Benjamin Britten in America with Lucy Walker

Benjamin Britten in America with Lucy Walker
  6:30 pm - 7:30 pm

Coronavirus: Events may be cancelled and venues closed at short notice, you are advised to check on their websites before making a trip.

This is an online video event, please check the organiser for details about how to watch.

Learn about Benjamin Britten's wartime trip to America from music historian Lucy Walker

In April 1939, composer Benjamin Britten travelled across the Atlantic on the rather luxurious SS Ausonia, to try his fortune in the USA. Accompanying him was someone who had recently become a close friend, the singer Peter Pears.

Britten and Pears began their journey to the USA as two friends with return tickets and a plan for Britten to get work in Hollywood after a brief stay on the east coast. T

he trip turned out almost entirely differently for them both: within a few weeks Britten and Pears became lovers, Hollywood didn’t work out at all, and the short visit to the east coast lasted for nearly three years – their return tickets expiring sometime along the way.

War broke out in Europe a few months after they arrived, and their already uncertain plans were thrown into further turmoil. They received much in the way of conflicting advice about whether to come home, stay put, take out American citizenship, and Britten even considered – bizarrely- working as a secretary to Washington’s Library of Congress.

Letters to and from his sisters and friends from the UK speak of his indecision, and high-minded critiques of American life were mingled with admiration for the country’s energy, and frantic worries about his loved ones in the UK.

However professionally, at least to start with, Britten had great success with his compositions, with Carnegie Hall premieres of his Violin Concerto and the brilliant orchestral work Sinfonia da Requiem. He had numerous other commissions, and began work on his first stage work, the operetta Paul Bunyan, with WH Auden.

Poet and composer worked together while staying in an extraordinary household in Middagh Street, Brooklyn – sharing their rented home with Carsen McCullers, Gypsy Rose Lee, and literary editor of Harper’s Bazaar, George Davis.

But by 1941 – after an eventful road-trip and sojourn in California – Britten and Pears were ready to come home. Paul Bunyan had been a critical flop, and Britten had been visited by an acute pang of homesickness on encountering the poetry of Suffolk-born George Crabbe in a Los Angeles bookshop: Crabbe’s lengthy poem The Borough eventually turned into Peter Grimes.

Britten and Pears travelled back across the Atlantic in April 1942, on the battered Merchant Ship MS Axel Johnson, as part of a vulnerable naval convoy. During the crossing, he and Pears worked on the scenario for Peter Grimes, his most ‘Suffolk’ of operas – and a powerful symbol of his return home.

About the speaker:

Lucy Walker is Head of Public Engagement at Britten Pears Arts, based in Suffolk. As well as giving talks, curating exhibitions, and writing articles about the life and works of Britten and Pears, she has also presented many short films and hosts the From The Red House podcast. She has given talks and presented study days at numerous concert venues and opera houses in the UK and internationally, and has edited two books on Britten for The Boydell Press.

Her most recent article on Britten's life in Aldeburgh appeared in "The Lives of Houses", edited by Hermione Lee and Kate Kennedy. Her PhD (2005, University of London) was on the operas of Francis Poulenc. Lucy also teaches courses on cinema at Aldeburgh Library Foundation.

Please note this will be a ZOOM WEBINAR. You will not be invited to use your audio or cameras but can ask your questions or give your comments through the Q&A chat.

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Contact and Booking Details

  6:30 pm - 7:30 pm

Booking details and information at this website.

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Disclaimer: All information given is correct at the time of compiling the listings. Any questions about the event should be directed to the event organiser.

2021-08-25 18:30 2021-08-25 18:30 Europe/London Benjamin Britten in America with Lucy Walker Learn about Benjamin Britten's wartime trip to America from music historian Lucy Walker ,,,

This is an online video event, please check the organiser for details about how to watch.


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