Monday March 18 2019

God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night;
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.
– William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

Britten and Pears maintained a lifelong interest in the work of the poet, artist, printer, pamphleteer and prophet William Blake (1757-1827). Their book collection contains a number of volumes of Blake’s poetry, some of which Britten used when composing. The Library houses Blake’s commanding St Paul Shaking off the Viper, and the books on display here are two examples from the collection. In addition to providing information about Britten’s music, they tell us something of Britten and Pears’ reading interests, lives and friendships. Britten’s earliest recorded setting of Blake’s poetry dates from the summer of 1930, when he was sixteen. It is a poem that he would set again later in his career. Blake’s visionary verse and his deceptively simple rhymes have had a lasting appeal to composers, writers and artists. His social conscience, compassion for his fellow human beings, but also his vibrant imagination fascinated Britten and Pears. This is demonstrated in Britten’s recurrent use of his work in Serenade (1943), A Charm of Lullabies (1947) and the Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (1965). The texts for the Songs and Proverbs, from which the above quotation from Auguries of Innocence is taken, were selected by Pears. It is one of many examples of his and Britten’s creative collaboration.

Illustrations to the Bible. A Catalogue compiled by Geoffrey Keynes Clairvaux: The Trianon Press, 1957. Britten-Pears Foundation Collection.

Illustrations to the Bible. A Catalogue compiled by Geoffrey Keynes Clairvaux: The Trianon Press, 1957. Britten-Pears Foundation Collection.

This volume is No. 404 of a limited edition of 506 printings. The number of images stand as testimony to the central place religious imagery and metaphor played throughout Blake’s life. Keynes’s edition was published some seven years after Pears acquired St Paul Shaking off the Viper, which hangs in the Library. This page features a reproduction of the painting.

William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience: shewing the two contrary states of the human soul, with a biographical statement by Geoffrey Keynes. London: The Trianon Press, 1955. Britten–Pears Foundation Collection.

William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience: showing the two contrary states of the human soul, with a biographical statement by Geoffrey Keynes. London: The Trianon Press, 1955. Britten–Pears Foundation Collection.

This celebrated colour edition was a gift to Britten from his friends Mollie and Peter du Sautoy, and it tells us quite a lot about Britten during the mid-1960s. Peter du Sautoy was his publisher at the recently established Faber Music. The book marked not only that venture but also the premiere of the Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, given by Britten and baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at the Aldeburgh Parish Church on the 24 June 1965. The du Sautoys’ gift also commemorates Britten’s recent Order of Merit.