britten and simply got curious. Like many, I had heard The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra but never knew anything else.

My interest dovetailed perfectly with a major reissue project of recordings conducted by the composer. The attractive packaging pushed me over the edge and I gave the disc featuring the Symphonia Da Requiem and the Cello Symphony a try. It was love at first play. This was music that was complex, knotty, superbly orchestrated and, most importantly, warm, open-hearted and emotional. A door was opened to a rich catalog of operas, songs and orchestral and chamber works and I entered fully into it. Those qualities that I heard on first listen are almost always evident in varying degrees and almost all of his music is deeply satisfying.

Britten vies with Richard Strauss as THE major opera composer of the 20th century and would serve as a wonderful introduction to the operatic experience. Start with Peter Grimes or Billy Budd, or, for sheer delight, his wondrous take on A Midsummer Night's Dream. But here's a recording of the premiere of the Cello Symphony so you can start where I started.


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