Benjamin Britten


Op. 33b

About this work

It has been proposed that with the emergence of Benjamin $Britten, England produced its first composer equal in stature to longtime favorite son Henry Purcell. There are indeed strong connections between the two -- Britten made a number of arrangements, transcriptions, and realizations of Purcell's works -- though undoubtedly this assertion is based primarily on each composer's affinity for and mastery of opera. Britten's Peter Grimes (1944 - 1945), based upon a work of George Crabbe, has taken a place among the most important contributions to opera by a composer in any century. The struggles of its characters -- most prominently, those of the tortured Grimes himself -- are refracted through the metaphor of the sea which is the lifeblood of the Borough in which the drama is set. Britten's own affinity for the nautical intimately colors the musical and dramatic action throughout. Perhaps Peter Grimes' most elequent expression of these concerns emerges, ironically, in segments of the opera whose traditional role is to provide "coverage" during scene changes between acts.

In addition to extracting the Four Sea Interludes from the opera, Britten also published the Passacaglia as an independent work for orchestra. The Passacaglia is itself an interlude, introducing the action between Grimes and his young assistant that begins Act II, Scene II. This music effectively characterizes the mounting menace and inner discord that eventually lead to Grimes' bitter and tragic departure from the Borough at the opera's end.