The anecdote may be apocryphal but it has a symbolic value: the world premiere of Punch and Judy, Harrison Birtwistle’s “tragical comedy or comical tragedy”, on 8 June 1968 in Aldeburgh, was attended by Benjamin Britten. Apparently, at one point, Britten could not bear it any longer and left his box before the performance ended. Twenty-one years lie between the births of the two composers – not quite a generation but enough to make them representatives of two wholly different worlds. The older composer just could not find access to that of his younger colleague.
Britten and Birtwistle have one thing in common: unlike some of their compatriots, both have made it across the [...]