BRITTEN (BENJAMIN)
Lot 57
BRITTEN (BENJAMIN)
Sold for £3,360 (US$ 5,721) inc. premium
Lot Details
BRITTEN (BENJAMIN)
Autograph sketch leaf for his overture for the Beggar's Opera, comprising forty-three bars notated in pencil in short score, the first half deleted plus further revisions including some scraping-out, two pages, attached to an album leaf by tape on the verso, minor tears and wear in the margins, 4to, [1948]

Footnotes

  • AUTOGRAPH SKETCHES BY BRITTEN FOR THE BEGGAR'S OPERA. Britten's version of Gay's Beggar's Opera was written for the opening of the English Opera Group's 1948 season directed by Tyrone Guthrie at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 24 May: "The last of the trinity of chamber operas was an arrangement—'realization', to use Britten's own term—of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, a coruscatingly brilliant exercise in digging out the totally unexpected from what were often 'traditional' tunes, often by contrapuntal means, canon especially. Here, as also in his many folk-song arrangements for voice and piano or orchestra, Britten, by treating the melodies as if he had composed them himself, succeeds in creating a work wholly in his own musical image. This is an opera which remains much underestimated. Its dazzling counterpoint alone secures it a special place in the evolution of Britten's compositional techniques" (Donald Mitchell, ODNB).

    Included in the lot is an autograph letter signed ("Ben") by Britten to Ivan Clayton, who, with Britten, conducted the first performance, in which he congratulates Clayton on his Wandering Scholar produced by the Third Programme (9 January 1949). Also included are typed extracts from two letters by Clayton sending Britten's sketches [probably to the D'Oyley Carte tenor Derek Oldham]. In the first he describes the sketches themselves: "I am sending you the long promised MSS. It is a piece of the overture which Ben wrote for the Beggar's Opera – in sketch form before orchestration. The overture he called a pot-pourri, and discarded the formal overture which Pepusch composed for the original version...The tune is the men's chorus 'Fill every glass' in a new 'molto espressivo' guise, played by strings and woodwind in canon, with a perky little bassoon accompaniment of the tune in diminution. The few bars on the reverse are the beginning of an arrangement of one of the sixty-nine (!) tunes, called 'The Lass of Patie's Hill' – intended in this case for female voices but never completed, and not included in the performance. I think Ben intends to have it ready for the published score, in a sort of Appendix with two or three other tunes he didn't manage to arrange in time!". In the second he describes the circumstances of their composition: "I ought to have told you that he (Britten) went off to Aldeburgh the weekend before the first performance in order to write the overture, and returned with it on the Monday morning, having spent Sunday writing the sketch of which I have sent you a part, and completely scoring it. If that isn't genius of a very high order I'll eat my hat".
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