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November 2013
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Great Expectations: Odyssey of a Curly-Headed Boy

Benjamin Britten, photo from the Library of Congress

Benjamin Britten, photo from the Library of Congress

There’s something almost Dickensonian about the childhood of Benjamin Britten. He had his heroes and his nemeses.

Born in a seaside town, it was the magic of an orchestral suite about the sea, a work by Frank Bridge, that really set eleven-year-old Britten on fire.

It was a concert at the 1924 Norfolk & Norwich Festival; his viola teacher had suggested he attend. The piece was barely older than he was, but its power to conjure a storm on the North Sea, and evoke the sea foam resting on the rocky shore, bowled the boy over. From that moment on, Britten would forever be a musician, bringing maritime themes to his music again and again.

In 1927 Frank Bridge himself came to the Festival. Britten’s viola teacher once again played the catalyst, persuading the older composer to meet the boy who was now 13. Bridge was sufficiently impressed by this young disciple that he agreed to give him lessons. Young Ben journeyed to Bridge’s home in London, and later to Sussex for his lessons.

One would think that any music-lover would feel privileged to have such a gifted boy in his classroom, but when Britten enrolled in a Norfolk boarding school, he did not meet his music master’s approval. The teacher resented having to excuse the boy for his trips to study with the eminent composer. Britten wrote of him, “However the man got the job here I cannot imagine. His ideas of rhythm, logic, tone, or the music are absolutely lacking in sanity.” Benjamin Britten endured those years until 1930 when he enrolled at the Royal College of Music.

The influence of Frank Bridge on Benjamin Britten was profound. Wednesday night at 10:00 PM, Jim Ginsburg, host of Cedille Chicago Presents, offers a musical portrait of the two composers with performances from the Cedille catalog.

 

On the first of two programs devoted to Benjamin Britten (in honor of his 100th birthday anniversary on November 22), we present instrumental works from the beginning and end of his compositional lifetime, plus a movement by Britten’s teacher, Frank Bridge.

November 6
Britten and Bridge: Instrumental Music

BENJAMIN BRITTEN (1913–1976)
Phantasy Quartet, Op. 2 (1932) (13:16)

 

Alex Klein, oboe
Vermeer Quartet

BENJAMIN BRITTEN
String Quartet No. 3, Op. 94 (1975) (25:58)
I. Duets: With moderate movement
II. Ostinato: Very fast
III. Solo: Very calm
IV. Burlesque: Fast–con fuoco
V. Recitative and Passacaglia (La Serenissima)

Vermeer Quartet

FRANK BRIDGE (1879–1941)
Cello Sonata
I. Allegro ben moderato (9:39)

 

Kim Scholes, cello
Easley Blackwood, piano

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