Benjamin Britten may have been the most popular composer of the 20th century, beloved for his operas Peter Grimes and Billy Budd, for The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, and several exalted film scores. He traveled the world, and in middle age settled in the area of his childhood – near Aldeburgh in the rural county of Suffolk, on Britain's southeast coast.
"After lunch, every afternoon, Benjamin Britten would go out walking," notes Chris Watson, a professional sound recordist. "During that walk, which was maybe an hour, maybe 90 minutes, he would consider and edit in his mind his morning's work on his compositions." Watson, who has collaborated with legendary nature filmmaker David Attenborough, retraced many of Britten's routes with his recording equipment to make "In Britten's Footsteps," a sound portrait of composer's world.
"Suffolk's a relatively low-lying English county," says Watson, "and there's not much intensive agriculture by the coast, so it still retains this beautiful, classic English countryside. It's a mosaic of habitats. It still has some of the original medieval field systems. It has old pathways, and green tracks and holloways away from the beach. These are the tracks and lanes which Britten would have taken." Watson captured the particular hiss of winds in the reed beds, the curlews and European nightingales Britten loved, as well as the bells of the parish church.
"He was incredibly creative musically, but he was a careful listener – as I like to think I am. I mean, I'm a wildlife sound recordist. I listen for a living."
The work was commissioned by the Aldeburgh Festival of Music as one of many events this year celebrating the centenary of Britten's birth.
Bonus Track: Chris Watson, "In Britten's Footsteps" (excerpt via The Guardian)
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