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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Benjamin Britten - the greatest non-playing guitar composer of all time?

Tonight in London Gary Ryan played the Nocturnal Opus 60 by Benjamin Britten to start off his recital at the Bolivar Hall for the Transformations Music Series. This was a brave thing to do, given the intensity and length of the work. He followed by accompanying tenor Thomas Hobbs in Britten's English Folk Song arrangements. These works represent two thirds of Benjamin Britten's entire works for guitar, the other work being the Songs of the Chinese.

Presented with the manuscript of the Nocturnal Julian Bream was astonished to note only one unplayable chord in the entire 20 minute work, and this from a composer who could not play the guitar. Amazingly, Britten himself was rather upset when he realized his one and only error! Here is a work which deals with every aspect of guitar technique placed magnificently at the service of a wide range of expressive variations depicting various states of sleep ending with John Dowland's song Come Heavy Sleep. Nightmare, restlessness, peace and tranquility are all vividly depicted in scale and arpeggio passages, double octave sequences, complex five part chords, and pizzicato and tremolando techniques.

In the English Folk Songs the guitar colours the words with a few carefully chosen chords and harmonics. The songs themselves vary between charming, moving and amusing lyrics with the guitar underpinning them with the equivalent of a few masterful brush-strokes.

All this from a composer who couldn't play the guitar - Britten's 'feel' for instruments was remarkable, and his preparation and study of the possibilities of each instrument he wrote for was legendary.

If you haven't heard these remarkable works, go and do so now! Drop what you are doing, and immerse yourself in the sound world of a master composer.

28th June, London

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2543 .
© 2019.

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