Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Benjamin Britten: Complete Chronological Catalogue in One Spotify Playlist

"It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness and of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature, and everlasting beauty of monotony." - Benjamin Britten

"Benjamin Britten wrote some of the most appealing classical music of the twentieth century. As a boy he began by setting favourite poems to be sung by family and friends. Later, his life partner, Peter Pears, was a singer who provided inspiration for almost four decades. So it is not surprising that Britten is best known for his music for the voice: choral works, songs and song cycles, and - above all - a series of operas among the most engaging ever written. His first success in this genre, Peter Grimes, revived opera in English. Britten was also a master of orchestral writing, as his two most familiar works, the Four Sea Interludes and Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, make clear. He was equally committed to writing music for children and amateur performers as he was for leading soloists of the day such as cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. From the outset, Britten was the modern composer who did not want modern music to be just for 'the cultured few', and aimed always to be 'listenable-to'" - Britten-Pears Foundation

About this playlist: First I put in all the works with opus number (Op. 1-96), which were published almost strictly in the order of completion. Then I added dozens of unnumbered works (see list below), including three unused songs from Les Illuminations, and placed them in their chronological position after Britten-Pears Foundation's Britten Thematic Catalogue, which "will have catalogued all manuscript sources for both the juvenilia and the mature works by Britten's centenary in 2013".
Songs from the six volumes of folksong arrangements were composed on various dates, and I used the completion date of the last song from each volume as the reference, hence Vol. 6 is placed before Vol. 5.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Benjamin Britten: Complete Chronological Catalogue (1071 tracks, total time: 62 hours) Ctrl (CMD)+G to browse in album view. It features many classic performeces by Britten & Pears, as well as other fine new recordings, like the War Requiem by Masur, the Canticles by Ian Bostridge, and Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo by Nicholas Phan. I used recordings that are available both on Spotify UK and USA when possible. See this page for text used in the vocal works.

Happy 98th birthday.