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Andras Schiff, Britten Letters, Irvine Arditti

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 24 November 2012

Pianist Andras Schiff talks to Tom Service about Beethoven's piano sonatas. Plus the latest volume of Benjamin Britten's letters and an interview with violinist Irvine Arditti.

  • András Schiff

    For the pianist András Schiff, Beethoven's sonatas are gigantic Himalayan peaks of musical and human achievement whose complete traversal have become an essential part of his musical life. Having already played them all 20 times, and recorded them too, he's just embarked on yet another survey of the 32 sonatas at London’s Wigmore Hall as part of a four city tour. Schiff joins Tom Service in the studio and at the piano reveals how the pieces have accompanied his whole life in music, why he waited until he was 50 to attempt the last two sonatas, Op 110 and 111, and what listeners who come on his complete Beethoven expedition can expect to experience.

  • Benjamin Britten at 99

    Benjamin Britten would have been 99 on Thursday 22nd November – St. Cecilia’s Day. In today’s programme Tom looks at two new books celebrating Britten. Firstly A Life in Letters, the sixth and final volume of a collection of the composer’s correspondence, this volume covering the period from 1966-1976 the year of Britten’s death. The letters are extremely revealing, with some unflinching and moving evidence of what Britten went through in the last few illness-wracked years of his life and the tenderness of his relationship with Peter Pears. Dame Janet Baker features in the very first letter in the book, the renowned mezzo-soprano for whom Britten wrote one of his last masterpieces, Phaedra, in 1976. Tom talks to Dame Janet and writer Michael Kennedy, who also knew Britten, and tries to establish whether these letters are essential illumination or give the reader too much information. Tom also speaks to the book’s editors Mervyn Cooke and Philip Reed who provide astonishing detail in the notes that accompany each of Britten's letters. The second book is Britten in Pictures – Tom hears about the camera-shy Britten and the pictures he appeared in during his career. Lucy Walker selected the photographs from thousands in the Britten-Pears Archive and photographer Nigel Luckhurst managed to capture the real Britten in sessions towards the end of his life.

  • Irvine Arditti

    Ever since the violinist Irvine Arditti founded the quartet which bears his name he has been responsible for almost single-handedly making the string quartet a vital force in contemporary music. He and the quartet have commissioned more than 500 pieces in nearly four decades, and have established a performance practice for the quarters of Elliott Carter, Brian Ferneyhough, Helmut Lachenmann - and literally hundreds of others - that could not have existed without him. Arditti tells Tom how his life has been shaped by his relationships with new music and its composers, from Cage to Stockhausen - and beyond, as he prepares to appear at this year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, highlights of which can be heard on BBC Radio 3.



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