Canonbury Brass – a precious postcard

This is a larger version of the card on the Odds & Ends page, with lots more information

I love this postcard! It is called The River Alde at Slaughden Quay, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, with the Prologue from the 'Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings', op 31, by Benjamin Britten and I find that it is a beautiful object depicting a beautiful place and a beautiful piece of music. So it's a triple whammy! Unless you include the fact that it's one of a set, and no longer sold, so it's a little bit collectible, which would make it a quadruple whammy … woo woo.

There's a lot of words there! So please let me unpick this all for you a bit: come and read More about the card just below the picture.  

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Picture postcard of an estuary scene with moored boats. There is horn music along the top of the card.

More about the card
This is quite a big read. Please take your time, get a cup of tea or a glass of water or something nice, don't charge at it all in one go, and grab some adult help if you need it.
  • The card itself: This is a postcard by the painter Jennifer Toombs. She was mostly famous for designing postage stamps, but as you can see she did other work too, and it is lovely. You can read more about her in the ❗Wikipedia article.
  • This card is one of a series, of four cards I think, that she made for the Britten Pears School in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Each one has a local scene and an extract of Benjamin Britten's music – a lovely combination, I feel.
  • Yes, the card image is a little bit off. Well done for noticing! The sea doesn't usually slope slightly like that, and "Horn in F" should really have a tiny bit of space before the H so that it all appears properly. This is, however, the best scan I can get from my card and if I straighten the horizon then, oops, I will lose more of the writing! Ah well. Maybe this was the second printing and done in a bit of a hurry, or something. Who knows?
  • Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) was an English classical composer.  He wrote a number of important, major works, as well as a lot of other marvellous music. He was very skilled in understanding what different instruments can do and how to use them, and this is one of the things – one of the many things – that make his music wonderful to play. There is a huge ❗Wikipedia article about Britten too.
  • Britten was from the county of Suffolk and is now most strongly associated with Aldeburgh, a beautiful seaside town. His Suffolk roots were very important to him and people often feel that they can hear this connection in his music. So a set of cards with Suffolk pictures and Britten's music is highly appropriate and effective.
  • Obviously I have Brass Teacher Bias but I do honestly think that Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings is one of the most brilliant musical works ever written. It is a collection of poems, on the theme of nights or evenings, by British writers; the words are sung by a tenor (a highish male voice) and the instrumental parts (they are not just an accompaniment!) are played by a string orchestra and a horn – that is, a "French" horn, the very curly one. Don't be confused by the words "Tenor, Horn" in the title – that is two things, not a "Tenor Horn" like we play at school! People are always telling you that punctuation is important, aren't they? Well, that comma right there is very important.
  • What does that op 31 mean there, in the title of the card? Slightly tricky – if you can find out it might be worth a dojo or three. Or, if you ask nicely, I might just tell you!
  • Finally, this particular part of the Serenade. It's the Prologue – the very first thing you hear, before the singer or the strings have even started. It's a very solo solo, if you see what I mean – the horn is quite lonely and sounds truly dramatic and mysterious. Also, Britten has done something clever with how he wrote it … it's a bit complicated to discuss here (please ask me if you want to know more about it!) but basically its effect is to change some of the notes from what you might expect, which makes the music sound … I don't know … a little bit "wrong", or wild, or unsettled, or very natural, perhaps unsophisticated? Gosh, I really don't know. Have a listen and see what you think.
  • You can listen to it in several ways:
    • To hear only the music on the card, press the audio button below. (There's another of the same button back on the Odds & Ends page.)
    • Ask me in a lesson.
    • Use this ❗YouTube link for the first few minutes, with real live performers on stage.
    • Use this ❗YouTube link for the the whole thing, but just with a still photo, not live performers visible in the video.

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