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Benjamin Britten: "Courtly Dances from Gloriana, Op. 53a"

Courtly Dances from Gloriana, Op. 53a

Benjamin Britten

Born: November 22, 1913, Lowestoft, United Kingdom

Died: December 4, 1976, Aldeburgh, United Kingdom

Composed: 1953

Original Instrumentation: Opera Orchestra

Arranged: 1995, Jan Bach

Duration: 10 minutes

Gloriana, Op. 53, Benjamin Britten’s sixth opera, was commissioned by Covent Garden, and “dedicated by gracious permission to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in honour of whose coronation it was composed.” William Plomer adapted the libretto from Lytton Strachley’s Elizabeth and Essex, an account of the complex and tragic relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex. The opera received its premiere as part of the coronation festivities on June 8, 1953, in the Covent Garden Theatre with Joan Cross and Peter Pears portraying Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex, respectively.

After its initial performance for the nobles, diplomats and dignitaries in attendance, Gloriana received heavy criticism in the press. Detractors focused upon the opera’s scenario, which explored Queen Elizabeth’s personal relationship with the Earl of Essex, the intrigues and jealousies at Court, and the Queen’s human conceits and frailties. Joseph Newman, of the New York Herald Tribune, stated the following: “Everyone expected Gloriana to be a tribute to the new sovereign – a glorification of Elizabeth I which would serve as a glorification of Elizabeth II and would ring up the curtain on a new Elizabethan age. It turned out to be nothing of the kind.” Britten was also criticized for choosing to close the opera with spoken dialogue instead of music. Composers in attendance, most notably Ralph Vaughan Williams, publicly rose in defense of the work, and upon a subsequent run at the Royal Opera House, it received a significantly warmer response.

The Courtly Dances make up most of the music in the third scene of act 3. Britten compiled his four-movement Symphonic Suite Gloriana, Op. 53a, from the instrumental music of the opera. The Courtly Dances—a single-movement suite of seven traditional dances—serve as the third movement of the larger suite. The dances, in order, are March, Coranto, Pavane, Morris Dance, Galliard, Lavolta and March (reprise).

Courtly Dances from Gloriana, Op. 53a

The Julian Bream Consort

Courtly Dances from Gloriana, Op. 53a, tr. Jan Bach

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band, Col. John R. Bourgeois, conductor

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