Suffolk: Commemorative coin issued to mark centenary of the birth of composer Benjamin Britten

The Royal Mint has issued a commemorative 50p coin to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Suf

The Royal Mint has issued a commemorative 50p coin to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Suffolk composer Benjamin Britten - Credit: Archant

Celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of renowned composer Benjamin Britten have been in full swing for some time.

And now the Royal Mint has joined the party, commissioning a new 50p piece in honour of the centenary.

Instead of an image of the Lowestoft-born composer the coin features a line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls, which was set to music by Britten in his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings.

He is the first composer to be featured on a British coin and the first individual, apart from the monarch, to have his name on the 50p piece.

The coin - which features the words “Blow bugle blow” and “Set the wild echoes flying” - will be in general circulation later this year.

It has been designed by artist Tom Phillips, who is also well known for his work in opera as a composer, librettist and set designer and who once sang Britten’s Spring Symphony as part of the Philharmonia Chorus, with Britten himself conducting.

“What I wanted the coin to speak of was music,” he said. “Thus the stave soon entered the design...and his name married well with the stave. The natural accompaniment with Britten’s passion for poetry as our preeminent composer of opera and song, was some kind of key quotation.

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“The words which eventually suggested themselves come from the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. What better clarion call for a musical anniversary could there be than “Blow, bugle, blow: set the wild echoes flying?”

Phillips, who previously designed a £5 Royal Jubilee coin and a souvenir Olympics coin, produced another 50p, struck to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary. That, too, featured words rather than an image.

His latest offering will be available from September 27 in commemorative versions in readiness to mark the centenary of Britten’s birth, which falls on November 22.

It is the latest in a huge number of anniversary events to celebrate the composer’s life and work, including a recent performance of his opera Peter Grimes on the beach in Aldeburgh, where he lived for much of this life.

Richard Jarman, director of the Britten-Pears Foundation, said: “Benjamin Britten wanted his music to be ‘useful’ and to be played and heard by as many people as possible.

“He would therefore be thrilled that this new 50p coin will put him into everyone’s hands and pockets. We are enormously proud that Britten is being honoured in this way.”

Jonathan Reekie, chief executive of Aldeburgh Music, added: “It’s another sign that Britten’s time has truly come during his centenary year.

“The coin falls into people’s pockets just weeks after Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beach hits cinema screens around the country , both ensuring that recognition of his legacy reaches a much wider public than ever before. The coin is another reason for Suffolk to celebrate and feel really proud about its famous son.”

The commemorative coin comes displayed in a presentation folder that tells the story of Britten’s legacy to classical music and includes reproductions of original sheet music of his renowned film score, choral music and opera, complete with his hand-written notes.

Kevin Clancy, director of the Royal Mint Museum, added: “Britten is one of the great British cultural figures of the 20th Century so it is wholly appropriate that Tom Phillips, himself a composer, should have designed the coin to commemorate Britten’s birth.”

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The 50p came in to circulation in October 1969.

It was the world’s first coin to be struck in the shape of an equilateral curve heptagon.

It was shrunk to its present size in September 1997.

It has a diameter of 27.3mm, weighs 8g and is 1.78mm thick.

It is made of cupro-nickel (75% copper, 25% nickel).

The design on the reverse features a symbol of Britannia that has appeared on British coinage since 1672.

It has been used on several occasions to celebrate important events, each being commemorated by a new reverse design. These include the UK’s accession to the European Economic Community, the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, 50th anniversary of the first four-minute mile and 100 years of Girlguiding UK.

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