A Poet's Christmas - Britten & WH Auden
Dear Friend of Sacred and Profane,
Here at S&P Central, all of us in the choir have been working hard to bring you a varied and exciting program this December. As our concerts approach, I thought I’d send a few emails to our audience members to give you a behind-the-scenes look at this concert set. In this email, I’ll tell you how Benjamin Britten’s music inspired me to invite an Irish actress to recite works by English poets.
We in the a cappella choral world have a close relationship with the composer Benjamin Britten. Britten’s intuition for the choral instrument, his uniquely beautiful musical language, and the wealth of his canonic pieces for choir is unparalleled. The choristers and I speak often in rehearsals about how moved we are by his music -- how it seems to express the inexpressible. In fact, our name comes in part from a multi-cycle choral work by Britten called Sacred and Profane, which we’ll be singing in our 40-year anniversary concert next May 2018.
We’ve performed many of Britten’s works over the years, including two December concerts dedicated to his holiday works. In reviewing those holiday concerts, I discovered that two of the pieces, both settings of W.H. Auden’s poetry (one of Britten’s most important collaborators), were written for a radio presentation aired by BBC Radio on Christmas Eve in 1944 entitled A Poet’s Christmas. I was curious about what else was on that program. My sleuthing led to multiple exchanges with the BBC, and little by little I was able to piece together the original program. It was put together by a group of friends – composers, poets, and actors, all influential artists in their day – who created new works for this unique Christmas Eve program, broadcast at a very difficult moment in England’s history.
In order to recreate that original broadcast, we’ve brought on local Irish actor Esther Mulligan (who does a great English accent!) to read poems by John Heath Stubbs, Anne Ridler, Edith Sitwell, Laurie Lee, and Louis MacNiece. We’ll also sing settings of poems by Christina Rossetti, Frances Cornford, W.S Auden, and several others whose work was aired that wartime Christmas Eve.
In future posts, I'll tell you about our other offerings in our upcoming concert, including the U.S. premiere of Karin Rehnqvist's new work in many languages and the premiere of our own James Tecuatl-Lee's Two Crittersongs for the Wintertime.
Hope you can make it out to enjoy this wonderful music with us!