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Work

Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten Composer

Saint Nicholas, cantata for tenor, choruses, and large ensemble, Op.42   

Performances: 6
Tracks: 46
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Musicology:
  • Saint Nicholas, cantata for tenor, choruses, and large ensemble, Op.42
    Year: 1948
    Genre: Other Choral
    Pr. Instrument: Voice
    • 1.Introduction
    • 2.The Birth of Nicolas
    • 3.Nicolas devotes himself to God
    • 4.He journeys to Palestine
    • 5.Nicolas comes to Myra and is chosen Bishop
    • 6.Nicolas from prison
    • 7.Nicolas and the Pickled Boys
    • 8.His Piety and Marvelous Works
    • 9.The Death of Nicolas
Benjamin Britten's cantata, Saint Nicholas (1948), is a unique composition blending elements of church music and elements of opera and the theater. Saint Nicholas was composed for a commission from Lancing College in Sussex for its 100th anniversary. Peter Pears, the famous tenor and longtime companion of Britten's, attended school at Lancing College. The music was composed during the winter of 1947, and the full score was completed on May 31, 1948. The cantata was actually premiered, though, at the first Aldeburgh Festival in June 1948, with approval from Lancing College, of course. Musical critics were asked to withhold comment on the piece until the performance at the college, July 24, 1948.

The libretto, based on the life of Saint Nicholas, the fourth-century Bishop of Myra, was written by Eric Crozier. Along with Pears, Crozier founded the English Opera Group in 1946. Crozier had a productive partnership with Britten through his operas. He was the original producer of Peter Grimes (1945) and The Rape of Lucretia (1946). Crozier wrote his first libretto for Britten for the opera, Albert Herring (1947). The libretto for Saint Nicholas was the next collaboration between the pair, followed by The Little Sweep (1949), the opera for children.

A very interesting aspect of Saint Nicholas is the performing force for which the piece is written. The cantata is for tenor solo, chorus, women's semi-chorus, four boy singers, strings, piano duet, percussion, and organ. Britten faced the unusual challenge of composing for both professional and amateur musicians in the same piece and making the parts mesh. The vocal parts are all written so that amateur musicians can adequately present them. Saint Nicholas even goes so far as to include the audience in the singing of hymns. Britten felt that he was part of the community, having an important role as composer, and that all people should be able to take part in music.

The cantata is in nine sections, each relaying a different part of the life of Saint Nicholas. The birth of Nicholas is the first section, displayed by extremely simple, unassuming music. An important moment is when the role of Nicholas is passed from one of the boy singers to the tenor soloist, signifying his coming of age. Nicholas performs a miracle by reviving a group of boys, and travels to Palestine on stormy waters. The last section is the death of Nicholas.

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