Britten and Purcell: the arc of universal harmony

Britten on Aldeburgh Beach, 1959

Britten on Aldeburgh Beach, 1959, courtesy of

The University Library is celebrating the centenary of the birth of one of Britain’s greatest composers, Benjamin Britten, with a display in the Entrance Hall exhibition cases. Best known for works such as Peter Grimes, the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and the great War Requiem, Britten’s works are innovative, imaginative, with a deep understanding particularly of the human voice, and the musical tradition from which he emerged.

He was also greatly admired as a performer, not only of his own compositions, but of others such as Mozart, Schubert and Mahler. It was in the music of Purcell, however, that the synthesis of Britten the composer and Britten the performer was at its most inspired. Britten’s many realisations of works by Purcell provided him with a stimulating creative challenge resulting in a highly personal, yet wholly apt, embodiment of the Purcellian spirit. This special creative affinity with Purcell also had a significant influence on Britten’s own vocal and dramatic style. This exhibition explores that inner harmony between two men who, during their lifetimes, embodied the spirit of English music. Further information will be available on the MusicB3 blog from 22 November (St Cecilia’s day, and Britten’s birthday). The exhibition can be viewed during Library opening hours until 14 December.

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