08 Nov 2012

Britten – “Four Seas Interludes” from Peter Grimes, op. 33a

By Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flute (both double piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (2nd doubles Eb clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, chimes, xylophone, snare drum, tambourine, cymbals, gong, bass drum, harp, strings.

Duration: 16 minutes in four movements.

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)Peter Grimes was Britten’s first full-scale opera. It was a huge success in England, which had not produced a homegrown blockbuster since Purcell in the 17th century. The libretto was drawn from the poetry of George Crabbe. Crabbe wrote The Borough in 1810 and arranged the long tale in a series of 24 letters, the most well-known of which is Letter XXII and its principal character Grimes. In Crabbe’s work, Grimes is a deeply troubled fisherman whose young apprentices wind up dead after spending time in his care. In the hands of Britten he is expanded into the archetypal tortured outsider, a man guilty of unspeakable acts but punished by them too. Britten masterfully weaves the human drama of his story with the musical fabric of the sea and its many faces. In the suite of orchestral Sea Interludes we have not only a set of brilliantly realized tone portraits, but a subtle psychological primer on the deep questions posed in the story itself. The opera was premiered in 1945 but by that time Britten (wisely) had already extracted the Interludes for concert performance.