{epub} Benjamin Britten ↠ Paul Kildea

REVIEW Benjamin Britten

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 canonHe did all this while c. This is an excellent and very readable biography of one of the great British composers Britten is still something of an enigma and contradiction a difficult subject just as he could be difficult in real life uintessentially English he seemed to be part of the establishment yet he was hated by many parts of the establishment He was a pacifist and totally anti war spending the first two years of the war in the US He was gay and made no pretence of heterosexuality by getting married like many of his contemporaries He lived with his partner Peter Pears also Britten s muse the voice for whom he wrote his greatest works from 1937 until Britten s death in 1976 The relationship was turbulent at times they were apart a good deal when Pears was on tour with operatic companies They always fell out on the telephone and made up by letter The relationship survived and Britten died in Pears armsKildea works through Britten s life in a systematic way charting his great and minor works and their origins in clearly and informatively He points out that Britten was often slated by the critics often because he was too innovative but also because he was not initially perceived to be part of the music establishment and he was gay Kildea also assesses and he is competent to do so those of Britten s works which are weaker Peter Grimes is clearly a magnificent opera powerful tragic and steeped in the land and sea of Suffolk where Britten lived Come to think of it most of Britten s major operas have a tragic turn Billy Budd based on the Melville short story War Reuiem based on Owen s poems The Turn of the Screw Owen Wingrave and Death in Venice Death in Venice has been read and discussed much on GR recently and it had slipped my mind that Britten had set it to music at about the same time as the Visconti film I suddenly feel I would like to get hold of a copy and see what he made of it Peter Pears was of course the key to much of Britten s music having one of the great operatic voices of the twentieth century Not the strongest tenor but Britten always said that Pears had a better sense of the music and the feeling it reuired than anyone else he worked with And of course they were partners It was no secret and was accepted by their inner circle of friends It has to be remembered that for the first 30 years of their relationship homosexuality was not legal and periodically well known actors musicians etc were entrapped by the police Britten had some influential friends and had been made a Companion of Honour but there was a reaction Other composers like William Walton were resentful and believed there was a homosexual conspiracy in music In 19523 Sir David Maxwell Fyfe the Home Secretary launched a Mccarthyite witch hunt against gay men sending out young police constables to entrap men dubbed the pretty police Alan Turing the mathematical genius who helped to break the Nazi enigma code was one of those caught he later committed suicide probably The tabloid press were on board especially the Daily Express Britten was also interviewed by the police sadly no records exist However at this time Britten was writing an opera to celebrate the accession of ueen Elizabeth and maybe his response can be inferred by his actions at this time The opera had a gay composer Britten and of course a gay tenor as Essex Pears It also had a gay librettist director conductor choreographer producer and a gay interior designer It was also based on a book by a gay writer This was seen as deliberately provocative and the opera was panned by the critics What the ueen thought is not recorded however Britten remained on friendly terms with the royal family and they commissioned further works from him Kildea doesn t think Britten was on a crusade and he is probably right but there is a sense of giving the music establishment tabloid press and government the finger Britten was in America in 1940 and lived for a year in a house in Brooklyn which he shared with W H Auden Pears Carson McCullers Paul and Jane Bowles and the fiction editor of Harper s Bazaar George Davis Others moved in and out staying for a while Gypsy Rose Lee I kid you not Anais Nin Kurt Weill Salvador Dali and his wife they moved in later in the year various members of the Mann family Britten became friends with Golo which came in handy when he wanted permission to turn Death in Venice into an opera Leonard Bernstein thought it was a mad house and Louis MacNeice said it was exactly what was to be expected from such a group of bohemian individuals Whilst all the mayhem was going on Britten spent much of his time tinkering on the piano and writing stuff This is a fascinating biography well worth reading

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Benjamin Britten

Arrying 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 A. Biographies are not one of my usual genres but I love Britten s music A number of years ago I picked up a biography of him at a bookstore but was very disappointed in browsing through it because the focus seemed to be too much on his sex life He and Pears were together for some forty years and so many of Britten s great works were written with that voice in his mind s ear as he wrote and all you want to write about is who cheated on whom with whom By contrast Kildea s book is fascinating informative and wonderfully well written His descriptions and opinions on Britten s works are invaluable


Ldeburgh Festival and the building of Snape Maltings but also how costly the determination that this reuired wasAbove 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. Does a really brilliant job of living up to the promise of the subtitle that is of situating Britten s life amongst the composers and other artists of the twentieth century It is also excellent at creating a portrait of a composer the author obviously admires without descending into hagiography In fact the Britten that is on show here doesn t come across as a particularly nice or admirable person though I must say I ended up with sympathy for him by the end than I had about halfway through I think most of all the book will drive people to the music Well at least people like me who don t know the music very well The critiues offered of the music are the most compelling aspect of the story and it is very tempting to sit down with the music and use Kildea s comments as a way inAnyway great stuff

10 thoughts on “Benjamin Britten

  1. says:

    This is an excellent and very readable biography of one of the great British composers Britten is still something of an enigma and c

  2. says:

    Blurb Paul Kildea's major biography of the twentieth century composer Benjamin Britten is published in the year that marks his centenaryIn this vivid portrait of the composer Paul Kildea explores the private and creative life of the man who composed operas that have entered the popular consciousness as well as the musical canon These include Peter Grimes Billy Budd and The Turn of the Screw Kildea also explore

  3. says:

    From BBC Radio 4 Book of the WeekBiography of the English composer by Paul Kildea

  4. says:

    I came to this book after reading about Wilfred Owen and that Britten’s use of Owen’s poetry in the War Reuiem was one of the things that made Owen a household name Britten had always been a part of my life in that from childho

  5. says:

    This was a complete chance purchase seen at the top of a pile of books in my local charity shop And what a wonderful discovery it turned out to

  6. says:

    Biographies are not one of my usual genres but I love Britten's music A number of years ago I picked up a biogr

  7. says:

    This suffers from an illness common to biographies Biographers think that their topic is inherently fascinating so they don't even try to make it so Edit my friends edit; lists of dates and names just make readers want to

  8. says:

    Does a really brilliant job of living up to the promise of the subtitle that is of situating Britten's life amo

  9. says:

    Page 425 They gave press conferences asked the difference between The Rape of Lucretia and TheTurn of the Screw by a keen reporter he mischievously replied the notes are the same but they are in a different orderPage 430Alma Mahler 17 years later in response to Britten's reuest to dedicate Nocturne to her she telegraphed the composer 'my happiness is enormous I cannot feel or think of anything else my deepest thanks'Page 370He

  10. says:

    I own both the Humphrey Carpenter biography and now the Kildea biography of Britten I wouldn't be without either one Kildea has the advantage of added documentation being available for his research Kildea's biography provides information on the artistic life and organizations within which and for whom Britten composed and