Monday, 10 November 2008

Remembering Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten is without doubt the most famous British composer of the 20th century. His music is always full of feeling. It is presented in imaginative ways and often adorned with strangely wonderful rhythms and melodies. His music will often include mysterious religious elements: War Requiem, The Prodigal Son and Curlew River. Under the influence of W H Auden, Britten composed Our Hunting Fathers and Ballad of Heroes.
In 1939 after the outbreak of World War II Benjamin Britten and his friend Peter Pears followed Auden to America. There Britten worked on the opera Peter Grimes. In 1948 having returned to England he founded the famous Aldeburgh Festival.
Yesterday evening, after a performance of Benjamin Britten's Illuminations, poems written by Rimbaud in London around 1874, superbly performed by the young tenor Daniel Johannsen and the Vienna Chamber Philharmonic I began thinking about death; or more exactly about the significance of the message to be found in the architecture of graves. As in life so in death, seems to be the motto.
I have visited the Britten and Pears graves, two unadorned plain black stones planted in a row of similar stones, almost like rows of musical notes, on a sheet of grass behind an old church. I was most impressed by the simplicity and understatement of it all.
I have visited also a great monolithic chamber, a tomb of Napoleonic proportions in Vienna's Zentral Friedhof, containing the body of Dr. Karl Lueger, the most famous mayor of Vienna, and I have not been at all impressed. The logic of this kind of pomposity and eternal request for adoration defeats me. Or maybe there is no logic. C'est la Mort.
There's a quality in Britten's music that strips away the wallpapers of the mind and reveals what's really in the old brainbox. And that must be important. Now finally Britten's message arrives. It is this. Time is not for wasting on pompous trivia. It's only a short distance to the other box, the one waiting with its open lid and blank name plate.

pompous tombs for inflated egos
are not the smooth dark stones
on the green grass patch

those inflated bodies and brains
will elaborate ornate pomposity

who knows he was somebody big
chooses gold paint and marble
announces his gold in the bank
his bank
the big house on the hill
his hill

the pompous
decays like the ironwork

ivy clad perch for the crow

as every rat knows


  1. Thanks John
    a great concert
    - a great Tschaikovsky Rokoko theme op. 33
    Matthias Bartolomey on cello - star in the making


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