Poetry in Sound: British Library centenary exhibition celebrates Benjamin Britten

By Emily Beeson | 30 May 2013

Exhibition preview: Poetry in Sound: The Music of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), British Library, London, until September 15 2013

This exhibition is an exceptional opportunity to view exhibits from the British Library's music catalogue.

As part of the worldwide Britten 100 celebrations, Benjamin Britten’s greatest inspirations and most famous works are celebrated through a rare array of media, including handwritten drafts of some of his best-known compositions, such as The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. It's all in honour of his centenary year.

Delving into sound archives to share the composer’s unpublished recordings, curators Rupert Ridgewell, Sandra Tuppen and Jonathan Summers explore the compelling and diverse tapestry of Britten’s influences, featuring poets and writers such as William Shakespeare, William Blake, WH Auden and Henry James.

The manuscripts are displayed alongside rare editions of literature which inspired the author. Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth, for example, was used by Britten for his War Requiem.

The exhibition coincides with the digitisation of the Library’s Britten manuscripts, all of which can now be viewed on the British Library website in a wonderful resource for music lovers, musicians and scholars alike.

A programme of accompanying events will take place at the library, including a performance of Britten’s notable works by The Turner Ensemble and talks on the composer by speakers such as conductor and author Paul Kildea.

The show also provides the opportunity to experience The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten app, designed by the Britten-Pears Foundation to introduce a new generation to Britten’s music and the orchestra.

The app, which will be available on iTunes next month, features, the complete The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra performed by Sir Mark Elder and the Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra, illustrations by award-winning artist Sara Fanelli games, photographs and more.

A considerable collection of the conductor’s correspondence from the Malcolm Sargent archive and from Britten’s biographer, Donald Mitchell, are among the library's more recent acquisitions in this illuminating look at the enchanting world of the orchestra.

  • Open 9.30am-6pm (8pm Tuesday, 5pm Saturday, 11am-5pm Sunday). Admission free. Follow the British Library on Twitter @britishlibrary.

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