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Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes"

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Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten (arr. Yozviak)

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General Info

Year: 1945 /
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Unknown
Cost: Score and Parts - Unknown


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Peter Grimes is an opera by Benjamin Britten, with a libretto adapted by Montagu Slater from the narrative poem, Peter Grimes, in George Crabbe's book The Borough. The "borough" of the opera is a fictional village which shares some similarities with Crabbe's, and later Britten's, own home of Aldeburgh, a town on England's east coast.

It was first performed at Sadler's Wells in London on 7 June 1945, conducted by Reginald Goodall, and was the first of Britten's operas to be a critical and popular success. It is still widely performed, both in the UK and internationally, and is considered part of the standard repertoire. In addition, the Four Sea Interludes were published separately (as Op. 33a) and are frequently performed as an orchestral suite. The Passacaglia was also published separately (as Op. 33b), and is also often performed, either together with the Sea Interludes or by itself.

-Program Notes from Wikipedia

Peter Grimes is a fisherman, living in a small Suffolk town called ‘The Borough’. He is summoned to court after the mysterious death of his young apprentice, but is let off with a caution and warned not to hire another. Soon, however, he ignores the court’s ruling and orders a new apprentice from the workhouse. Then, one night, Grimes’ new apprentice falls to his death while Grimes prepares to go fishing. The townsfolk become convinced that Grimes has murdered the boy and resolve to hunt him down. Grimes, now almost mad, appears. He pours scorn on the people of The Borough, urging them to find him, and, finally, sails out to sea to sink his boat, drowning himself.

-Program Note by Royal Opera House

In 1942, after having spent time in America, Benjamin Britten decided to go back home to England. One contributing factor to this decision is said to be his reading of an article on the Suffolk poet Crabbe. The poem The Borough, particularly its section about Peter Grimes, moved Britten. Later the opera Peter Grimes would be one of his most important works. By the time of his death in 1976, Britten had received numerous prestigious awards and, to this day. is lauded as one of the most important English composers of the 20th century.

Peter Grimes. Benjamin Britten’s first opera, is about a fisherman in Aldeburgh on England’s eastern coast, a misanthropic loner who is hounded to self-destruction by the townspeople after the mysterious, but accidental, deaths of two of his apprentices. The opera's premiere as the first postwar production of the Sadler’s Wells Opera was immediately recognized as a landmark for both Britten and English opera. In the opera, the Sea Interludes are scene changes. Britten was extraordinarily adept at making a virtue of the necessity, of getting smoothly from one set to another, and his interludes not only take the listener from one physical location to another (giving the impression at times of going out to sea and back), but also go inside the characters’ minds, which throughout the opera are full of turmoil and doubt. There is not a bar in the interludes, no matter how beautiful, that is free of foreboding. They are integrated into the opera’s action, leading into the next scene without pause. In making concert pieces out of them, Britten put them in a different sequence and changed some endings to make them self-contained. Two of these interludes may be heard tonight in a transcription for wind band prepared by Andrew Yozviak.

Sunday Morning comprises the prologue to, and first moments of, Act II. Large church bells are suggested by clanging thirds from opposing pairs of horns, and later by actual bells. Woodwinds, strings, and trumpets represent smaller bells, while a flute evokes waking birds. A sweeping melody in the violins at the end is, in the opera, Ellen Orford’s song greeting the morning.

The Storm comes in the middle of Act I, bridging a scene in which Grimes waits outside for an oncoming storm and a scene in which the townspeople wait out the storm in a pub. The sweeping theme heard when the storm music begins to subside has the feel of safety, and indeed it is to this music that Grimes had sung “What harbor shelters peace, away from tidal waves, away from storms? What harbor can embrace terrors and tragedies?” in the previous scene. It will be also the last thing Peter sings in Act Ill before he goes down with his sinking boot.

- Program Note adopted from Howard Posner


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State Ratings

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