Tom Phillips featured on Sinfini Music
"Tom Phillips, CBE, RA, is one of the UK's leading artists, but is also known for his work in opera as a composer, librettist and set designer. He once sang in Britten's Spring Symphony as part of the Philharmonia Chorus, with Britten himself conducting. Here, he explains how he arrived at the coin's finished design:
'Can a coin sing a song? It can try. Asked by the Royal Mint to design a 50p coin in that oddest of shapes I was thrilled at the prospect yet daunted by the problem of what should appear: the Queen is where she should be and I only have to deal with the reverse.
'The idea of illustration soon evaporates as thoughts of Suffolk seas and lone figures on a beach etc parade their banality. A portrait is not worth considering. Heads is heads and for kings and queens and tails should tell tales of the land over which they reign. In any case Benjamin Britten's head lacks the iconic immediacy of, say, that of Einstein.
'I wanted the coin to speak of music. Thus the stave soon entered the design, in this case the double stave of piano scores since Britten was an eloquent pianist. I found that his name married well with the stave, which solved the first problem.
'The natural accompaniment with Britten's passion for poetry, as our pre-eminent composer of opera and song, was some kind of key quotation. 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"?
'It occurred to me that a present day function of coinage could be to point people in the direction of a richer experience. If one Googles "Blow, bugle, blow" one instantly meets a fine poem by Tennyson. If one adds the name Britten one can within a few seconds be listening on YouTube to it being sung by Britten's life partner Peter Pears at the height of his powers.
'A mere 50p coin can in this way become an active rather than a passive instrument.'
The Benjamin Britten 50p coin will be in general release in time for Britten's centenary on 22 November 2013, and is available from 27 September in commemorative gold proof, silver proof and brilliant uncirculated versions.
The Flowers Gallery, London, is hosting an exhibition of Tom Phillips's work from 4 September to 12 October."