This month with the Prom Concerts in full swing at the Albert Ahh I thought I would highlight some of the best of English music. The Listen Here buttons connect to Spotify where you can listen to pieces.
Benjamin Britten - Peter Grimes
Peter Grimes is set in Britten’s native county of Suffolk, on the east coast of England. It is arguably the greatest English opera ever written. Britten and his partner, the British tenor Peter Pears, worked on the scenario for the opera together, transforming the monstrous fisherman character into a fundamentally sympathetic outsider, persecuted by a hostile community. The opera was first performed in 1945, just after V.E. Day, with Pears in the title role.
Edward Elgar - Cello Concerto
When trying to think of a great piece of English music this cello concerto always springs to mind. It was one of the first pieces of English music I had heard while studying in the US. The recording with the wonderful Jaqueline DuPre would be one of my ‘desert island discs’. You can ear that very recording on Spotify by clicking the link below.
Just as a side note Elgar came around from the anaesthetic after an operation with this tune already in his head…glad he found a piece of paper to write it down!
Vaughn Williams - The Lark Ascending
The Lark Ascending was inspired by a poem of the same name written by George Meredith, which tells the tale of a skylark singing an impossibly beautiful, almost heavenly, song. Vaughan Williams was working on The Lark Ascending in 1914, just as World War I broke out. He was on holiday in Margate when a young boy spotted him making notes and thought he was writing a secret code, so he informed a police officer and the composer was temporarily arrested in case he was a German spy!
Although not necessarily directly influenced by the war, this piece became something of a symbol of the English spirit during a time when the country was struggling with its national identity. In 1920, Vaughan Williams revised the piece to the version we now know and it has gone on to become one of the country's favourite classical pieces.
What would a celebration of English music be without a video of the Last Night of the Proms….