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The Rest is Noise: Britten's Centenary

Updated Saturday 28th September 2013

28/29 September: Place, nationhood and community. The Rest is Noise considers Britten's remarkable work in the context of post-war Britain.

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Portrait photo of Benjamin Britten Creative commons image Icon Work found at / CC BY-SA 3.0 under Creative-Commons license Portrait photo of Benjamin Britten This is the seventh weekend in a series of events at the Southbank Centre exploring 20th Century music.

‘I believe in roots, in associations, in backgrounds, in personal relationships’, Benjamin Britten once said, and there is perhaps no composer whose work has so powerfully grappled with ideas of place, nationhood and community.

The windswept fishing town of Aldeburgh was the place Britten called home. His works channel the rhythm of the waves, the vast expanse of the ocean, and the sense of Englishness and village life.

But Britten was a steely individual—in the fraught Cold War atmosphere after the war, Britten’s pacifism, his socialist leanings and his homosexuality went against social norms and made him an outsider.

Listen to the talks

In the fraught atmosphere of the Cold War, Benjamin Britten’s pacifism, socialist leanings and homosexuality cast him as an outsider. Likewise, his tonal, communicative music was viewed as suspicious by his avant-garde contemporaries.

Bites: 15 minute talks by OU experts

The following talks were given as part of the Festival’s Bites presentations—a collection of 15 minute talks which provide the audience with an intense, whistle-stop tour through the needs-to-know of the topic.

Gustav Mahler: Britten's Mentor, by Dr Robert Samuels (Saturday 12:30pm). Benjamin Britten was a lifelong admirer of Mahler, the most prominent musical figure in Europe in the years before Britten’s birth (he was born two years after Mahler’s death). During the period of Britten’s musical formation in the inter-war years, Mahler was largely regarded as an anachronism; a throwback to the nineteenth century, the epitome of lush musical Romanticism; hardly a model for an aspiring young composer at the forefront of the modernist movement. Yet Britten heard in Mahler’s music elements which few others heard at the time, but which have become increasingly recognised in recent years: Mahler’s experimental harmony which often points towards the changes to come in the works of Schoenberg; Mahler’s depiction of the plight of the individual, often threatened by impersonal forces beyond their control. Britten often praised Mahler in letters and other writings; he owned conducting scores annotated by Mahler. But the chief evidence of his admiration for his Viennese forerunner lies of course in Britten’s own music, which often displays a conscious modelling on individual works by Mahler.

Benjamin Britten, the Left, and Pacifism, by Dr Geoff Andrews (Sunday 3pm). In the fraught atmosphere of the Cold War, Benjamin Britten's pacifism, socialist leanings and homosexuality cast him as an outsider. Likewise his tonal communicative music was viewed as suspicious by his avant-guard contemporaries. But, what were the main political influences, constraints and inspirations behind his music?





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