Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Edward Benjamin Britten (November 22, 1913, Lowestoft, Suffolk, England - December 4, 1976) was the son of a dentist and a talented amateur musician. He showed musical gifts very early in life, and began composing prolifically as a child. He was educated at Old Buckenham Hall School in Suffolk, a small all-boys prep school, and Gresham's School, Holt. In 1927, he began private lessons with Frank Bridge; he also studied, less happily, at the Royal College of Music under John Ireland, with some input from Ralph Vaughan Williams. Although ultimately held back by his parents (at the suggestion of College staff), Britten had also intended to study with Alban Berg in Vienna. His first compositions to attract wide attention were the Sinfonietta op. 1, "A Hymn to the Virgin" (1930) and a set of choral variations A Boy was Born, written in 1934 for the BBC Singers. The following year he met W. H. Auden, and they collaborated on the song-cycle Our Hunting Fathers Op. 8, radical both in politics and musical treatment, and other works.
Of more lasting importance to Britten was his meeting in 1937 with the tenor Peter Pears, who was to become his musical collaborator and inspiration as well as his life partner. In the same year he composed a Pacifist March (words, Ronald Duncan) for the Peace Pledge Union, of which, as a pacifist, he had become an active member, but the work was not a success and soon withdrawn.
Simple Symphony (1934)
In early 1939, Britten and Pears followed Auden to America, where Britten composed Paul Bunyan, an operetta (to a libretto by Auden), as well as the first of many song cycles for Pears.
The period in America was also remarkable for a number of orchestral works, including Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge Op. 10 (written in 1937 for string orchestra), the Violin Concerto Op. 15, and Sinfonia da Requiem Op. 20 (for full orchestra).
Sinfonia da Requiem (1940)
A Ceremony of Carols (1942)
Britten and Pears returned to England in 1942, and both applied for recognition as conscientious objectors; Britten was initially refused recognition, but gained it on appeal. He completed the choral works Hymn to St. Cecilia (his last collaboration with Auden) and A Ceremony of Carols during the long sea voyage.
Peter Grimes (1945)
He had already begun work on his opera Peter Grimes based on the writings of Suffolk poet George Crabbe, and its première at Sadler's Wells in 1945 was his greatest success so far.
A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946)
Billy Budd (1951)
Grimes was the first in a series of English operas, of which Billy Budd (1951) and The Turn of the Screw (1954) were particularly admired. These operas share common themes. For example, most feature an 'outsider' character, who is excluded or misunderstood by society. Often this is the eponymous protagonist, as in Peter Grimes and Owen Wingrave.
The Turn of the Screw (1954)
Noye's Fludde (1957)
An increasingly important influence was the music of the East, an interest that was fostered by a tour with Pears in 1957, when Britten was struck by the music of the Balinese gamelan and by Japanese Noh plays. The fruits of this tour include the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas (1957) and the series of semi-operatic "Parables for Church Performance": Curlew River (1964), The Burning Fiery Furnace (1966) and The Prodigal Son (1968).
War Requiem (1962)
Dies Irae I
Dies Irae II
The greatest success of Britten's career was, however, the War Requiem,
written for the 1962 consecration of the newly reconstructed Coventry Cathedral.
Britten developed close friendships with the Russians Dmitri Shostakovich and Mstislav Rostropovich in the 1960's: he composed his Cello Suites, Cello Symphony, and Cello Sonata for the latter, and conducted the first Western performance of the former's Symphony No. 14.
Shostakovich dedicated this score to Britten, and often spoke very highly of his music. Britten himself had previously dedicated 'The Prodigal Son' (the third and last of the 'Church Parables') to Shostakovich.
Death in Venice (1973)
In the last decade or so of his life, Britten suffered from increasing ill-health. His late works became progressively more sparse in texture. They include the opera Death in Venice (1973), the Suite on English Folk Tunes "A Time There Was" (1974) and String Quartet No. 3 (1975) -- which drew on material from Death in Venice -- as well as the dramatic cantata Phaedra (1976), written for Janet Baker.
Having previously declined a knighthood, Britten accepted a life peerage on July 2, 1976 as Baron Britten of Aldeburgh in the County of Suffolk. A few months later he died of heart failure at his house in Aldeburgh. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Peter and St. Paul's Church there. His grave lies next to that of his partner, Sir Peter Pears, and close to the grave of Imogen Holst, another close friend.
Rudolph "Rudy" Toombs (c.1914–November 28, 1962), born in Monroe, Louisiana, was a black songwriter who wrote "Teardrops from My Eyes", Ruth Brown's first number one R&B successful song. He wrote more successes for Brown, including "5-10-15 Hours" as well as "One Mint Julep" for The Clovers.
One Mint Julep is a rhythm-and-blues song written by Rudy Toombs that became a hit for The Clovers. It was recorded by Atlantic Records in New York City on December 19, 1951 and released in March of 1952. It was one of the first "drinking songs" to become a hit and one of the first to feature a tenor sax solo. It was an important step in the history of Ahmet Ertegün and Atlantic Records in its quest to become a hot rhythm and blues label.
Stylistically the The Clovers were moving away from the sentimental lyrics of the romantic doo-wop group songs and adapting a cooler group style, emphasizing rhythm more, nearing the style of a jump blues combo.
Toombs was hired by Atlantic to write humorous up-tempo rhythm and blues novelty songs. Atlantic wanted material that was true to life but also funny. The humor in this song comes in part from the idea of a young black man getting drunk on mint juleps, thought of as an aristocratic southern white woman's drink.
The story line is a classic one of a man who falls for the charms of a young woman only to realize a few years later that he has a ring on his finger. He remembers that it all started with "One Mint Julep."
"One early morning as I was walking,"
"I met a woman, we started talking,"
The last verse outlines the trap.
"I don't want to bore you, with my trouble,"
"But from now on I'll be thinking double."
This is one of the best of the many popular R&B drinking songs in the 1940's and 1950's.
It was the first of several successful up tempo drinking songs by Toombs on the horrible effects of alcohol, and who went on to write One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer for Amos Milburn, Fat Back and Corn Likker for Louis Jordan, and Nip Sip for The Clovers.
In 1961 "One Mint Julep" finally reached a mass audience when Ray Charles's recording reached No. 1 on the R&B charts and also No. 8 on the pop chart.
Among the many who covered or remade this song are the following:
Pee Wee Ellis
Richard "Groove" Holmes
James Taylor Quartet
Booker T and the MGs
[8915 Willie Dixon / 8913 Britten / 8913 Muddy Waters]