As part of the worldwide 'Britten 100' celebrations, a new exhibition in the British Library's Folio Society Gallery offers a rare opportunity to see exhibits drawn from the library’s world-class collection that explore the literary, political and historical inspirations behind some of Benjamin Britten’s greatest works. Through the composer’s handwritten manuscripts, as well as photographs, letters, first editions and unique sound recordings, ‘Poetry in Sound’ shows how such literary greats as William Shakespeare, William Blake, WH Auden, Wilfred Owen and Henry James have had a direct impact on the composer’s most celebrated works.
Alongside handwritten drafts of some of Britten’s best known compositions, including 'The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra' (acquired last year), the exhibition features other rarely seen Britten manuscripts and unpublished recordings from the Library’s Sound Archive, including an unknown live recording from the first production of ‘Paul Bunyan’, accompanied by photographs of the little known 1941 production at Columbia University in New York.
The manuscripts on display include Wilfred Owen’s first draft of his poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, one of several Owen poems that Britten incorporated into his ‘War Requiem’, a signed manuscript of Britten’s adaptation of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and a programme for the first performance of ‘Gloriana’ at the Royal Opera House on June 8 1953.
‘Poetry in Sound’ is accompanied by a series of music events, including a performance of key Britten works by The Turner Ensemble in the British Library’s striking entrance hall, a series of talks on the prolific composer and his works, with speakers such as Paul Kildea, and a specially formed ‘Friday Afternoon Choir’ performs ‘Friday Afternoons’, Britten’s much-loved suite of children’s songs.
(Curated by Rupert Ridgewell, Sandra Tuppen, and Jonathan Summers.)
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