Britten's champagne moment

My mention of Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra in my recent article about his Violin Concerto reminded me of this little story told in John Bridcut's Britten's Children: - During what was intended as a spoken interview in 2003, a transported David Hemmings (left) sang, hummed and groaned his way through the Young Person's Guide (which he remembered Ben playing to him the first time he visited Aldeburgh as a boy), and as he reached the triumphant return of the theme in the brass, he cried out: 'That's the champagne moment! Fucking great!'.

* Britten created the role of Miles in his opera The Turn of the Screw for the twelve year old David Hemmings, and Hemmings sung the part in the premiere at La Fenice in Venice in 1954. He also sung in, and recorded, The Little Sweep and Saint Nicholas with Britten. But eventually Hemmings became another one of Britten's 'corpses'. His voice broke during a performance of The Turn of the Screw at the Théâtre Champs Elysées in Paris in 1956, and he was immediately dropped from Britten's circle.

* As I have been writing this I have been listening to Britten's champagne moment in his own recording of the Young Person's Guide with the London Symphony Orchestra. This is a Decca CD re-issue of the 1963 Kingsway Hall sessions produced by Eric Smith and engineered by Gordon Parry. This is a true demonstration disc, the sound stage has width and depth, the orchestral strands are clearly delineated without spotlighting, the bass is firm but tuneful, and overall the sound is about as close as you can get to a concert hall without actually being there. Why, with our wonderful digital tools and download technologies, can't we make recordings like this today?

For more on Britten's relationship with children follow this Overgrown Path.
Quote taken from Britten's Children by John Bridcut, published by Faber ISBN 0571228399 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 other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


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