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Hymn to St Peter, Op 56a

First line:
Thou shalt make the princes over all the earth
author of text
Gradual for the Feast of St Peter and St Paul

Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) made a small but highly significant contribution to liturgical music. He was born in East Anglia and was educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, later settling at Aldeburgh in Suffolk. He studied piano with Harold Samuel and composition with Frank Bridge whilst still at school. He went up to the Royal College of Music in London where he was a distinguished, prize-winning pupil. There he studied composition with John Ireland and piano with Arthur Benjamin.

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


Byrd & Britten: Choral works
Studio Master: SIGCD481Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
The English Anthem, Vol. 7
CDA67087Archive Service


Track 11 on CDA67087 [6'05] Archive Service
Track 7 on SIGCD481 [5'43] Download only

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