Perfection, of a Kind: Britten vs Auden

Sun 5 Nov 2023, 6pm
Queen Elizabeth Hall
Literature & poetry
From £12
past event
past event
Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden in conversation
Britten Pears Arts

City of London Sinfonia and the London Review of Books present an evening of musical-literary collisions, inspired by a meeting (and parting) of minds like no other.

The association between Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden began in the mid-1930s when they worked together on short documentaries for the GPO Film Unit and plays for the Group Theatre, an experimental troupe whose collaborators also included Christopher Isherwood, Louis MacNeice and Henry Moore.

Initially overawed by Auden’s precocious gifts, Britten eventually emerged from this apprenticeship with a genius so singular that Auden never quite forgave him. Perhaps because of this, the debt owed by Britten’s early masterpieces to the lessons of their partnership has been underappreciated.

This programme – with a title taken from Auden’s ‘Epitaph on a Tyrant’ – traces the full arc of their creative relationship.

It moves from the incidental music and cabaret songs Britten composed for Auden’s 1936 play, The Ascent of F6, through to the imagined meeting between an elderly ‘Bengy’ and ‘Wystan’ in The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett – via Britten’s Simple Symphony and Auden’s excoriating and prophetic break-up letter.

Drawing also on writing by Bennett and Frank Kermode from the LRB archive, the evening culminates in a rare performance of Britten and Auden’s most famous collaborative work, Night Mail.

Marking 50 years since Auden’s death and 110 years since Britten’s birth, this first instalment of a new partnership between CLS and the LRB revives and reinterrogates the tempestuous lifelong marriage between music and text.

  • City of London Sinfonia
  • Matthew Kofi Waldren conductor
  • Alex Jennings actor
  • Barrie Rutter actor
  • Johnnie Fiori actor, singer
  • Phillip Breen director
  • Britten: Simple Symphony; Overture; Prelude to Act 2; Cabaret jazz song (Forget the dead); Funeral blues (Stop all the clocks) from Music for The Ascent of F6
  • Interval
  • Britten: Sinfonietta; End sequence from Night Mail - music for the GPO film

Need to know

Age recommendation

For ages 7+

Dates & times

Sun 5 Nov 2023, 6pm
Approximate run time: 1 hour 50 mins.
Run times may vary by up to 20 minutes as they can be affected by last-minute programme changes, intervals and encores.


  • Standard entryFrom £12*
  • Concessions25%**

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