The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion

By Claire Seymour | Go to book overview

6

The Little Sweep

How I wish that I could save you! I would hide you far away From the tyrants who enslave you And torment you day by day!

Eric Crozier, Rowan's Song, The Little Sweep

... don't worry, and remember there are lovely things in the world still — children, boys, sunshine, the sea, Mozart, you and me —

Peter Pears to Benjamin Britten 1

In the weeks that followed the first Aldeburgh Festival, Britten's diary was more crowded than ever. After a series of exhausting concerts, including performances in England and Europe with the English Opera Group and the official première of his cantata Saint Nicholas, Britten began work in earnest on what he referred to as 'the Spring piece' 2 — a choral symphony which had been commissioned several years earlier by Koussevitzky. In addition, he received a request from David Webster at Covent Garden, for a new, large-scale opera for the Festival of Britain in 1951. However, these multiple pressures began to have a negative effect on Britten's health. During a hectic recital tour in Holland with Peter Pears, in December 1948, Britten suffered from a debilitating stomach complaint and, diagnosed with nervous exhaustion, was ordered to take three months absolute rest. He was suspected of having a stomach ulcer, and although an x-ray revealed nothing, he remained exhausted and depressed in the early months of 1949.

A three-week holiday in Italy with Pears temporarily restored his mood and energy, but upon his return to Britain, he found that he still felt drained and dispirited. However, by March 1949 he had apparently recovered sufficiently to contemplate another tour of America with Pears. The Spring Symphony, with which he had struggled for some months, was now complete; but before it could be scored, Britten had to turn his attention to the need for a new opera for the second Aldeburgh Festival which was now only a few weeks away.

The Little Sweep was the first opera to be created specifically for the Aldeburgh Festival. Set in Suffolk in 1810, it tells the story of how the children at Iken Hall meet Sam, a pitiful sweep-boy, and rescue him from his bullying master, Black

____________________
1
Undated letter (late 1948, early 1949?); HC, p. 272.
2
Letter to Erwin Stein, 24 August 1948; HC, p. 270.

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The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Operas of Benjamin Britten - Expression and Evasion *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Permissions *
  • Abbreviations x
  • 1 - Introduction *
  • 2 - Paul Bunyan *
  • 3 - Peter Grimes *
  • 4 - The Rape of Lucretia *
  • 5 - Albert Herring *
  • 6 - The Little Sweep *
  • 7 - Billy Budd *
  • 7 - Billy Budd *
  • 8 - Gloriana *
  • 9 - The Turn of the Screw *
  • 10 - Noye's Fludde *
  • 11 - A Midsummer Night's Dream *
  • 12 - The Church Parables *
  • 13 - Owen Wingrave *
  • 14 - Death in Venice *
  • 15 - Conclusion *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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