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DEBT: Interdisciplinary considerations of an enduring human passion


Britten was a composer who was particularly interested in composing for the voice, and is perhaps one of the most literary British composers since Purcell. His musical settings range from John Donne and William Blake to Tennyson and Wordsworth; his collaborations with his contemporaries WH Auden, Louis Macneice and EM Forster are particularly fascinating. The conference’s aim was to bring together  and music in order to work towards the publication of a book that would offer a guide to Britten through his texts. The proceedings were opened by Professor Adrian Poole’s keynote lecture on Britten and Modern Tragedy.

This conference was sponsored by CRASSH and a number of groups associated with the Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge. The conference attracted a large amount of interest: approximately 60 abstracts were received, from which 25 papers were selected. Two keynote lectures, Gifts money cannot buy by Dame Marilyn Strathern and Money, Debt and Morality: Before Smith, Smith, After Smith by Chris Gregory punctuated the three­day event. The rest of the conference papers were arranged in nine panels over two days. Highlights included an opening plenary session with leading scholars including Professor Tania Li, David Sneath and Professor Deborah James, and a closing plenary with David Graeber, Nikolai Ssorin­Chaikov and Gustav Peebles. Two major themes emerged from the papers and discussion: gift debt and commodity debt. Much conversation revolved around the distinction between these two, their relationships, and the kinds of sociality that each engenders and or presupposes. The convener has plans to publish a selection of the papers in a special issue of a journal and a linked edited book (with publication expected in 2012). There are also plans to continue the Debt project into the production of an anthology of readings central to the anthropology of debt.

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The highlight of the event was a concert of songs by Britten and readings of poems and unpublished letters by WH Auden. The centerpiece, the song cycle Six Songs to Orpheus, was commissioned for the occasion by composer Tim Watts and took poets Britten had set as its inspiration. BBC Cardiff singer of the world 2005 tenor Andrew Kennedy performed Britten’s cycle On this Island and the set  accompanied by pianist Iain Burnside. Poems and letters by Auden were read by actor Alex Jennings who recently played Britten in Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art, a play based on the relationship between Britten and Auden. The programme will now be taken on tour throughout the UK and Europe. w events/1409


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