Noye's Fludde

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Noye's Fludde (Noah's Flood), Op. 59, is a 1957 opera by Benjamin Britten. The text is based on an edition by Alfred W. Pollard of an early 15th-century mystery play from the Chester Mystery Cycle. The opera is written to be performed by a cast primarily of amateurs, and Britten requested it be performed in a church or a large hall but not in a theatre.

Like a Baroque concerto grosso, the orchestra calls for a small concertino ensemble of professionals, consisting of string quintet, recorder, piano (four hands), organ, and timpani. The amateur ripieno orchestra calls for strings, recorders, bugles, hand-bells, and percussion. The audience, which Britten refers to as the "congregation", is invited to join in by singing along in the three hymns inserted into the original text.

The first performance was on 18 June 1958 in Orford Church, Suffolk, as part of the Aldeburgh Festival, with the English Opera Group and a local cast. Owen Brannigan sang Noye, and the conductor was Charles Mackerras.


Chester mystery plays[edit]

A 14th-15th century performance of the Chester mystery plays, on a pageant cart

English mystery or "miracle" plays, which originated in the late Middle Ages, were dramatised bible stories performed on Church Feast days in city squares and market places, generally by members of the city's craft guilds.[1] The plays covered the full range of the biblical narrative, from the Fall of Lucifer to the Last Judgement.[2] The cycle of Chester Mystery Plays is one of four that had survived into the 20th century; authorship of the Chester cycle is sometimes attributed to Ranulf Higden, otherwise known as Roger of Chester, a much-respected historian of the city,[3][4] although there is little direct evidence for this. The plays were apparently revised by an unknown hand in late 15th century, into a format similar to that of contemporary French passion plays.[5]

The story of Noah and the Flood, the third play in the cycle, was performed by the Guild of the Drawers of Dee, otherwise known as the water-carriers.[6] A feature of this play, observed by the historian Rosemary Woolf, is the depiction of Noah's wife, and by implication women generally, as disobedient, obdurate and finally abusive—in contrast to the "grave and obedient" Noah, and his patient sons.[7]

After the 16th century Reformation the Church grew less tolerant of mystery plays. A performance in Chester in 1575 is the last recorded from the city until the 20th century. The Chester cycle was then revived as part of the city's Festival of Britain celebrations in June 1951, under the supervision of Christopher Ede.[8][9] This production was received enthusiastically, and was repeated the following year; thereafter it became a regular feature and tourist attraction.[8][10]


By the late 1940s Benjamin Britten had established himself as a leading composer of English opera, with several major works to his credit. In 1947 he suggested to his librettist Eric Crozier that they should create a children's opera, based on a bible story.[11] Crozier gave Britten a copy of Alfred W. Pollard's edition of the Chester mystery plays, as a possible source of material.[12] Nothing came of this project immediately; instead, Britten and Crozier wrote the cantata Saint Nicolas (1948), the first of several works in which Britten combined skilled performers with amateurs; the cantata involves at least two children's choirs, and incorporates two congregational hymns sung by the audience.[13] Britten also used this fusion of professional with amateur forces in The Little Sweep (1949), which forms the second part of his entertainment for children, Let's make an Opera that he devised with Crozier.[14] Again, child singers (now doubling as actors) are used, and the audience sings choruses at appropriate points.[15][16] By 1952 Britten's collaboration with Crozier was over,[n 1] but he used the Chester plays book as the source text for his Canticle II (1952), based on the story of Abraham and Isaac.[18]

In April 1957 Boris Ford, Head of Schools Broadcasting at Associated Rediffusion (A-R), wrote to Britten, proposing a series of half-hour programmes. These would show Britten composing and rehearsing a work through to final performance, and would provide children "an intimate piece of musical education, by ... watching a piece of music take shape and in some degree growing with it".[19] Britten was initially cautious; he found the idea interesting but, he warned Ford, he was at that time busy travelling, and had little time for writing. He was also anxious not to cover the same ground as he has with Let's Make an Opera a few years previously.[20] However, he agreed to meet Ford to discuss the project further. On 11 July they met in London, together with Britten's amanuensis Imogen Holst. Britten told Ford that he had "for some months or a year vaguely been thinking of doing something with the [Chester] miracle plays".[12] Following the meeting Britten agreed to write an opera for Associated Rediffusion's 1958 summer term of school programmes. The subject would be Noah and the Flood, based on the Chester text.[21] Later, Ford and his script editor, Martin Worth, travelled to Aldeburgh, and with Britten looked at possible churches for the performance. Orford Church was chosen as, unlike most other churches in East Suffolk, its pews were not fixed, thus offering a more flexible performing space.[22][n 2]


Role[25] Voice type[25] Premiere Cast, 18 June 1958[25]
(Conductor: Charles Mackerras)
The Voice of God spoken role Trevor Anthony
Noye bass-baritone Owen Brannigan
Mrs. Noye contralto Gladys Parr
Sem treble Thomas Bevan
Ham treble Marcus Norman
Jaffett tenor or treble[25] Michael Crawford
Mrs. Sem girl soprano Janette Miller
Mrs. Ham girl soprano Katherine Dyson
Mrs. Jaffett girl soprano Marilyn Baker
Mrs. Noye's Gossips girl sopranos Penelope Allen, Doreen Metcalfe, Dawn Mendham, Beverley Newman
The Raven silent role David Bedwell
The Dove silent role Maria Spall
Children's chorus of animals and birds; congregation


A 13th century mosaic depicting Noah in the ark

Noye's Fludde opens with the congregation singing the hymn "Lord Jesus, think on me" as Noye enters. The spoken Voice of God announces the forthcoming destruction of the sinful world. God tells Noye to build an ark ("a shippe") that will provide salvation for him and his family. Noye agrees, and calls on the people and his family to help. His sons and their wives enter with tools and materials and begin work, while Mrs Noye and her Gossips (close friends) mock the project. The work continues, and the ark is completed.

Noye tries to persuade his wife to come into the ark: "Wyffe, in this vessel we shall be kepte", but she refuses, and they quarrel. The Voice of God foretells forty days and forty nights of rain, and tells Noye to fill the ark with animals of every kind. The animals enter in groups from all parts of the church, singing or squeaking the words "Kyrie eleison!",[n 3] while Noye's sons and their wives provide a commentary. Noye orders his family to board the ark, and again Mrs Noye and the Gossips refuse, preferring to drink. The sons finally drag Mrs Noye on board, while the Gossips are swept away by the encroaching flood; she rewards her husband with a slap. Rain begins to fall, building to a great storm at the height of which the first verse of the naval hymn "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" is heard from the ark, sung by the cast and animals. The congregation joins in the second and third verses of the hymn, during which the storm gradually subsides. When it is calm, Noye sends out a Raven (a child dancer, usually a boy), saying "If this foule come not againe/it is a signe soth to sayne/that dry it is on hill or playne." When the Raven fails to return, Noye knows that the bird has discovered dry land. He sends out a Dove (another child dancer, usually a girl), who eventually brings back an olive branch. Noah accepts this as a sign of deliverence, and thanks God.

The Voice of God instructs everyone to leave the ark. As they do, the animals sing "Alleluias" and the cast sing a chorus of praise: "Lord we thanke thee through thy mighte". God then promises that he will never again destroy the earth with water, and provides a rainbow as a token of this promise. The cast begins the hymn "The spacious firmament on high", which crescendoes until the congregation joins in the last two verses. All the cast except Noye file out during that verse, leaving Noye alone to receive God's blessing and promise of no more vengeance: "And nowe fare well, my darling deare". After a final look at the ark, Noye leaves and walks out through the congregation.



Having selected Noye's Fludde from the Chester cycle as his subject, Britten began detailed planning for the opera in August 1957, while sailing to Canada for a tour with the English Opera Group.[27] He told Colin Graham, at that time the EOG's stage manager, that he wanted him to direct the new work.[28] After a further meeting at Associated Rediffusion's London headquarters on 18 October,[22] Britten began a composition draft in Aldeburgh on 27 October.[27][n 4] To Pollard's edition of the Noah play's text, he added three congregational Anglican hymns: "Lord Jesus, think on me"; "Eternal Father, strong to save"; and "The spacious firmament on high".[n 5] He had completed about two-thirds of the opera when Ford was dismissed from Associated Rediffusion, allegedly for administrative shortcomings and inexperience. A-R then decided to withdraw from the project, which was then taken up by Associated Television (ATV), whose chairman Lew Grade personally took responsibility for signing the contract and urged that Britten should complete the opera.[31]

In November 1957 Britten moved to the Red House, just outside Aldeburgh, but continued to work on the opera throughout the upheaval. According to a letter he wrote to Edith Sitwell on 14 December, "the final bars of the opera [were] punctuated by hammer-blows" from workmen busy at the Red House.[32] Before he had finished the composition draft (on 18 December[27]), Britten wrote to the baritone Owen Brannigan, who had sung in several previous Britten operas, asking if he would take the title role.[33] Britten completed the full score of the opera in March 1958,[34] which he dedicated "To my nephew and nieces, Sebastian, Sally and Roguey Welford, and my young friend Ronald Duncan [one of Britten’s godsons]".[35]

Performance requirements[edit]

The Chester Miracle plays were written in the 14th century by ordinary people for performance by the craftsmen and tradesmen and their families. Each Guild chose one play from the cycle and acted it on a cart called a "pageant" ... This essentially unsophisticated style of presentation would clearly be out of place in the artificial world of the theatre; a much closer relationship with the audience is needed, and Noye's Fludde in this musical version is intended for the same style of presentation – although not necessarily on a cart.

Programme note by Colin Graham, for the first performance of Noye's Fludde, 18 June 1958.[36]

With a wide variety of child performers required in the opera, and in light of how it was cast and performed at its premiere, Britten detailed some of its specific requirements for performance in the published vocal score (replicated in the study score published by Boosey & Hawkes). The opera is intended for a large hall or church, not a theatre. The action should take place on raised rostra, but not on a formal stage set apart from the audience, with the orchestra placed in full sight, and the conductor in a position to conduct both the orchestra and, when performing the hymns, the congregation. Noye and Mrs Noye should be sung by "accomplished singer-actors", and the Voice of God, although not necessarily a professional actor, should have "a rich speaking voice, with a simple and sincere delivery, without being at all 'stagey'". Noye's children should be between 11 and 15 years old, with well-trained voices and lively personalities; Jaffet, the eldest, could have a broken voice. Mrs Noye's Gossips should be older girls with strong voices and considerable acting ability. The children playing the animals should vary in size, and range in age from seven to eighteen. The older age groups, with perhaps some broken voices, should represent the larger animals (lions, leopards, horses, camels etc), while the younger play rats, mice and birds.[37] There is a dance or ballet involving two child performers playing the roles respectively of the raven and the dove.[38]

For the first time in any of his works involving amateurs, Britten envisaged a large complement of child performers among his orchestral forces,[38] which also includes what Colin Graham described as "the professional stiffening" of a piano duet, string quintet (two violins, viola, cello and bass), recorder and a timpanist.[39] The young musicians are required to play a variety of instruments, including a full string orchestra, each section led by a respective member of the professional string quintet. The violins are further divided into parts of different levels of difficulty, from the simplest (mostly playing open strings) to those able to play in third position. The recorders should led by an accomplished soloist able to flutter-tongue; bugles are played as the children representing animals march into the ark. and at the climax of the opera.[n 6] The child percussionists, led by a professional timpanist, play various exotic and invented percussion instruments:[n 7] the score itself specifies sandpaper ("two pieces of sandpaper attached to blocks of wood and rubbed together"[37]) and "Slung Mugs". To represent the first drops of rain, Britten had the idea of striking teacups with a spoon. However, having failed to make this work, he sought Imogen Holst's advice. She recalled that "by great good fortune I had once had to teach Women's Institute percussion groups during a wartime 'social half hour', so I was able to take him into my kitchen and show him how a row of china mugs hanging on a length of string could be hit with a large wooden spoon.[40]

Britten also added – relatively late in his process of scoring the work – an ensemble of handbell ringers. According to Imogen Holst, a member of the Aldeburgh Youth Club brought Britten's attention to a local ensemble of young handbell ringers: hearing them play, Britten was so enchanted by the sound that he gave the ensemble a major part to play as the rainbow unfolds towards the end of the opera.[43][n 8] Though the sound of those handbells were widely and favourably remarked upon at the opera's premiere,[42][47][48] the relative scarcity of the instrument tuned at several of the pitches required in the opera was to prove something of an issue between Britten and his publishers.

Performance history and reception[edit]


Detail from a statue of Noah and the dove in Orford Church, where Noye's Fludde was first performed

The first performance of Noye's Fludde was staged during the 1958 Aldeburgh Festival, at Orford Church on 18 June. The conductor was Charles Mackerras,[49] who had participated in several productions at past Aldeburgh festivals.[50] The production was directed by Colin Graham, who also designed its set, with costume designs by Ceri Richards.[51][n 9] Apart from Brannigan as Noye, two other professional singers were engaged: Gladys Parr, in her last role before retirement, sang the part of Mrs Noye, and the spoken Voice of God was provided by the Welsh bass Trevor Anthony. The other major roles were taken by child soloists, who were selected from widely-ranged auditions. Among these was the future actor-singer, Michael Crawford, then 16 years old and described by Graham as "a very recently broken-voiced young tenor", who played the role of Jaffet.[39][n 10] Mrs Noye's Gossips were originally to be performed by girls from a Suffolk school, but when the headmistress heard rumours about the "dissolute" parts they were to play, she withdrew her pupils.[39] The Chorus of Animals was provided by children from three local schools: Sir John Leman School, Beccles; the County Primary School, Bungay; and the Heath Primary School, Kesgrave.[36]

The professional element in the orchestra was provided by the English Opera Group players, led by Emanuel Hurwitz. The remaining adult players were a piano duet played by Viola Tunnard and Martin Penny, and the organist Ralph Downes. The children players, billed as "An East Suffolk Children's Orchestra", included handbell ringers from the County Modern School, Leiston; a percussion group, whose instruments included the slung mugs, from Woolverstone Hall School; recorder players from Framlingham College; and bugle players from the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook.[36] Graham, recalling the scene in Orford Church at the premiere some years later, wrote: "The large orchestra (originally 150 players[n 11]) ... were massed around the font of Orford Church while the opera was played out on a stage erected at the end of the nave."[39] Philip Hope-Wallace, writing for The Manchester Guardian, observed that "Charles Mackerras conducted the widespread forces, actually moving round a pillar to be able to control all sections in turn."[54] Martin Cooper of the Daily Telegraph recalled: "The white walls of Orford Church furnished an ideal background to the gay colours of Ceri Richards's costumes and the fantastic head-dresses of the animals. In fact, the future of the work will lie in village churches such as this and with amateur musicians, for whom Britten has written something both wholly new and outstandingly original."[55]

The general critical reception was warmly enthusiastic. Felix Aprahamian in The Sunday Times called the performance "a curiously moving spiritual and musical experience".[55] Eric Roseberry, writing in Tempo magazine, found the music "simple and memorably tuneful throughout ... the writing for strings, recorders and percussion is a miracle of inspiration".[38] Andrew Porter in Opera magazine also found the music touched "by high inspiration"; the evening was "an unforgettable experience ... extraordinarlily beautiful, vivid and charming, and often deeply moving". The design and production, Porter reported, were "brilliant", while Mackerras commanded his disparate forces masterfully.[56] The Times's critic noted the effectiveness of Britten's setting of the mystery play: "It is Britten's triumph that in this musically slender piece he has brought to new life the mentality of another century by wholly modern means. These means included a miscellaneous orchestra such as he alone could conceive and handle".[57]

After the premiere, there were two further performances in Orford Church, with the same forces, on 19 and 21 June.[37] Noye's Fludde became the first of Britten's operas to be shown on television, when it was broadcast by ATV on 22 June 1958.[34]

Later performances[edit]

Noye's Fludde had been largely created according to the resources available from the local Suffolk community.[58] However, according to the Aldeburgh Festival organizer, Stephen Reiss, once Britten witnessed the public and critical reception following the premiere, he insisted "We've got to take it to London."[59] Looking for a London church "of right size & shape", Britten settled, somewhat reluctantly, on Southwark Cathedral.[60] Four performances featuring the same principals as the premiere were given, on 14 and 15 November 1958, with Britten conducting the first.[61][n 12] All four performances sold out on the first day of booking, even, as Britten told a friend, "before any advertisement & with 2000 circulars yet to be sent!!"[61] Less than six months after the Southwark Cathedral performances, the East Finchley Children's Music Group (later the Finchley Children's Music Group), formed specially in 1958 to perform Noye's Fludde,[63] gave what was billed as "the first amateur London performance" of the work, at All Saint's Church, Finchley on 24 and 25 April 1959; the cast included Norman Lumsden as Noah.[64]

In the United States, after a radio broadcast in New York City on 31 July 1958, the School of Sacred Music of Union Theological Seminary staged the US premiere on 16 March 1959.[65] The following year saw the opera's Canadian premiere, conducted by John Avison,[66] staged during the 1960 Vancouver International Festival in Christchurch Cathedral.[67]

During preparations for the first German performance of Noye's Fludde in Ettal, planned for May 1959, the problem of the scarcity of handbells – one that Britten had previously been alerted by his publishers Boosey & Hawkes (see Publication below) – became acute. Britten suggested that in the absence of handbells a set of tubular bells in E flat in groups of twos and threes could be played by four or six children with two hammers each to enable them to play the chords. Britten was not present in Ettal, but he learned from Ernst Roth, of Boosey & Hawkes, that the Ettal production had substituted glockenspiel and metallophone for the handbells, Roth noting that the bells in Carl Orff’s Schulwerk percussion ensembles were "too weak" for the purpose.[68] Britten later wrote to a friend: "I am rather relieved that I wasn't there! – no church, no bugles, no handbells, no recorders – but they seem to have done it with a great deal of care all the same. Still I rather hanker after doing it in Darmstadt as we want it – even importing handbells for instance."[69]

In the UK, Christopher Ede, producer of the landmark performances of the Chester mystery plays during the Festival of Britain, directed Britten's opera in Winchester Cathedral 12–14 July 1960.[70] Ede had been much in touch with Britten the preceding year, not only about this production but also discussing the Fanfare for St Edmundsbury which he had commissioned Britten to compose for the Pageant of Magna Carta.[71][n 13] Writing to Ede on 19 December 1959, Britten urged him to keep the staging of Noye's Fludde simple rather than elaborate.[71] In 1971, the Aldeburgh Festival once again staged Noye's Fludde at Orford;[73] a full television broadcast of the production, transferred to Snape Maltings, was made by the BBC, conducted by Steuart Bedford under the composer's supervision, with Brannigan resuming the role of Noah, Sheila Rex as his wife, and Norman Lumsden as the Voice of God.[74][75]

"Noah's Flood": special performance in a rehearsal hall at The Santa Fe Opera, 11 August 2013

In 1972 Jonathan Miller directed his first opera with a production of Noye's Fludde, staged 21–23 December at the Roundhouse Theatre, London: the adult roles were taken by Michael Williams (God), Bryan Drake (Noah) and Isabelle Lucas (Mrs Noah), and the conductor was John Lubbock.[76][77]

Among less conventional productions, in September 2005 Noye's Fludde was performed at Nuremberg zoo, in a production by the Internationales Kammermusikfestival Nürnberg involving around 180 children from Nuremberg and from England, directed by Nina Kühner, conducted by Peter Selwyn.[78] Subsequent productions in zoos have been presented by NI Opera in Northern Ireland and the KT Wong Foundation, in Belfast Zoo, directed by Oliver Mears and conducted by Nicholas Chalmers, with Paul Carey Jones as Noye and Doreen Curran as Mrs Noye.[79] The same production was performed in October 2012 at the Beijing Music Festival, this being the Chinese premiere of the work, and the first full performance of a Britten opera in China,[80] and then again at the Shanghai MISA Festival in July 2013.[81]

Britten's centenary year 2013 prompted numerous performances across the UK, including by the Cheltenham Music Festival[82] and the Thaxted Festival.[83] The Britten-Pears Foundation also supported performances in June.[84] An Aldeburgh Festival production to wrap up the centenary year was staged in November in Britten's home-town of Lowestoft with Andrew Shore as Noye and Felicity Palmer as Mrs Noye,[85] and was broadcast in the UK on BBC Radio 3.[86] Outside the UK, several professional opera companies mounted the opera during Britten's centenary year in productions involving local children, including the New Zealand Opera,[87]The Santa Fe Opera,[88] and the New Orleans Opera, which mounted its first production of any Britten opera.[89]


The approach to the ancient story of Noah through an essentially medieval convention, realized in Elizabethan language of a fairly lowly order, was a splendid formula for arousing children's sense of the fitting ... Whereas the church parables were to couch their most overtly spiritual sentiments in terms of...Gregorian plainchant, his children in Noye's Fludde most effortlessly recognize an act of praise as their own when couched in terms to which their conditioning has accustomed them – that is, ...universally familiar English hymnody.

Peter Evans: The Music of Benjamin Britten[90]

Noye's Fludde has been described by the musicologist Arnold Whittall as a forerunner of Britten's church parables of the 1960s,[91][92] and by the composer's biographer Paul Kildea as a hybrid work, "as much a cantata as an opera".[93] The vocal parts of all except Noye and his wife can, says the music analyst Eric Roseberry, be easily sung by amateurs and older children, while most of the orchestral writing lies "well within the range of intelligent young players of very restricted technique".[38] Several episodes of the opera - such as "the grinding conflict of Britten's passacaglia theme against Dykes's familiar hymn-tune in the storm" - introduces listeners and the youthful performers to what Roseberry terms "a contemporary idiom of dissonance" – in contrast to the "outworn style" of most music written for the young.[94] With its innovatory arrangement of vocal and instrumental forces, Noye's Fludde is summarised by Whittall as "a brilliant demonstration of how to combine the relatively elementary instrumental and vocal skills of amateurs with professionals to produce a highly effective piece of music theatre."[95]

The opera begins with a short, "strenuous" instrumental prelude,[96] which forms the basis of the musical accompaniment to the opening congregational hymn: its first phrase is founded on a descending bass E-B-F, itself to become an important motif.[n 14] Carpenter notes that throughout the hymn the bass line is out of step with the singing, an effect which, he says, "suggests an adult world where purity is unattainable".[12] Following the hymn, the Voice of God is accompanied, as it is in all his pre-flood warnings and declamations, by the successive notes E-B-F sounded on the timpani (derived from the opera's opening bass line).[96] After Noye's response in recitative, the next musical episode is the entry of Noye's children and their wives, a passage which, Carpenter suggests, replaces the pessimism of the adult word with "the blissful optimism of childhood".[12] The syncopated tune of the children's song is derived from the final line of Noye's recitative: "As God has bidden us doe".[98]

Mrs Noye and her Gossips enter to an F sharp minor distortion of the children's tune, which reflects their mocking attitude.[98] In Noye's song calling for the ark to be built, a flood leitmotif derived from the first line of the opening hymn recurs as a solemn refrain.[99] The music which accompanies the construction work heavily involves the children's orchestra, and includes recorder trills, pizzicato open strings, and the tapping of oriental temple-blocks.[12] After the brief "quarrel" duet between Noye and his wife in 6/8 time, timpani-led percussion heralds the Voice of God's order to fill the ark. Bugle fanfares announce the arrival of the animals, who march into the ark to a "jauntily innocent" tune in which Roseberry detects the spirit of Mahler;[99] the fanfares punctuate the entire march. The birds are the last group to enter the ark, to the accompaniment of a three-part canon sung by Noye's children and their wives. In the final scene before the storm, where Noye and his family try to persuade Mrs Noye to join them in the ark in G major, the music expresses Mrs Noye's obstinacy by having her reply accompanied by a D sharp pedal which leads naturally to the Gossips drinking scherzo in E minor. The slap which Mrs Noye administers when finally persuaded is accompanied by an E major fortissimo.[100]

The storm scene which forms the centre of the opera is an extended passacaglia, the theme of which uses the entire chromatic scale.[101][n 15] In a long instrumental introduction, full rein is given to the various elements of the children's orchestra. Slung mugs struck with a wooden spoon give the sound of the first raindrops. Trills in the recorders represent the wind, strings impersonate waves, while piano chords outline the flood leitmotiv.[40][100] The sound builds to a peak with thunder and lightning from the percussion. When "Eternal Father" is sung at the climax of the storm, the passacaglia theme provides the bass line for the hymn.[104] The fury subsides in a further lengthy instrumental passage, in which Roseberry finds an affinity with Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony.[105] Noye's reappearance is followed by the brief waltzes for the Raven, accompanied by solo cello, and the Dove, the latter a flutter-tongued recorder solo, the melody of which is reversed when the Dove returns.[106][107]

Following God's instruction, the people and animals leave the ark singing a thankful chorus of Alleluias with more B flat bugle fanfares. The appearance of the rainbow is accompanied by handbell chimes, a sound which dominates the final stages of the work.[43] In the final canonical hymn, the main tune moves from F major to G major and is sung over reiterated bugle calls, joined by the handbells. In the third verse, the organ provides a brief discordant intervention,[95] "the one jarring note in Noye's Fludde" according to the musicologist Peter Evans.[108] According to Graham Elliott, this may be a musical joke in which Britten pokes gentle fun at the habits of some church organists.[109] The mingled chimes of slung mugs and bells continue during God's final valedictory blessing. As Noye leaves, the full orchestra provides a final fortissimo salute, the opera then concluding peacefully with pentatonic B flat chimes of handbells alternating with extended G major string chords – "a hauntingly beautiful close", according to Roseberry.[110]


Several of the opera's novel features, including the use of a large amateur orchestra, and specifically its use of handbells, were posing problems for Britten's publishers, Boosey & Hawkes. Ernst Roth, of the publishers, made enquiries about the availability of handbells to the firm Mears & Stainbank (the bell foundry based in Whitechapel, London), then wrote to Britten urging him to prepare an alternative version of Noye's Fludde for publication, since the rarity of handbells in the scale of E flat made the original score, in his view, impractical.[111] Britten resisted such a proposal: "I think if you consider a performance of this work in a big church with about fifty or more children singing, you will agree that the orchestra would sound totally inadequate if it were only piano duet, a few strings and a drum or two." Britten suggested, rather, that Boosey & Hawkes should invest in a set of E flat handbells to hire for performances;[112] or alternatively, that he rewrote the music for the ensemble in D, since sets in that key were more common than in E flat;[113] or, that the handbells music could be simply cued in the piano duet part.[112]

In the event, Britten never prepared an alternative version for reduced instrumentation.[111] He did agree, however, to make the published full score "less bulky" by presenting the amateur forces of recorders, ripieno strings and percussion in the form of short score, on the understanding that full scores for those groups would be available to hire for rehearsal and performance purposes.[114] The full score was published in 1958,[115] and the vocal score (prepared by Imogen Holst and with the libretto translated into German by Prince Ludwig of Hesse and the Rhine, under the pseudonym Ludwig Landgraf[116]) published in 1959.[117]


Year Cast:
Noye (Noah),
Mrs. Noye,
Voice of God
Conductor, Ensemble(s)
Choruses and Orchestra
1961 Owen Brannigan
Sheila Rex,
Trevor Anthony
Norman Del Mar,
English Chamber Orchestra and East Suffolk Children's Chorus and Orchestra
LP: Argo ZK 1[118]
CD: Decca 4363972. Also contains Britten's The Golden Vanity[119]
1989 Donald Maxwell,
Linda Ormiston,
Richard Pasco
Richard Hickox,
Coull Quartet, Endymion Ensemble, Salisbury and Chester Schools' Chorus and Orchestra.
CD: Virgin Classics VC7 91129-2. Also contains Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn, and strings[118]
CD: EMI Composer Boxes 2175262 (The Collector's Edition, 37 discs)[119]
2007 David Wilson-Johnson,
Catherine Wyn-Rogers,
Benjamin Luxon
Nicholas Wilks,
Members of the BBC Concert Orchestra, Finchley Children's Music Group.
CD: Somm Recordings SOMM 212. Also contains Britten's Ceremony of Carols[118][120]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ The breach between Britten and Crozier began in 1949, although the two continued to work together on several projects, including Britten's opera Billy Budd,[17]
  2. ^ According to Imogen Holst, it was hearing "the eight-year-olds from Kesgrave and Bungay, singing unaccompanied folk-songs in the Paris Church during the 1956 Festival, who gave Britten the idea of writing a work for children to perform in church".[23] Even so, the proposal that a children's opera should be staged at Orford's church met some opposition from a number of villagers.[24]
  3. ^ The "Kyrie" repetitions are Britten's own invention; they do not occur in the Chester play.[26]
  4. ^ On 25 October TV Times announced: "Benjamin Britten is writing a new opera for children - specially for ITV Schools Television Service. I rate this a great musical capture on the part of Boris Ford, head of Associated-Rediffusion Schools Broadcasting."[29]
  5. ^ "Lord Jesus, think on me": words by Synesius of Cyrene (tr. A. W. Chatfield), tune from Damon's Psalter. "Eternal Father, strong to save": words by William Whiting, tune "Melita" by John Bacchus Dykes. "The spacious firmament on high": words by Joseph Addison, tune "Tallis' Canon" by Thomas Tallis.[30]
  6. ^ An old friend of Britten's from Gresham's School, David Layton, was convinced that the bugles of Noye's Fludde recalled the school's Officer Training Corps band practicing in front of the cricket pavilion, where there was a "grand echo", while he and Britten were nearby in the nets.[40] This scene at Gresham's was recreated by the documentary filmmaker, Tony Britten, in his film Peace and Conflict, who further made the connection to Noye's Fludde explicit by having the bugle players perform a fanfare heard in the opera.
  7. ^ Graham recalled that the timpanist, James Blades, "rejoiced in helping Woolverstone Hall [the school providing the percussionists] devise outlandish percussion instruments to be played alongside the slung mugs and the wind machine".[41] The critic Rollo H. Myers noted at the first performance that "Cups and saucers and dishes were also pressed into service to strengthen the percussion in places, but effects were never abused."[42]
  8. ^ Several commentators, including Michael Kennedy,[44] Christopher Palmer,[45] and Humphrey Carpenter[46] have commented on the affinity between the sound of Britten's use of the handbells and the gamelan ensembles he had heard first-hand in Bali in 1956.
  9. ^ To aid rehearsals, Britten prepared a 'demo' record of the opera with himself at the piano, and the various roles sung by him, Peter Pears, Imogen Holst, the composer's two sisters and Colin Graham. John Schlesinger made a documentary for the BBC's Monitor programme of the production as it was being rehearsed.[39]
  10. ^ Crawford had earlier performed in a production of The Little Sweep, sharing the title role of Sammy with David Hemmings; the cast subsequently recorded that opera with Britten conducting.[52] In later life Crawford acknowledged the debt he owed to Britten: "Had it not been for him, I don't think I would have been an actor. He was very patient and encouraging. Throughout my career he always sent me good luck telegrams".[53]
  11. ^ Eric Roseberry, writing shortly after the premiere, noted closer to half that number: the "young persons' ripieno orchestra of strings, recorders and percussion...numbered twenty violins, three violas, six 'cellos, two double basses, eight descant recorders, five treble recorders, a percussion section of eight and a team of six handbells".[38]
  12. ^ All four pages of the programme are reproduced in the Facts and Figures category of the Noye's Fludde Harpenden blog, as well as some detailed recollections of the project by one of the chorus of animals, Richard Jones.[62]
  13. ^ Ede's other connection with Britten was through his wife, Joy Boughton, who played oboe with the English Opera Group.[72]
  14. ^ Peter Evans further notes how Britten, by substituting the expected tonic Es with F naturals, "buffeted by the explosive splash of the tam-tam, plunge[s] us into the flood where we expect firm ground".[97]
  15. ^ Though several commentators, including Arnold Whittall and Philip Brett,[102] have noted that the passacaglia theme features all 12 notes, the musicologist Peter Evans has cautioned against interpreting this as serial (as is the theme from The Turn of the Screw), since the theme totals 19 notes, whose "moorings round C are made very secure initially by the anchoring Gs and the cadence which links [the theme's] repetitions". The theme, rather, suggests "the serpentine creeping onward of the waters" and, more practically, prepares "an ambiance in which Dykes's [chromatically coloured] hymn, 'Eternal Father', will not appear ludicrously incongruous".[103]


  1. ^ Woolf, p. 22
  2. ^ Woolf, p. 54
  3. ^ Woolf, p. 303
  4. ^ Burton, Edwin. "Ranulf Higden". Catholic Encyclopedia. Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Wolf, p. 306
  6. ^ Happe, Ch. 5
  7. ^ Woolf, pp. 140–41
  8. ^ a b Thacker and Lewis, pp. 275-76
  9. ^ Normington, p. 65
  10. ^ "Chester Mystery Plays: Spectacle and History, Miracles and Mystery". Chester Mystery Plays. Retrieved 14 July 2014. 
  11. ^ Britten (2004): p. 287
  12. ^ a b c d e Carpenter, p. 381
  13. ^ Elliott (2006): pp. 66-67
  14. ^ White, pp. 168–73
  15. ^ Oliver, p. 136
  16. ^ Evans, p. 265
  17. ^ Kildea, pp. 334–335
  18. ^ Britten (2008), p. 580
  19. ^ Britten (2008): pp. 562, 564
  20. ^ Letter dated 15 April 1957, quoted in Britten (2008): p. 564
  21. ^ Britten (2008): pp. 564-65
  22. ^ a b Britten (2008): p. 565
  23. ^ Holst, Imogen. "Children's Voices at the Aldeburgh Festival", from Blythe, p. 244
  24. ^ Headington, p. 197; Carpenter, p. 503
  25. ^ a b c d Britten, Benjamin; Holst, Imogen (1958). Noye's Flood: The Chester Miracle Play Vocal Score. London: Boosey & Hawkes. 
  26. ^ White, p. 217
  27. ^ a b c Britten (2008): p. 494
  28. ^ Graham, Colin. "Staging first productions 3", from Herbert, p. 44
  29. ^ John Gough "ITV Goes to School": quoted in Barnes, p. 47
  30. ^ Hymns Ancient and Modern: Revised Edition (Numbers 200, 487 and 170). London: William Clowes. 1950. OCLC 61648725. 
  31. ^ Britten (2008): pp. 565-67
  32. ^ Britten (2008): p. 582
  33. ^ Britten (2008): p. 579-80
  34. ^ a b Britten (2008): p. 566
  35. ^ Britten (2008): p. 10
  36. ^ a b c "Original Noye's Fludde Programme". Britten-Pears Foundation. 18 June 1958. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  37. ^ a b c Britten Noye's Fludde pocket score, Boosey & Hawkes 1958
  38. ^ a b c d e Roseberry, p. 2
  39. ^ a b c d e Graham, p. 45
  40. ^ a b c Carpenter, p. 382
  41. ^ Graham, p. 46
  42. ^ a b Myers, Rollo H (August, 1958). "Aldeburgh Festival: Noye's Fludde". The Musical Times (Musical Times Publications Ltd.) 99 (1386): 443. Retrieved 17 July 2014.  (subscription required)
  43. ^ a b Carpenter: p. 383
  44. ^ Kennedy (1981), p. 216
  45. ^ Palmer, p. 76
  46. ^ Carpenter, pp. 383-84
  47. ^ Roseberry, p. 11
  48. ^ The Times, quoted in Britten (2010): p. 48
  49. ^ Britten (2008): p. 562
  50. ^ Britten (2008): p. 555
  51. ^ Graham, pp. 44-46
  52. ^ Britten (2004): p. 27
  53. ^ de Rosée, Sophie (14 November 2013). "Michael Crawford on working with Benjamin Britten in 1959". The Telegraph online. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  54. ^ Philip Hope-Wallace, "Britten's Noye's Fludde" in Manchester Guardian, 19 June 1958: quoted in Britten (2010): p. 49
  55. ^ a b Carpenter, p. 386
  56. ^ Porter, Andrew (August 1958). "Noye's Fludde (world premiere 18 June)". Opera: pp. 32–33. 
  57. ^ Britten (2010): p. 48
  58. ^ Evans, p. 8
  59. ^ Carpenter: p. 377
  60. ^ Britten (2010): p. 53
  61. ^ a b Britten (2010): p. 87
  62. ^ Noye's Fludde Harpenden blog
  63. ^ "FCMG: History". Finchley Childrens Music Group. 2013. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  64. ^ "The Amateurs' Exchange". The Musical Times (Musical Times Publications Ltd) 100 (1394): 218. April 1959. Retrieved 18 July 2014.  (subscription required)
  65. ^ Kennedy, p. 130
  66. ^ McNicoll, Susan. "Chronology: 1960-1969". Joy (Un)sorted: The Life and Work of Joy Coghill. Joy Coghill. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  67. ^ "[Illustration]: A Canadian Première". Tempo, New Series (Cambridge University Press) (55/56): 27. Autumn - Winter, 1960. Retrieved 18 July 2014.  (subscription required)
  68. ^ Britten (2010): p. 57
  69. ^ Britten (2010): p. 102
  70. ^ "Church and Organ News". The Musical Times (Musical Times Publications Ltd) 101 (1408): 384. June 1960. Retrieved 17 July 2014.  (subscription required)
  71. ^ a b Britten (2010): p. 137
  72. ^ Britten (2008): p. 546
  73. ^ "Festivals, 1971". Opera: 311. April 1971. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  74. ^ "Music on 2 (TV Series): Noye's Fludde (1971)". IMDB. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  75. ^ Britten (2012): p. 452
  76. ^ Bassett, Kate (2012). In Two Minds: a Biography of Jonathan Miller. Oberon Books. pp. 212, 381. ISBN 9781849437387. 
  77. ^ "Jonathan Miller & the Young Music Makers". Recorder and Music Magazine (Schott & Company) 4: 180–81. 1972. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  78. ^ "Boosey & Hawkes performances September 2005". 
  79. ^ "Noye's Fludde" in the Past Productions section, NI opera. Retrieved 20 July 2013
  80. ^ "Benjamin Britten's Opera to Stage in Beijing". Beijing International. 
  81. ^ "British children's opera with Chinese elements". Shanghai Daily. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  82. ^ Cheltenham Festival website programme announcement
  83. ^ The Thaxted Festival 2013 review
  84. ^ Noye's Fludde in Harpenden on
  85. ^ "Britten Centenary Weekend: Noye's Fludde". Retrieved 21 Nov 2013. 
  86. ^ "BBC Radio 3 - Britten 100". BBC Radio 3. BBC. Retrieved 24 Nov 2013. 
  87. ^ New Zealand Opera's website
  88. ^ Santa Fe Opera's website
  89. ^ New Orleans Opera's website
  90. ^ Evans, pp. 272–73
  91. ^ Whittall, p. 216
  92. ^ "Britten, Benjamin: Noye's Fludde (1957)". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  93. ^ Kildea, p. 425
  94. ^ Roseberry, pp. 2-3
  95. ^ a b Whittall, Arnold. "Noye's Fludde". Grove Music Online. Retrieved 27 July 2014.  (subscription required)
  96. ^ a b Roseberry, p. 3
  97. ^ Evans, p. 274
  98. ^ a b Roseberry, p. 4
  99. ^ a b Roseberry, p. 5
  100. ^ a b Roseberry, pp. 7–8
  101. ^ Whittall, p. 166
  102. ^ Britten, Benjamin, §6: Transition and triumph, 1955–62, Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, accessed 27 July 2014 (subscription required)
  103. ^ Evans, pp. 278-79
  104. ^ Matthews, p. 123
  105. ^ Roseberry, p. 9
  106. ^ Roseberry, p. 10
  107. ^ White, p. 218
  108. ^ Evans, p. 281
  109. ^ Elliott, p. 69
  110. ^ Roseberry, p. 11
  111. ^ a b Britten (2010): p. 58
  112. ^ a b Letter dated 16 July 1958, quoted in Britten (2010): pp. 55-6
  113. ^ Letter dated 28 February 1959, quoted in Britten (2010): p. 57
  114. ^ Britten (2010): p. 56
  115. ^ "Benjamin Britten: Noye's Fludde, op. 59 - full score". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 29 July 2014. (Click "View Sample" for first page of score with copyright details)
  116. ^ Britten (2010), p. 18
  117. ^ "Benjamin Britten: Noye's Fludde, op. 59 - vocal score". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 29 July 2014.  (Click "View Sample" for first page of score with copyright details)
  118. ^ a b c "Recordings of Noye's Fludde". Operadis. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  119. ^ a b "Britten: Noye's Fludde". Presto Classical. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  120. ^ "CD Review". MusicWeb International. Retrieved 20 July 2014. 


  • Barnes, Jennifer (2003). Television Opera: The Fall of Opera Commissioned for Television. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ISBN 9780851159126. 
  • Blythe, Ronald (ed) (1972). Aldeburgh Anthology. London: Snape Maltings Foundation/Faber Music. ISBN 0571100031. 
  • Britten, Benjamin; Donald Mitchell, Philip Reed, and Mervyn Cooke (eds) (2004). Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, Volume III, 1946–1951. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 057122282X. 
  • Britten, Benjamin; Philip Reed, Mervyn Cooke and Donald Mitchell (eds) (2008). Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, Volume IV, 1952–1957. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. ISBN 9781843833826. 
  • Britten, Benjamin; Philip Reed and Mervyn Cooke (eds) (2010). Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, Volume V, 1958-1965. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. ISBN 9781843835912. 
  • Carpenter, Humphrey (1992). Benjamin Britten: A Biography. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0571143253. 
  • Elliott, Graham (2006). Benjamin Britten: The Spiritual Dimension. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198162588. 
  • Evans, Peter (1996). The Music of Benjamin Britten. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198165900. 
  • Graham, Colin. "Staging first productions 3", from Herbert, David (ed) (1989). The Operas of Benjamin Britten. Huntingdon, Cambs: The Herbert Press Ltd. ISBN 1871569087. 
  • Happe, Peter (ed.) (1985). English Mystery Plays: A selection. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-192193-8.  (ebook version, unpaginated)
  • Headington, Christopher (1993). Peter Pears: A Biography. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0571170722. 
  • Kennedy, Michael (1981). Britten (The Master Musicians). London: Dent. ISBN 0460022016. 
  • Kennedy, Michael (2001), "Benjamin Britten" in Holden, Amanda (ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
  • Normington, Katie (2007). Modern Mysteries: Contemporary Productions of Medieval English Cycle Dramas. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. ISBN 9781843841289. 
  • Oliver, Michael (1996). Benjamin Britten. London: Phaidon. ISBN 0714832774. 
  • list of performances from 1 January 2011 and forward Retrieved 13 August 2013
  • Palmer (ed), Christopher (1984). The Britten Companion. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0571131476. 
  • Roseberry, Eric (Autumn, 1958). "The Music of 'Noye's Fludde'". Tempo, New Series (Cambridge University Press) (49): 2–11+18–19. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  • Thacker, A.T.; Lewis, Christopher (eds) (2003). A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 part 2: The City of Chester: Culture, Buildings, Institutions. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer. ISBN 978-1-90-435603-5. 
  • White, Eric Walter (1983). Benjamin Britten: His Life and Operas. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-18066-3. 
  • Woolf, Rosemary (1980). The English Mystery Plays. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04081-3. 

Other sources

External links[edit]