Phillips Recording. Printed in the Netherlands // Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) // Peter Grimes (1945)
Orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Conducted by Colin Davis
Peter Grimes - Jon Vickers
Ellen Orford - Heather Harper
Captain Balstrode - Jonathan Summers
Auntie - Elizabeth Bainbridge
First Niece - Teresa Cahill
Second Niece - Anne Pashley
Bob Boles - John Dobson
Swallow - Forbes Robinson
Ned Keen - Thomas Allen
I suddenly realised where I belonged and what I lacked. I had becomes without roots… “” benjamin britten, Letters from a Life (1998)
A bleak little place; not beautiful...and what a wallop the sea makes as it pounds at the shingle! Nearby is a quay, at the side of an estuary, and here the scenery becomes melancholy and flat; expanses of mud, saltish commons, the march-birds crying. “” e.m. forster describing the town of aldeburgh (the inspiration for the setting of Peter Grimes) on The Listener (may 29, 1941)
i’ve watched enough BBC4 programs to arrive justifiably to the conclusion that california is a sort of mecca for rich british folk, the promised-land of sunshine and flip-flops and the destination of a necessary pilgrimage to a place as conceptually far away as possible from every kind of burgh, shire, hampton and the long etcetera of suffixes appendaged unto the many dreary dwellings of that storied island. so it’s quite appropriate that the conception of britten’s Peter Grimes began quite accidentally in a second-hand bookshop in los angeles. his life-long partner, peter pears, bought a used copy of an anthology of poems by george crabbe (The Borough), one of which is called ‘The Poor of the Borough: Peter Grimes’.
After much soul-searching, Britten sailed back to England in 1942, in the middle of the war. But he had already made a considerable impression in the United States, which led to a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation for what became the opera Peter Grimes. Premiered in 1945, this bleak but electrifying story of a fisherman and his doomed boy apprentice was an international success and placed Britten in the first rank of opera composers and composers in general. In reputation it remains one of the towering operas of the twentieth century. Its leading role, like all Britten’s leading tenor roles, was written expressly and lovingly for Peter Pears. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit
it’s beyond me how it’s already been a year since i last listened to this opera, but then again a year is just long enough to forget completely of some of my favourite arias, and returning to it to be surprised with bits like ‘You’ll be sent to Peter Grimes..’ and ‘Old Joe has gone fishin’...’. the best stretch of music in this opera, however, are the four interludes that are known collectively as the ‘Four Seas’. these interludes give the work its backbone, its setting by sea and ominous atmosphere, the dark brooding clouds from which the mass-motived chant of the title character’s name intermittently spears down like lightning:
coming back to this opera for the third time, some things are more apparent: i have an ear less for Grimes’s railings and unrelenting severities and more for Ellen Orford’s pleading--not that Peter should be spared by the burghers--but that he should spare himself his obsession with his reputation, his tireless work and indefatigable industry:
This unrelenting work
This grey, unresting industry,
What aim, what future, what peace
Will your hard profits buy?
“” Ellen Orford, Act 2, Scene 1
in the year since, i think i know a few things more about what matters most, about the things that ‘unresting industry’ cannot buy, that instead brings peace to work and profit.
i’ve recently developed a slight obsession with paintings of people standing by windows. perhaps because of the tendency of certain compositions to tease the compatibility of private and sociable dispositions via the placement of a window in an interior with a view of some metropolitan scenery (gustave caillebotte’s Young Man at his Window, as a prime example)...which can impress upon the mind the compatibility of the solitude of creative work and the animal-companionship that makes such work worthwhile. one of carl sandburg’s poems, At A Window, is a very satisfying contemplation on this interaction between the hunger that inspires unrelenting work---a hunger personified in Grimes---and the irreplaceable satisfaction of companionship (which Ellen Orford offers like an outstretched hand till the very end):
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.
“” carl sandburg, At A Window (1916)
Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!
But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
(elsewhere in music: Artifice - SOHN)
having to listen to horrible music at work is one of those despiriting sufferings one cannot be adequately compensated for nor ever fully recover from. and that has been the case with most of the jobs i’ve had, especially so with my tenure at the Monocle Magazine Shop on college street. really quite horrendous stuff. it was the kind of music that’s blanched of all primary colours, absolutely no sharp angles. (seemingly composed for the generic purpose of soundtracking a supercut of the nightlife of some nondescript european city---no longer native to the national identity that initially made it a tourist destination, and not quite able to pull off the chic aimless optimism and lightness of touch that animates a truly international city of the north-american sort). with all such places that i’ve worked, my retrospective verdict is unanimous: i stayed too long.
then again nothing is ever what it is all of the time. there are exceptions occasionally (and reluctantly) encountered. the song Artifice by english singer/songwriter christopher michael taylor, otherwise known as SOHN is one such delicious exception. i first heard the song at the aforementioned shop back in january, and it took a bit of a slow burn to get into it, but i’ve since been hooked by the confectionery of its sound production and a rhythm readymade for the dancefloor (reminiscent of Drake’s Find Your Love). the music is laminated by the lucidity of introspective lyrics more befitting of a set of acoustic guitars but yet propelled by that romp-gallop of a beat. Laminated---because the of the conceptually slippery lyrics that don’t quite pin down any particular image. the music video offers even less explanation, but is instead a super-slo-mo camera pan across a scenery in disarray, every fleeing either towards or away from what looks like a car-crash, but reveals itself in actuality to be a failed relationship.
(that’s the week)
yes indeed, that’s the week: all 52 of them. here’s to another run (god willing and if the creek don’t rise).
thank you 🤟🏾