Britten and Tippett encounters

During the nineteen sixties particularly I spent my time at concerts and was always keen to hear composers perform their own works, or failing that performers closely connected with them who probably knew them or worked under their direction. Stravinsky, Hindemith and Copland figured largely and I often found their performances of other composers revealing. I think, however that Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett were those I encountered most frequently. The latter had a habit of attending performances of his work, and it was later in his career that I think he became more involved himself. I was at a performance when he conducted his Vision of St Augustine at the Bath Festival, The two of them came together at a tribute to Tippett on his 60th birthday at Morley College when Britten with Peter Pears performed Tippett songs. Britten at the piano was astounding.

Brittens own performances of much of his own work is preserved on record of course and the 100th anniversary of his birth on 22nd November (coinciding with my own 72nd birthday) has been a pretext to make earlier recordings widely available as well as stimulating interest from younger artists who have given remarkable performances both live and on record. For a time it seemed as if Britten’s recordings actually inhibited others, and indeed it was difficult to listen to others. A performance of the Britten Cello Symphony at Birmingham Town Hall suffered from some very uninspired and flabby conducting from Hugo Rignold, brought to life only by Rostropovich whose passionate gestures from the cello galvanised the proceedings.

Britten was a regular visitor to the Henry Wood Proms in London where he conducted a range of his work together with another composer connected with Saint Cecilia, Henry Purcell. This included the Spring Symphony, Cantata Misericordium, the Sinfonia da Requiem and the Purcell Chaconne in his edition. I also heard him in performances of the War Requiem as conductor in partnership with Meredith Davies, who gave the first performance at Coventry Cathedral in 1963. I attended the second performance at Westminster Abbey, when Britten processed out after the performance in the company of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and the next year at the Albert Hall during the Prom season.

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