Obituary: Sir Sidney Nolan

MAY WE be allowed to add a note to the excellent obituaries of Sir Sidney Nolan by Frank Whitford and Christopher Heathcote (30 November)? write Donald Mitchell and Philip Reed.

One aspect of Nolan's creativity not touched upon by either contributor was Nolan's deep admiration for, and involvement with, the music of Benjamin Britten, the Aldeburgh Festival and the Suffolk landscape and seascape.

Nolan first visited Aldeburgh in 1950, when he was introduced to the composer by Sir Kenneth Clark: 'We immediately got off on to a good footing,' recalled Nolan in a public interview at Aldeburgh in June 1990. 'We either had a shared innocence or a shared opposite,' and the two men remained friends until Britten's death in 1976. The first series of paintings to be inspired by Britten's music were the Shakespeare Sonnets, first shown at Aldeburgh in 1964. The studies had been inspired by Britten's consummate setting of Shakespeare's 'When most I wink then do mine eyes best see', the final number in his orchestral song-cycle Nocturne, 0p. 60, the hearing of which had, according to Nolan, unlocked something deeply hidden in himself and found expression and release in his paintings. Other Britten- inspired works followed, including Rejoice in the Lamb (a series of Australian flower paintings, exhibited at Aldeburgh in 1968), Winter Words, Children's Crusade - a series of finger-paintings accomplished first as integral illustrations of the facsimile of Britten's manuscript of the work published on the occasion of the composer's 60th birthday in 1973 - and the Donne Sonnets, as well as responses to some of Britten's dramatic music, notably Peter Grimes and Billy Budd.

In 1970, when Britten and Pears were at the Adelaide Festival with the English Opera Group, it was Nolan who showed his native land to his English friends. Britten was as moved by the qualities of Aboriginal culture he saw there as he was by the Australian landscape, and began to discuss the possibility of writing a ballet contrasting European and aboriginal civilisations in which Nolan would collaborate. This remained unfulfilled, as did another project, a musical setting of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for television which Nolan was to illustrate.

Nolan's final appearances at Aldeburgh in 1990 and 1991 were connected. In 1990, he generously loaned some of his Children's Crusade paintings which, together with Winter Words, were exhibited for the first time in public at the Britten-Pears Library. The oriental quality of some of the Children's Crusade paintings (Nolan had visited China in 1965) suggested an interest in the Far East and when in the following year the Festival featured a Japanese production of Britten's Curlew River prefaced by its Noh source, Sumidagawa, Nolan agreed to design the obligatory pine tree.

The tree was rapidly sketched, and what emerged was something distinctly Nolanesque that none the less perfectly harmonised with the age-old tradition of Noh. Nolan took a bow with the Japanese cast at the end of the final performance, looking thoroughly happy and at home, like his tree. It was his last appearance at Aldeburgh.

(Photograph omitted)

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits