Tag Archives: composer

Britten Films: An Exploration

The young Benjamin Britten wrote:

1936… finds me earning my living – with occasionally something to spare – at the GPO film unit… writing music and supervising sounds for film

In 1933 Britten became a member of the General Post Office film unit, which was originally set up to produce sponsored films relating to the GPO’s activities. As a result of Britten composing the music for the short films, there was a quick turnaround time and this helped Britten to refine and nurture his compositional tools.

The nine short films he worked on – covering subjects ranging from postage stamps to pacifism, the abolition of the slave trade to the electrification of the London-Portsmouth railway – are wonderfully made and fascinating historical documents. For example, Night Mail is a documentary about a London, Midland and Scottish railway mail train. The rhythm of the poem imitates the stages of the train journey, where the increasing rhythmic pace throughout the poem symbolises the acceleration of the mail train.

A still from Night Mail showing the mail train on its journey

A still from Night Mail showing the mail train on its journey

Britten’s music brilliantly reflects, amplifies and underpins the screen images with scores of rich variety and invention. It is a celebration of composer’s craft and filmmaker’s technique, an insight into 1930s Britain, and a snapshot of the art of propaganda before the term became besmirched forever by the extreme forces of political repression.

Aldeburgh Festival will be screening Britten’s nine GPO films in June with a live orchestra in the event Britten Films. Before the screening commences there will be an illustrated discussion, Britten Films: An Exploration, looking at the astonishing artistic collective which was the GPO film unit and how some of Britten’s very first professional commissions were to leave a powerful impression on his future creative life.

For more information on the events visit www.aldeburgh.co.uk or phone 01728 687100. The website’s ‘visiting us’ page helps you find out about where to eat, where to stay, and how to find us of course. Tickets can be purchased from the website and through the box office on 01728 687110.

Leanne Cox – Aldeburgh Festival

The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit is available from the BPMA Shop.

Britons of Distinction

Royal Mail is celebrating the lives and work of ten prominent Britons with a new set of stamps launched today. The Britons of Distinction stamps celebrate ten distinguished individuals from the realms of science and technology, architecture, politics and the arts who have all made a major contribution to British society.

The ten 1st Class stamps feature a mixture of portraits and images of these individuals and their achievements.

1st Class – Sir Basil Spence – architect of Coventry Cathedral

Knighted for services to architecture, particularly his designs for the new Coventry Cathedral, opened in 1962, after the original was bombed. The image shows Coventry Cathedral.

1st Class – Frederick Delius – opera, choral and orchestral composer

The First Cuckoo stamp, British Composers, issued 14 May 1985

The First Cuckoo stamp, British Composers, issued 14 May 1985

Yorkshire-born composer of choral and orchestral works. Born in 1862 and most renowned for music evoking a timeless English pastoral idyll. Delius’ The First Cuckoo was commemorated on a stamp in 1985 (pictured right).

1st Class – Mary ‘May’ Morris – designer and textile artist

Textile artist and designer celebrated for her embroidery; daughter of the artist and thinker William Morris (whose work was featured on stamps last year). The image shows Orange Tree, designed and embroidered by May Morris.

1st Class – Odette Hallowes – SOE agent in occupied France

French-born British secret agent in wartime France, who survived solitary confinement in German concentration camps.

1st Class – Thomas Newcomen – inventor of the atmospheric steam engine

Devon ironmonger, engineer and inventor of the atmospheric steam engine, which helped power the Industrial Revolution. His first working engine was installed at a coalmine near Dudley Castle in Staffordshire in 1712.

1st Class – Kathleen Ferrier – contralto performer of opera and song

Lancashire-born contralto whose international opera and song career was prematurely ended by her death from cancer. Ferrier worked for the GPO as a telephonist on two occasions, and you can view her nomination papers for 1930 and 1934 on the Ancestry website.

1st Class – Augustus Pugin – Gothic revival architect and designer

Architect, designer and advocate of the Gothic style whose commissions included the interiors of the Palace of Westminster. The stamp shows Pugin’s interior of the Palace of Westminster.

1st Class – Montague Rhodes James – scholar and author of ghost stories

Cambridge academic and author of chilling ghost stories, originally written as entertainments for his friends.

1st Class – Alan Turing – mathematician and code breaker

Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing's work on computers), Millennium Series. The Investors' Tale, issued 1999

Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing's work on computers), Millennium Series. The Investors' Tale, issued 1999

Mathematician and computer scientist, whose work with the code breakers at Bletchley Park helped to speed up the end of the Second World War. The stamp shows Turing’s Bombe code breaking machine at Bletchley Park. Turing previously featured on a stamp in 1999 (pictured right).

1st Class – Joan Mary Fry – Quaker relief worker and social reformer

Quaker campaigner for pacifism and social reform, who organised food relief in Germany after the First World War, and then in Wales

Two different pictorial first day of issue postmarks are available.

Britons of Distinction first day of issue handstamps

Britons of Distinction first day of issue handstamps

Stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/stamps, the Royal Mail eBay shop and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.