Léonie Sonning Awards 1968

Benjamin Britten

1968_benjamin _britten

The prize concert

Benjamin Britten received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 55,000 in the interval of a gala performance of his opera ‘The Turn of the Screw’ (in Jeoffrey Conor’s production) on Saturday, 25 May 1968 at The Royal Theatre.

The music prize was presented on stage by Svend Westergaard, principal of The Royal Danish Academy of Music.

The programme

Benjamin Britten: The opera The Turn of the Screw
The Royal Danish Orchestra
Conductor: Arne Hammelboe


The written motivation does not exist.

Concert in connection with the prize-giving ceremony

On Saturday, 25 May 1968, a concert was held in Glyptotekets Festsal in honour of Benjamin Britten with the following programme:

Jørgen Jersild: Quartet for flute, clarinet, cello and harp
Vagn Holmboe: String Quartet no. 7
Benjamin Britten: Suite for cello solo
Leif Thybo: Flute quartet: Hommage à Benjamin Britten

Elisabeth Sigursson, clarinet
Erling Bløndal Bengtsson, cello
Osian Ellis, harp
Poul Birkelund Kvartetten
The Copenhagen String Quartet

Benjamin Britten and Denmark

Britten’s music had been known and appreciated by Danes for many years. As early as autumn 1947, The Royal Theatre put on the opera Peter Grimes, written only two years earlier. On 15 September 1949, The English Opera Group came to Copenhagen – an opera company Britten had started and led, together with Peter Pears – in order to perform no less than two Britten operas on the new stage of The Royal Theatre: The Rape of Lucretia from 1946 (in which Aksel Schiøtz had sung the male narrator at the first performance in England) and Albert Herring, two years after its first performance – the composer Benjamin Britten was incidentally in Copenhagen on that occasion. Both operas were put on at The Royal Theatre with Danish singers in 1955 (Lucretia with Else Brems) and 1953. In 1951, Skolescenen put on the small children’s opera Let’s make an opera.

The day after the performance and the prize-giving ceremony, the reviewer for Berlingske Tidende praised the conductor Arne Hammelboe and The Royal Danish Orchestra, and wrote that "on stage the performance was brilliant: Bonna Søndberg was excellent both musically and artistically, and she showed great sympathetic insight into the strange consciousness of the governess. As the boy Miles, we saw this time Lars Ulrik Mortensen, who clearly has considerable musical gifts. His imitation of piano playing in the second act was greeted with much enthusiasm – deservedly so. As the girl Flora, Grith Fjeldmose was once again the ideal choice. Also performing were Else Margrethe Gardelli, Ellen-Margrethe Edlers, Kurt Westi and Niels Brincker."

After the first act of the opera, Svend Westergaard, principal of the Academy of Music, and Benjamin Britten came onto the stage to hand over and receive the music prize. Westergaard spoke of his admiration for the artistic qualities of Britten’s music and described Benjamin Britten as one of the great humanists of the age. After this, he handed over the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 55,000 as well as a diploma with the written motivation for making the award.

"In his speech of thanks, Britten managed in brilliant fashion to explain that every composer dreams of being heard, understood and celebrated," Berlingske Tidende reports.

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"Benjamin Britten is undisputedly one of the most striking and versatile composers of our time, and particularly as a writer of music drama he is one of the most important. His finest characteristic is his contemporaneity, where – within all the genres to which he has applied his genius – he has managed to make contact with his audience – from the most fastidious to the most popular [...]"

(Rune Plate, Berlingske Tidende, 25 May 1968)

"[…] But with his accommodating, artistically restrained, personal style Britten is always capable of pleasing connoisseurs, without, for that reason, scaring off all other lovers of music. And within the field of opera he is aided by his sure sense of dramatic situation and by his remarkable instinct for poetic values"

(Poul Rovsing Olsen, Berlingske Tidende, 26 May 1968)

"[...] In particular, though, it must have given the guest of honour great pleasure to hear Erling Bløndal Bengtsson’s interpretation of Britten’s own suite for solo cello, written for […] Rostropovich. […] This music, sated with bow strokes, furrowed with resin, saturated with melodies and fantasies, culminates in a kind of ‘Fantasy upon One Note’, where Britten holds the same tether as Purcell centuries before him. In this, he is linked to a deep tradition, one he has renewed and turned into living, artistically fiery and humanly warm music, music that people appreciate."

(Frede Schandorf’s review of the concert at Glyptoteket, Politiken, 26 May 1968)