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  • Three Songs for Les Illuminations by Benjamin Britten, and: Six Early Songs (1929–31) for medium voice and piano by Benjamin Britten, and: Two Pieces for violin, viola and piano (1929) by Benjamin Britten, and: Two Psalms: Out of the deep, Praise ye the Lord, for SATB chorus and orchestra by Benjamin Britten, and: Variations for piano (1965) by Benjamin Britten
  • Mervyn Cooke
Benjamin Britten . Three Songs for Les Illuminations. Orchestration for high voice & strings by Colin Matthews . Words by Arthur Rimbaud . Full score. London : Boosey & Hawkes , 2012 . [Pref. in Eng., Fr., and Ger.; texts in Fr., Eng., and Ger.; score, p. 1–22. ISMN 979-0-060-12030-5 ; ISBN 978-0-85162-767-0 ; pub. plate no. 15072. $26.95 .]
Benjamin Britten . Six Early Songs (1929–31) for medium voice and piano. London : Faber Music , 2013 . [Texts in Eng.; pref. in Eng.; score, p. 2–14. ISBN10 0-571-51190-2 ; EAN13 978-0-571-51190-7 . £10.99 .]
Benjamin Britten . Two Pieces for violin, viola and piano (1929). London : Faber Music , 2013 . [Introd. in Eng.; editorial notes in Eng.; score, p. 1–25 and 2 parts (violin and viola). ISBN10 0-571-52361-7 ; EAN13 978-0-571-52361-0 . £24.99 .]
Benjamin Britten . Two Psalms: Out of the deep, Praise ye the Lord, for SATB chorus and orchestra. Full score. London : Chester Music , 2012 . [Score, p. 1–67. Pub. no. CH79750. £21.95 .]
Benjamin Britten . Variations for piano (1965). London : Faber Music , 2013 . [Introd., editorial note, and performance note in Eng.; 1 facsimile; score, p. 1–7; appendices. ISBN10 0-571-52057-X ; EAN13 978-0-571-52057-2 . £9.99 ]

Since Britten’s death in 1976, and in particular since the opening to researchers a few years later of the extraordinarily comprehensive archival collections of the Britten–Pears Library at his home in the Suffolk town of Aldeburgh, keen interest has constantly been aroused by the steady stream of posthumous publications of unknown works which, for various reasons, he had kept firmly under wraps during his [End Page 349] lifetime. While all such publications, no matter how slight, will inevitably be of considerable interest to scholars and die-hard Britten enthusiasts—and it might be argued that this alone is a compelling reason for their public dissemination—it is rather less certain whether every morsel of this rediscovered music deserves a strong foothold in the concert hall; and, at times, some listeners have feared that the composer’s reputation might become a shade tarnished by the realization that he did not always attain his customary level of genius. Nevertheless, the level-headed can always find consolation in the equally important realization that he himself, unlike some other prodigiously prolific writers, well knew which of his pieces warranted a place in his official canon, and which didn’t. Whatever one’s personal view, Britten enthusiasts owe an enormous and ongoing debt of gratitude to Colin Matthews, chair of The Britten Estate, who has for several decades overseen the preparation and publication of projects of this kind in a skillful and sensitive way.

Britten’s posthumous publications fall into three broad categories, each well represented by the batch of five new scores reviewed here (all of which appeared in the run-up to, and during, the composer’s centenary year in 2013). Arguably the most important category, and one in which indisputably impressive compositional standards are virtually assured, is the small but fascinating body of mature songs that Britten wrote for his well-known song cycles, but chose not to include in their definitive formats. Just how brilliant some of this discarded music could be was first demonstrated in 1983 by the performance of two songs jettisoned from Winter Words (1953), and even more spectacularly in 1987 by the discovery of the haunting Tennyson setting “Now sleeps the crimson petal,” which had been composed for inclusion in the Serenade for tenor, horn, and strings (1943). Self-evidently, then, Britten sometimes consigned pieces to his bottom drawer not because they were substandard, but simply because he had too many of them for his specific needs. The second, and largest, category is the huge body of juvenilia...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-150X
Print ISSN
0027-4380
Pages
pp. 349-352
Launched on MUSE
2014-11-19
Open Access
No
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