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Benjamin Britten was a most reluctant public speaker. Yet his contributions were without doubt a major factor in the transformation during his lifetime of the structure of the art-music industry. This book, by bringing together all his published articles, unpublished speeches, drafts, and transcriptions of numerous radio interviews, explores the paradox of a reluctant yet influential cultural commentator, artist, and humanist. Whether talking about his own music, about the role of the artist in society, about music criticism, or wading into a debate on Soviet ideology at the height of the cold war, Britten always gave a performance which reinforced the notion of a private man who nonetheless saw the importance of public disclosure.
Benjamin Britten was one of the most important and unusual figures in twentieth-century music. This is the perfect introduction to his many wonderful works and his fascinating, controversial life. Benjamin Britten single-handedly transformed the reputation of British classical music. The enormous popular appeal of his great works, such as Peter Grimes (1945) and the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946), make him the most successful opera composer of any born in the twentieth century. But his success was not without controversy and pain: he was accused of fleeing Britain to avoid military service, he was widely known to be sexually obsessed with boys and he suffered an astonishing array of illnesses. This short book combines a colourful overview of his life with pithy descriptions of all of his major musical works, providing an intimate portrait of this highly unusual man and a persuasive account of his influences, reputation and importance. Each chapter tackles a key episode and theme in his life, from his first compositions at the age of 5, his early friendship and collaboration with W H Auden and the beginnings of his life-long relationship with the tenor Peter Pears, through to his great musical successes and the establishment of the influential, if tempestuous, Aldeburgh Festival, as well as his failures, such as his coronation opera Gloriana (known as 'Boriana') and being satirised by Dudley Moore in Beyond the Fringe - and ending with frank discussions of his naïve politics, his troubling sexuality and his glorious musical legacy. Published to coincide with his 100th anniversary of his birth, this is the perfect introduction to a towering figure of British culture. Igor Toronyi-Lalic is a critic and curator. He writes regularly on music for, among others, The Times and Sunday Telegraph. He is a founder of theartsdesk.com, the author of What's That Thing? (2012), a report on public art, and co-director of the London Contemporary Music Festival.
One of the most illuminating biographical projects in recent years. PETER ACKROYD The fourth volume of the annotated selected letters of Benjamin Britten covers the years 1952-57, during which he wrote three major works for the stage - the Coronation opera Gloriana, the chamber opera The Turn of the Screw, and the full-length ballet The Prince of the Pagodas - as well as important vocal works such as Canticles II and III and the Hardy song-cycle Winter Words. Correspondents include librettists William Plomer (Gloriana) and Myfanwy Piper (The Turn of the Screw), and friends and collaborators such as Edith Sitwell, E. M. Forster, Basil Coleman, Imogen Holst, Francis Poulenc, Lennox Berkeley, the Earl of Harewood and Britten's partner and principal interpreter, Peter Pears. The volume charts Britten's growing stature as a major figure of the European musical establishment as composer, conductor and pianist, and his continuing involvement with the Aldeburgh Festival, the English Opera Group, and Covent Garden. Central to the period is the world trip undertaken by Britten and Pears and the first-hand encounter with the music and cultures of Bali and Japan that were radically to inform Britten's compositional techniques from Pagodas onwards.The comprehensive and scholarly annotations vividly evoke a key period in twentieth-century musical and cultural history, and offer a wide range of detailed information fascinating for both the Britten specialist and the general reader. Published in association with The Britten-Pears Foundation.
Benjamin Britten was the greatest English composer of the twentieth century and one of the outstanding musicians of his age. Born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, in 1913, Britten was the youngest child of a dentist father and amateur musician mother. After studying at the Royal College of Music, he became a vital part of London’s creative and intellectual life during the 1930s, collaborating with W. H. Auden and meeting his lifelong partner, the tenor Peter Pears. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Britten and Pears were already in America, earning a precarious living as freelance musicians before re-crossing the Atlantic by ship in the perilous days of 1942. But the east coast of England was where Britten, as he himself said, belonged: this was where he returned to write his most famous opera, Peter Grimes, and – with Pears and Eric Crozier – to found the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. In the years that followed, his worldwide reputation grew steadily, helped by a busy schedule of international tours and, for many, crowned by the extraordinary success of his War Requiem. Meanwhile, his festival went from strength to strength, its progress symbolised by the opening of Snape Maltings Concert Hall in 1967. Britten was a mass of paradoxes: a solitary, introspective thinker who came to ebullient life in the company of young people, for whom he composed some of his most memorable works; a man of the political left who was on the friendliest terms with members of the royal family; a composer inspired by some of the twentieth century’s deepest preoccupations who combined innovation with a profound understanding of musical tradition. Devoted to his friends, protégés and fellow musicians, he was, above all, someone who lived for music. Neil Powell’s book is the landmark biography for Britten’s centenary year: a subtle and moving portrait of a brilliant, complex and ultimately loveable man.
Best remembered for his operas and his War Requiem, Benjamin Britten's radical politics and his sexuality have also ensured that he remains a controversial public figure. Journeying Boy is a selection of his diaries that offer the reader an unseen insight into this complex man. Encompassing the years 1928-1938, they explore some key periods of Britten's life - his early compositions, his education first under composer Frank Bridge and then at the Royal College of Music, an unhappy but productive period studying under John Ireland and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and his reluctant and often painful process of parting from the warm, safe environment of his family home and his beloved mother. The diaries cast light on an often misrepresented musician whose technique, originality and musical prowess have entranced audiences for generations and who continues to inspire composers and musicians around the world.
Published to mark the beginning of the Britten centenary year in 2013, Paul Kildea's Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century is the definitive biography of Britain's greatest modern composer. In the eyes of many, Benjamin Britten was our finest composer since Purcell (a figure who often inspired him) three hundred years earlier. He broke decisively with the romantic, nationalist school of figures such as Parry, Elgar and Vaughan Williams and recreated English music in a fresh, modern, European form. With Peter Grimes (1945), Billy Budd (1951) and The Turn of the Screw (1954), he arguably composed the last operas - from any composer in any country - which have entered both the popular consciousness and the musical canon. He did all this while carrying two disadvantages to worldly success - his passionately held pacifism, which made him suspect to the authorities during and immediately after the Second World War - and his homosexuality, specifically his forty-year relationship with Peter Pears, for whom many of his greatest operatic roles and vocal works were created. The atmosphere and personalities of Aldeburgh in his native Suffolk also form another wonderful dimension to the book. Kildea shows clearly how Britten made this creative community, notably with the foundation of the Aldeburgh Festival and the building of Snape Maltings, but also how costly the determination that this required was. Above all, this book helps us understand the relationship of Britten's music to his life, and takes us as far into his creative process as we are ever likely to go. Kildea reads dozens of Britten's works with enormous intelligence and sensitivity, in a way which those without formal musical training can understand. It is one of the most moving and enjoyable biographies of a creative artist of any kind to have appeared for years. Paul Kildea is a writer and conductor who has performed many of the Britten works he writes about, in opera houses and concert halls from Sydney to Hamburg. His previous books include Selling Britten (2002) and (as editor) Britten on Music (2003). He was Head of Music at the Aldeburgh Festival between 1999 and 2002 and subsequently Artistic Director of the Wigmore Hall in London.

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