Although not mentioned in the film's promotional material it is worth noting that when asked "What would you do if Britain were invaded?" by a a tribunal for the registration of conscientous objectors in 1942, Britten replied "I believe in letting an invader in and then setting a good example" - an example which if followed by others in the event of a Nazi invasion would have meant the absence of Mendelssohn and a number of other composers from Aldeburgh Festivals. I have no other information about Peace and Conflict and this post is being written in western France, some 500 miles from my home in Norfolk. But based on available information the film does promise to add some much-needed value to what may otherwise be just another composer anniversary.
Thanks to Mahler, Cage and others, classical music is suffering once again from anniversary overload, and that is before we reach 2013, when Wagner and Verdi join Britten in centennial celebrations. Each succesive anniversary brings even more inane and valueless "Happy birthday Gustav Mahler" type tweets, even more puff pieces from social media apeing journalists, and even more unimaginative and unremitting cycles of the birthday boy's work (birthday girls rarely get the anniversary treatment) from orchestras and radio stations. I hope I do not need to restate my passion for Britten's music; but how many cycles of his String Quartets and performances of Peter Grimes will 2013 stand? And do we really need a BBC Radio 3 Britten Experience?
Composer anniversaries should be an opportunity for new exploration and critical reassesment, but instead they have become rolling hagiographies created to sell CDs and concert tickets, and grab audience ratings. I might not be in total agreement with the sentiment, but I would happily trade several of the current Cage anniversary bashes for one intelligently argued thesis that his widespread appeal has something to do with the emperor and his new clothes. Similarly I would trade any one of the ubiquitous Mahler cycles for a thesis that his symphonies are no more than third pressing Wagner. Surely reasoned dissent is as valuable as unreasoned praise?
Britten's genius, like Cage's, is, of course, beyond question. But let us remember these words from symphonist and pianist Ruth Gipps:
I have been told that Britten was personally responsible for having the careers of possible rivals ruined if he could; those who suffered from his jealousy (all of course normal married men) included Walton, Finzi, Howells, Berkeley and a number of other genuine composers. With his works framed in nothing but avant-garde Britten was able to shine - and went to his death a millionaire, complaining that he didn't get enough performances.If recent anniversaries are anything to go by, the Britten celebrations will see too many concerts in which his music is framed by those that influenced him, and the many that he influenced. Which is very sad: the fact that Britten was right does not make those that Ruth Gipps termed his rivals wrong. Would 2013 be any less of a celebration if there was a little less Britten and a little more Walton, Finzi, Howells, Berkeley and even Gipps?
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Photo is via EDPnews 24, Ruth Gipp quote via The Innumerable Dance, the Life and Work of William Alwyn by Adrian Wright (ISBN 978184383412). Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk