Britten’s own philosophical approach to music is worth repeating:
I believe … in occasional music … almost every piece I have ever written has been composed with a certain occasion in mind, and usually for definite performers, and certainly always human ones.
I consider their voices, the range, the power, the subtlety, and the colour potentialities of them.
I consider the instruments they play—their most expressive and suitable individual sonorities … I also take note of the … circumstances of music, of its environment and conventions; for instance, I try to write dramatically effective music for the theatre … And then the best music to listen to in a great Gothic church is the polyphony which was written for it, and was calculated for its resonance.
On receiving the First Aspen Award
A speech by Benjamin Britten (Faber and Faber, London, 1964)
The Hymn to St Peter was written in 1955 and first performed in the same year at the Church of St Peter Mancroft in Norwich. The work draws on a text taken from the Gradual of the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, with its associated plainsong. The plainsong, presented at the outset, is woven into the organ pedal ostinato. The Latin text ‘Tu es Petrus’ (‘Thou art Peter’) is sung by a solo treble, with echoes of the plainsong theme, juxtaposed with Britten’s own harmonic language. This conveniently draws the ancient to the modern as the chorus translates the text the treble sings.
from notes by William McVicker © 1999