Britten’s Virtual Mystery

In 1964 the first of composer Benjamin Britten and writer William Plomer’s ‘Church Parables’—Curlew River—was premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in St. Bartholomew’s Church in Orford. Britten had been working on the project off and on with his librettist Plomer following Britten’s encounter with Noh theatre during a visit to Japan in 1955. Though the initial intention was simply to set the famous Noh play Sumidagawa to music, it was decided in 1959 that, given that the work was to be premiered in St. Bartholomew’s, it should be ‘a Christian work’ and set in medieval England in the form of a mystery play.1

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  1. Letter to Plomer, 15 April 1959, quoted in: Mervyn Cooke, Britten and the Far East: Asian Influences in the Music of Benjamin Britten (Woodbridge, 1998), 142–143. ‘Christian’ underline in original. []