Benjamin Britten on a 50p coin

Benjamin Britten's special 50th anniversary coin designed by artist Tom Phillips.

Benjamin Britten’s special 50th anniversary coin designed by artist Tom Phillips.

Earlier on today, the Royal Mint unveiled its latest commemorative 50p coin (picture above), this time for Suffolk born composer Benjamin Britten.

Britten is the first composer to feature on a British coin in a design by artist Tom Philips. The new 50p coin is scheduled for ‘general release’ later this year. If you can’t wait until then and you’re not a big believer in serendipity, then you’re can always fork out for a gold or silver proof available from 27 September. (In case you’re reading this Significant Other, I wouldn’t mind one for my birthday. Thanks in advance.)

The design features the composer’s name combined on a stave with words from the text of one of his most popular works – the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings – a work written in part for Britten’s lifelong partner, Peter Pears.

But why only use text from the work and Britten’s name? Speaking to the Guardian, Phillips explained:

“We couldn’t have two heads – the Queen’s being on the other side – on a coin. How on earth would the country start its cricket matches with such a thing?”

Let’s cut to the chase. We can’t have two queens on the same coin. That just won’t do at all.

For me, that’s a shame. As a devotee, I would have liked to have seen Britten’s enigmatic profile on the coin. In comparison to the self-obsessed Elgar to whom most assume to be the beacon for English music, it is Britten whose identity needs reinforcing to the majority and the mainstream. There are after all only so many cufflinks Britten’s publishing house Boosey and Hawkes can raise the composer’s profile with. To date, I’ve seen no-one wearing them.

Moans aside, it’s still a rather lovely thing. Another present day indicator of how greatness (or failure) is measured.

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