Wednesday October 16 2019
In spring 1960 Britten’s friend and chairman of the Orient Line, Sir Colin Anderson, asked the composer to write a ‘theme tune’ for his new passenger liner Oriana which had been built to serve the UK to Australia route. He intended the tune to be recorded and played when she left port or tied up as well as in ceremonies on board. Britten agreed to do so, but the summer of 1960 saw him immersed in the premiere of his new opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream and its subsequent revisions, and the theme tune was delayed.
Anderson wrote to Britten again in September explaining that ‘Oriana moves majestically towards her final state’ and hoping that he could still write the theme music in time for two upcoming special events aboard the liner. On 21 October the Queen was to be shown around the ship; Anderson wrote to Britten ‘It would add vastly to the fun if your music could be played at a suitably dramatic moment. I shall choose one with care; but of course we shall need it most when we get stuck in a recalcitrant lift – or when all the lights go out’. This is the first time I have come across it being suggested, admittedly in jest, that Britten’s music be used as Muzak!
The second occasion for which Anderson hoped to play Oriana’s music was when he showed art historian and broadcaster, Kenneth Clark, around the liner as part of his TV series on industrial design.
Britten completed the fanfare on time, writing the date ‘Oct 4th 1960’ at the foot of the music manuscript, and sending it to Anderson that day. It is this manuscript and the covering letter which have been deposited in our collections.
In this covering letter Britten wrote of his fanfare ‘I wrote one for Bugles, but it came out too much like ‘Come to the C-house door, boys’, so I scrapped that. This one, as you see starts with a fanfare based on the cry of glory ‘Oriana’! … It can be played by any number of trumpets or cornets (either 100 or one solo chap) … Good luck for everything. I hope the lights don’t fail or the lift get stuck, but I know the Queen and you will rise to any occasion (especially backed by the Fanfare!)’
We already held, amongst Britten’s discarded draft material, the scrapped fanfare Britten alludes to. It predates the improved version by 2 days – Britten dated it ‘Oct 2nd 1960’. Decide for yourself whether it resembles the bugle call traditionally played to call troops to the canteen for meals, popularised with the lyrics ‘Come to the cookhouse door, boys, come to the cookhouse door’.
A keen patron of the arts, Anderson also commissioned works of art for his companies’ ships from, amongst others, Ceri Richards and John Piper, both artists connected with the English Opera Group, of which Anderson was a director for ten years. In particular John Piper was commissioned to create a large mural for the Oriana – ‘Landscape of the two seasons’ – the centrepiece of the Princess Room.
The Oriana’s maiden voyage was from Southampton to Sydney, setting sail on 3 December 1960 with Anderson on board. The two men remained friends, corresponding throughout Britten’s life; the warmth of their friendship and mutual respect comes across in their jovial letters, but also in the fact that the busy composer happily found time to fulfil his friend’s request. They also had mutual friends in John and Myfanwy Piper, and Prince Ludwig and Princess Margaret of Hesse and the Rhine – Peg and Lu – referred to as ‘Lupeg’ in Anderson’s letters.
Anderson continued to support Britten and his work, for example, donating five art works from his own collection to the March 1961 auction of art, books and manuscripts held at Christie’s to raise money for improvements to Aldeburgh Festival venues. Many other friends, collectors, artists, authors and composers gave items for sale, including John Piper. Britten sent a telegram to Anderson on board the Oriana asking for details of the works for the sale catalogue.
Anderson’s letters to Britten are beautifully written – letters such as these will unfortunately become increasingly rare, replaced by phone calls, emails and other electronic communications. Anderson wrote to Pears on 4 December 1976 offering him sympathy on Britten’s death ‘What can we say to you? The quenching of so bright a light – even though we had all been sadly watching its warming flickers for so long – leaves all in a sub-fuse gloom that there is no great hope of ever seeing dispersed for those of us who were already older then dear Ben was’.