Visualising Britten’s Poets

This is a collaborative project with the Royal College of Art as part of our 2015 exhibition, Britten’s Words, exploring Britten’s lifelong attraction to poetry in beautiful visual detail.

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“This interactive digital diagram makes visible the temporal relations between Britten’s songs and the lifetimes of the poets whose writings Britten set to music. Britten’s individual songs and song cycles are represented by disks along a timeline in the upper half. A curved line links each of them to the author of the text, who is represented as a disk in the lower half. All are arranged along a horizontal time axis that covers a time frame of roughly 2500 years: from the age of Sophocles around 400 BC to Britten’s own lifetime. In the upper timeline the size of a disk represents the number of poems within a given song cycle. In the lower timeline the size indicates the number of poems Britten set by each author.

A cluster of poets around 1800 is noticeable, showing Britten’s fondness for poets of that era. The early eighteenth century is much sparser by comparison, while the late sixteenth and early seventeenth are seen to form one of Britten’s favourite periods. Inspecting the lines that connect individual poets to Britten’s works, we can spot authors who appear throughout his lifetime – such as Tennyson – and others such as Walter de la Mare who only make an appearance during Britten’s youth. More complex relationships are revealed by interacting with the visualisation, selecting different poets or song cycles and examining how they relate to each other.

The dataset for this visualisation has been kindly prepared by Lucy Walker from the Britten-Pears Foundation and the work itself forms part of an ongoing PhD undertaken by Florian Kräutli at the Royal College of Art, where he is supervised by Professor Stephen Boyd Davis. The research, funded by the EPSRC and System Simulation, examines how digital interactive timelines can enable new knowledge to be discovered in cultural data.”

– Florian Kräutli, Royal College of Art.

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