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The World of the Spirit (1938)

Full Score

By Benjamin Britten

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Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass Voice, SATB, Orchestra
Full Score. Composed by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). Music Sales America. Classical. Softcover. Composed 2010. 87 pages. Chester Music #CH76527. Published by Chester Music (HL.14041492).

Item Number: HL.14041492

For SATB soloists, speaker(s), chorus and orchestra

Scoring: 2 (II=picc),2,2,2; 4,2,3,1; perc (1) (cymb, susp cymb, gong, sd, bd, tamb); timps; harp; organ; strings

Text: various authors compiled by R. Ellis Roberts

Publisher: Chester Music

Difficulty level: 3-4 (choir)

This unusual and in many ways remarkable work was the second quasi cantata Britten wrote specifically for BBC radio (the other is The Company of Heaven - see separate entry). The performing version published in 2001 makes suggested cuts (by Donald Mitchell) in the extensive readings which form a critically important part of the performance. A short prologue featuring the all-important plainsong chant Veni Creator Spiritus, which many will know as the hymn tune sung to the words 'Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire', opens the work, appears several times throughout and returns at the end in a fully worked out arrangement. In between these points the speakers read a variety of texts mostly on the subject of peace, generosity of spirit, forgiveness, joy in faith, steadfastness in adversity and the overarching importance of loving one's neighbour - a common thread through Britten's life reaching its climax in the composition of the War Requiem. Following the readings there are a number of movements for chorus, for soloists, and with a variety of accompaniments - sometimes organ alone, sometimes a small instrumental group, and sometimes the full orchestra.One of the most interesting aspects of the work is the youthful Britten's (he was 24) musical responses to the words he was setting. There are points at which one unequivocally notes Britten's familiar language which was just in the process of development. Others, though, seem almost to parody other composers. The second movement (O Thou that movest all), basically a hymn, is almost pure Mendelssohn in its lush chromaticisms. He just avoids it becoming pastiche, but it sets a non-threatening tone to the soundworld in the early stages of the work. The next movement (The sun, the moon, the stars) has a wonderful sweep to it - almost a tidal motion, perhaps suggestive of his increasing obsession with the sea. It is a beautiful movement. This is my commandment which follows the next readings takes its cue (literally) from the words 'and after the fire a still small voice'. The utter stillness of this movement is breathtaking and it segues into the next movement With wide-embracing love which is an unashamedly romantic waltz. It is actually in 6/8 but the pulse is so slow that it could be easily taken for 3/4.

The World of the Spirit is a fascinating and absorbing score. It is completely outside the normal Britten oeuvre and is yet another example of a rarity which should be taken up and widely used.

Duration: 42 minutes

Paul Spicer, Lichfield, 2011.

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