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Serenade for tenor, saxophone and orchestra ('My Dear Benjamin') : from 'Voices and Instruments'

by Lyle Chan (2016)

Serenade for tenor, saxophone and orchestra ('My Dear Benjamin')


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Work Overview

English composer Benjamin Britten's first love was a young German man named Wulff Scherchen. This idyllic relationship was shattered by World War II when Wulff was incarcerated as a Prisoner of War. The heartbreaking letters during their separation chart an intense relationship.

Lyle Chan discovered this story via the ground-breaking book and film Britten's Children by British author and filmmaker John Bridcut. Upon exploring further, Chan learned Wulff Scherchen was alive and living in northern New South Wales with his wife of over 70 years under the name of John Woolford, which he had assumed after his release from enemy alien internment in 1941. Wulff consented to have these letters brought to life in a new orchestral song cycle featuring the musical symbol of him that Britten himself used - a saxophone. Scherchen passed away in August 2016 at the age of 96, six weeks before the world premiere.

Work Details

Year: 2016

Instrumentation: Solo tenor voice, solo alto saxophone, piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B-flat, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in F, 2 trumpets in B-flat, tenor trombone, bass trombone, timpani, percussion (2 players), celesta, harp, strings.

Duration: 38 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

Contents note: Epilogue and Part 1 -- "Epilogue", 1941 -- I: The Past Is Still Terrifyingly Alive (letter by Scherchen) -- England, 1938 -- II: “I live in a wind mill” (letters by Britten and Scherchen) -- III: “Well, old thing (Buy yourself a typewriter)” (letters by Britten and Scherchen) -- IV: “No Presents” (letter by Scherchen) -- V: “Go boil yourself” (letter by Scherchen) -- Part 2: America, 1939 -- VI: “Wulffsick” (letter by Britten) -- VIIa: “War has broken out” (letter by Scherchen) -- VIIb: “I was interned on Whit Sunday” (letter by Scherchen) -- Part 3: Canada, 1940 -- VIIc: “Not a love letter” (letter by Scherchen) -- VIIIa: “One doesn't get answers” (letter by Britten) -- VIIIb: Double Double Bass (for double bass four-hands) -- IX: “You must forgive me” (letter by Scherchen) -- Part 4: England, 1941 -- X: “I have returned to England” (letter by Scherchen) -- XI: “It seems too good to be true” (Ben's Farewell) (letter by Britten) -- XII: “My thoughts are put at rest” (Wulff's Farewell) (letter by Scherchen) -- XIII: Postlude.

Commission note: Commissioned by Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

First performance: by Andrew Goodwin, Michael Duke, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Paul Kildea at QSO: My Dear Benjamin (QSO Studio South Bank) on 22 Sep 2016

Awards & Prizes

Year Award Placing Awarded for/to
2017 Art Music Awards: Work of the Year: Orchestral Winner Lyle Chan


Resonate article: 2017 Art Music Awards finalists: comments by judging panels by Australian Music Centre


Serenade for tenor, saxophone and orchestra


Performances of this work

22 Sep 2016: at QSO: My Dear Benjamin (QSO Studio South Bank). Featuring Andrew Goodwin, Michael Duke, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Paul Kildea.

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