The Cambridge SingersJohn Rutter conductor. Hyperion Records The Best of Britten. Choral Works; Operas for Children. Certainly a very beautiful piece, incredibly sensitive and well-written. Throughout his life, the composer mourned his loss of innocence and longed for a return to his childhood. One Thousand Years Of Carols.

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Composed by Benjamin Britten British, Classical, Contemporary, Sacred. Item Number: HL. This is one of the most well-known and best-loved of his choral pieces. Understandably so, too. It has all the ingredients which make for a really satisfying choral experience.

The use of a solo quartet or small semi-chorus, best placed at a distance, brings a dramatic element to the essential simplicity of the carol. The Latin responses of the semi-chorus to the medieval English words of the main chorus give these responses a further element of mystery which adds another layer of spiritual drama. The ratcheting up of the intensity in the final verse by increasing the tempo, by the ATB of the main chorus singing continuous rising phrases and by the sopranos singing a short phrase which is answered by the semi-chorus brings the piece to its climax.

The final tranquillo page leads the carol to its conclusion in a mesmerizingly beautiful final phrase sung by the semi-chorus. Care needs to be taken with the speed, the semi-chorus placing, and the creation of an atmosphere which demands attention from the listener.

This is very slow indeed. Try it with a metronome. Frankly, I find the original speed too slow to make this piece flow. Note that for the quicker final verse Britten suggests a crotchet tempo. This means he did think about the issues of speed very carefully. Placing: Some choirs choose to put the semi-chorus at the other end of the church, or in a gallery for dramatic effect.

Directors, however, have to remember that while this might work in the first two verses, in the last verse the two groups sing together and have to balance to some degree. Thought should also be given to the fact that if the semi-chorus is placed at the other end of a church behind the audience, the audience sitting near the back will hear them more strongly than the main choir. It is best to place the semi-chorus behind the choir but still quite close, perhaps by the altar if the main choir is in the choirstalls, or just in front of the altar.

Always make sure that the semi-chorus can see the conductor! Duration: 4 minutes.


Hymn to the Virgin

I had thought until recently that my favourite works of his were the wonderfully inventive Nocturne for tenor, strings and obbligato instruments or the paired-down genius of the church parable Curlew River, but I have recently been reassessing my judgement and decided that my favourite work is one of the earliest — A Hymn to the Virgin. It is, however, undoubtedly not a work of juvenilia but rather one of the most subtle, mature and succinct works Britten would ever compose, and certainly one of his most successful sacred pieces. In writing this blog entry I picked three random books on Britten to see what was written on the Hymn to the Virgin, and was shocked to discover that it was hardly featured in any of them. I would have thought this small but beautifully formed masterpiece would be worth a few more sentences? The choir is split into two groups who respond antiphonally one then the other each taking off from where the other finished. The simple, homophonic, diatonic harmony is clear and bright moving effortlessly around A and D minor and the form of the piece is equally clear with a slower more serene A section moving to a more animated B section half way through 2. The use of the macaronic form is interesting with choir I singing in English and choir II in Latin and the choice of Medieval text helps add to the sense of restrained timelessness which A Hymn to the Virgin exhibits.


A hymn to the Virgin



28. A Hymn to the Virgin



Hyperion Records


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