Coin of the Musical Realm
"Midrash" by George Barany and Noam Elkies (November 2013)

The puzzle you have just solved started with a simple conceit: We thought that while the rest of the world would be focused on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, or for that matter the deaths of Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis that occurred on the very same day, we preferred to call attention to the centenary of the birth of BENJAMIN_BRITTEN (35-Across), arguably the premier English composer of the 20th century. From the crossword construction side of the equation, we noted that November 22, 2013 would fall on a Friday, when people expect low-word-count themeless puzzles. However, as we played around with a number of 68-word grids, a particular variation rose to the fore that could best be described as a hybrid, insofar as it allowed us to include Britten's partner and muse, the TENOR (39-Across) PETER (48-Down)_PEARS (13-Down), as well as Britten's best-known OPERA (5-Down), PETER_(double-duty!)_GRIMES (41-Down). Several additional answer words and/or clues from the musical arena decorate the final product, as you can discover for yourself.

Shown below are: (Left) Coin minted by the British government to commemorate the centennial (click here to read more about this honor). (Right) Peter Pears standing while Benjamin Britten sits at the piano. Click here for a link to the Britten-Pears Foundation, which has much fascinating information about the careers and personal lives of these two musical giants. Our essay resumes below the photos.

Personal notes: While living in NYC, GB had the pleasure of hearing PP sing in a performance of BB's Billy Budd at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. Even earlier, one of his favorite records was this Leonard Bernstein recording that coupled BB's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra with Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf and Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals. NDE too grew up on YPGO, and performed in A Ceremony of Carols while still in high school. He has often performed the piano part of The Ballad of Little Musgrave with the Harvard Glee Club, and played the piano part of BB's Cantata Academica as part of Harvard's 350th anniversary celebration in 1986. NDE helped prepare two of BB's operas (The Beggar's Opera and A Midsummer Night's Dream) at Harvard's Lowell House Opera. NDE was introduced to PP circa 1988 with this arrangement of The Salley Gardens (Yeats/BB), and followed up with his own arrangement that has become his most often performed contribution to the HGC's repertoire, aside from the accompaniments to the Harvard football songs.

We conclude our essay with YouTube links to a sampling of BB's music: A Ceremony of Carols, Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, War Requiem, and last (but certainly not least) Peter Pears in an 8-minute excerpt from the final scene of "Peter Grimes" (compare to same with Jon Vickers).

Commentary about the Bonus Puzzle:  The title is a play on "Sing a Song of Six-Pence" (listen here), all five clues are musical, pointing to singers.  Answers: 1. TRAPP Family Singers, whose story was the basis for the blockbuster musical film The Sound of Music (and of course earlier stage and film versions).   2. Soprano RENÉE Fleming (click here for a hilarious 6-minute clip of the diva on the David Letterman show).  3. ANITA who sings "America" in West Side Story.  Is there anything more iconic? 4. and 5. Our friend, Benjamin Britten's muse, the tenor PETER PEARS, as discussed extensively above.

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