Tag Archives: 20th Century Music

Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Decca

I’m ashamed to admit it, but Benjamin Britten is a composer I managed to live most of my life without knowing really anything about.

Chalk it up first to the anti-British bias there is in classical music overall. Which is strange, actually, because Britain is one of the strongest countries out there in terms of public and private support of classical music.

Be that as it may, though, I managed to get through life without knowing much about him (other than he’s from Britain…that’s easy, it’s in his name) and without hearing much.

My first exposure to Britten actually came in Alex Ross’ great book “The Rest is Noise“. That did inspire me to pick up a copy of his War Requiem. But I didn’t really get any exposure to Britten beyond that until I saw Moonrise Kingdom.

I have to give Wes Anderson credit: his use of Britten’s music in the film is one of the best examples I’ve seen of making the music a part of the film. Russell Platt has a great write-up on that over at the New Yorker.

So I’ve been slowly getting more into Britten and quite enjoying it.

But one thing that I’ve really only recently learned is that Britten had an extensive recording history with Decca. Specifically, Decca released nearly all of his works with him conducting or playing piano or otherwise under his supervision. Add to that, many of the works feature his long-time partner Peter Pears for whom Britten specifically wrote many of his works.

It’s an unusual and unique thing to have such direct access to a composer’s vision and intention directly. I can’t think of any other instance quite like this.

So you can be sure that I’ll be looking to Decca first for my works by Britten.

Of course, too, this falls into the “why didn’t anyone tell me?!” category.

But, better late than never, eh?

Ute Lemper Online

I’m a huge Ute Lemper fan. I actually didn’t so much “discover” her as I “realized” who she was. When I was in college, I bought the Threepenny Opera on CD. A couple of years later, I saw Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books, fell in love with Michael Nyman’s music for the film and picked up the soundtrack now sadly out of print). After a bit, I realized that someone named Ute Lemper sang on both of these. After I discovered another Nyman album, Michael Nyman: Songbook (also sadly out of print), with her singing, I was hooked and have been avidly following her ever since.

I’m proud to say I have every album of hers I’ve been able to lay hands on (the Ute Lemper playlist has 196 items right now) and she’s easily one of the main people I want to see perform live in my lifetime.

So, it’s quite the thrill for me to find that Ute Lemper is on Twitter now. It also looks like she’s got an official channel now on YouTube.

Of course, this Ute Lemper online moment is made a true social networking Trifecta because I found out about these through her Facebook page.


What Makes it Great: Steve Reich

In honor of his wining the Pulitzer, Rob Kapilow’s dedicated an episode of “What Makes it Great” to Steve Reich’s Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ.

As always, Kapilow provides a good, accessible explanation that can serve as a good starting point for those who aren’t familiar with Reich and minimalism, or for those who are familiar but maybe never really “got” it in the past.

Steve Reich Wins Pulitzer

This just in from NPR: Steve Reich has won the Pulitzer for his piexce Double Sextet.

The timing of this is quite apropos for me, as I just finished Ross’ thoughts on Reich in his book “The Rest is Noise”. I think Ross’ comments on his site speak for many: Finally.

Perhaps we’re seeing some reconciliation between music criticism and music listening? Maybe that dichotomy between music that is aesthetically praised and what people actually listen to is starting to lessen?

It remains to be seen.