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Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten: New Perspectives on His Life and Work

Edited by Lucy Walker
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 205
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    Benjamin Britten
    Book Description:

    Benjamin Britten: New Perspectives on his Life and Work reveals the extent to which Britten scholarship is reaching outside the confines of Anglo-American criticism. The volume engages with juvenilia and other orchestral works from the 1920s and examines a broad range of influences on Britten, including the works of Shostakovich and Verdi, the poetry of Ovid, and the cinema. Among his operatic works the dramatic qualities of Owen Wingrave are discussed through a close study of Piper's libretto and we witness the genesis of a libretto written by Australian novelist Patrick White and submitted to Britten with the hope of a future collaboration. The volume uncovers the generally hostile reception Britten's operas received in Paris until around the 1990s. Britten's status as 'outsider' in both the USA and in his own country when he returned in 1942 is discussed: the possibility is that Britten was becoming nervous of the gathering US involvement in the war and the real chance he may be called up to serve in the US forces is also discussed here.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-694-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-ix)
  5. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. x-xii)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)
    Lucy Walker

    In his introduction toThe Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten(1999), Mervyn Cooke remarks in some astonishment that, ‘as the century draws to a close’ there persists a noticeable strain of ‘bigoted views’ towards Britten, particularly with regard to his sexuality.¹ This trend, as his introduction then goes on to explore, serves mainly to distract from the remarkable breadth and scope of Britten’s repertoire and also to imbue studies of his works, particularly the operas, with a very specific slant. TheCompanion, until now the most recent book of essays on Britten to be published, successfully counteracts such narrowness of...

  8. 1 Going Behind Britten’s Back
    (pp. 8-16)
    Colin Matthews

    The extraordinary scope of the archive held by the Britten–Pears Foundation, with its cache of something like 750 pieces of juvenilia, along with what amounts to at least 95 per cent of the manuscripts of mature works, including many which were withdrawn or unfinished or have been published posthumously, must be unique for any composer. It is a special privilege to have access to so much material, but it brings with it responsibilities, as well as a number of moral questions. Just as biographers are often taken to task for burrowing too deeply into the minutiae of an artist’s...

  9. 2 Performing Early Britten: Signs of Promise and Achievement in Poèmes nos. 4 and 5 (1927)
    (pp. 17-26)
    Sharon Choa

    One of the most exciting discoveries to have come out of work on the Benjamin Britten Thematic Catalogue has been the sheer scope and extent of the composer’s juvenilia, now known to comprise over 700 distinct works, written between the ages of six and eighteen. These juvenile pieces and sketches, together with other documents such as diaries and letters from the period constitute, as Lucy Walker has noted, ‘a substantial piece of his own childhood that he literally carried from place to place throughout his life’.¹ The ‘value’ that the composer invested in his early compositions, and his stated reason...

  10. 3 Shostakovich’s Fourteenth Symphony: A Response to War Requiem?
    (pp. 27-45)
    Cameron Pyke

    The creative relationship between Britten and Shostakovich, spanning the period from their first meeting in 1960 until the latter’s death in 1975, has been discussed by a number of musicologists, though not subjected to a full-length study in depth.¹ Britten himself described his compositions as ‘so very different from [Shostakovich’s] own, but conceived, many of them, in the same period, children of similar fathers, and with many of the same aims;’² and Shostakovich not only expressed admiration for Britten’s ‘deep musicality and lofty musical taste’, ‘the force and sincerity of his talent, his [music’s] outer simplicity and [its] depth of...

  11. 4 Six Metamorphoses after Ovid and the Influence of Classical Mythology on Benjamin Britten
    (pp. 46-55)
    George Caird

    On 14 June 1951 at 4.30 pm a concert was performed on The Meare at Thorpeness in Suffolk by the Cambridge University Madrigal Society under the direction of Boris Ord. The concert included a selection of English madrigals, Jacobean part-songs and 20th-century music, including the first performance of Benjamin Britten’sSix Metamorphoses after Ovid(1951), op. 49, for solo oboe, played by Joy Boughton. From this relatively informal première theMetamorphosesquickly became established as one of the most important pieces in the oboe repertoire, offering the player a wonderful range of expressive and technical opportunities. The work is a...

  12. 5 Britten and the Cinematic Frame
    (pp. 56-72)
    David Crilly

    In the mid-1930s Britten was beginning to make his mark as a promising newcomer. He had developed some degree of individuality under the guidance of Frank Bridge, whom Britten was always to cite as the most significant single figure in terms of establishing a meticulous technique. TheSinfoniettaof 1932 was evidence of an emerging maturity – he won the Farrar Prize for composition at the Royal College of Music for the second time in that year, and theQuatre chansons françaisesof a few years earlier (1928) had already demonstrated Britten’s enthusiasm to seek out and absorb a wider frame...

  13. 6 Storms, Laughter and Madness: Verdian ‘Numbers’ and Generic Allusions in Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes
    (pp. 73-85)
    Jane Brandon

    Just before the close of the final act ofPeter Grimes(1945) Peter is left alone in his hut wailing in hallucinatory horror, his rejection from the Borough community underlined by the cries of the persecutory off-stage chorus calling his name, convinced of his guilt in relation to the death of his latest boy apprentice. In a mad scene of chilling intensity, Peter relives the music that accompanied his downfall. His fevered, fragmented recitative thematically recalls his visionary hopes, the inquest, Ellen’s affection (the agent of his failed salvation) and the vindictive, prejudicial voices of the seafaring society. Suicide is,...

  14. Plates
    (pp. None)
  15. 7 Dramatic Invention in Myfanwy Piper’s Libretto for Owen Wingrave
    (pp. 86-96)
    Frances Spalding

    After the success ofThe Turn of the Screw(1954), almost 15 years passed before its librettist, Myfanwy Piper, again actively collaborated with Britten. Despite this lengthy gap in time, she never doubted that such an opportunity would arise, for Britten had indicated that he wanted to repeat their endeavour. He turned to her in 1967, when the BBC commissioned an opera specifically for television and which was sold in advance to twelve other international companies for simultaneous transmission.¹ With this opportunity to reach a very wide audience, he needed a story that would be, in his own words, ‘both...

  16. 8 ‘The Minstrel Boy to the War is Gone’ – Father Figures and Fighting Sons in Owen Wingrave
    (pp. 97-115)
    Arne Muus

    Britten’sOwen Wingrave, first broadcast as a television opera on 16 May 1971, is generally regarded as one of his weaker dramatic works and remains one of his least performed. In part this is due to a number of visual sequences, conceived by Britten and his librettist Myfanwy Piper specifically for the television première, which turned out to be ill-suited to the medium. Piper herself later conceded that the split screen and crossfades of the Horse Guards sequence (Act I scene 2), filmic rather than televisual in nature, were ‘a typical amateur’s idea, over-elaborate and impractical’.¹ These elements also create...

  17. 9 Made You Look! Children in Salome and Death in Venice
    (pp. 116-137)
    J. P. E. Harper-Scott

    Two operatic works with themes of more or less scandalous sexuality as good as bookend the 20th century. The first, acknowledged from the start as a problem work, is Strauss’sSalome(1905); the second, whose sexual content, when it is admitted at all, has been bound up with recent queer studies, is Britten’sDeath in Venice(1971–3), which Clifford Hindley has read as a story of homosexual self-discovery in the specific form of ‘a sublimated love of youthful male beauty along the lines of the Platonic philosophy’.¹ One purpose of this essay is to suggest that Death in Venice...

  18. 10 From ‘The Borough’ to Fraser Island
    (pp. 138-159)
    Claire Seymour

    So wrote the artist, Sidney Nolan, to Benjamin Britten on 8 August 1963.¹ Enclosed with the letter was a 21-page libretto synopsis, beginning with a cast list and followed by an account of the act and scene divisions, a brief description of each scene, including stage directions, clarifications of mood and atmosphere at the dramatic and musical climaxes, and some dialogue. The tale outlined was the history of one Mrs Eliza Fraser – a history which exposed the cruelty and hypocrisy of allegedly civilized worlds, and which explored the passage from innocence to experience, the revelation of repressed instincts, notions of...

  19. 11 Britten and France, or the Late Emergence of a Remarkable Lyric Universe
    (pp. 160-173)
    Maéna Py

    Since the 1990s the French public has become more and more absorbed by Benjamin Britten’s operas. This was not always the case, however, and their acceptance as part of the French musical landscape did not come about without a certain number of upheavals, conflicts and negotiations. As early as the 1940s, Britten’s instrumental pieces were frequently played in Paris,¹ and one could hear his orchestral music on the radio, in particular hisSimple Symphony.² But in trying to win over the media and the Parisian music theatres, his operas were up against some hostile trends. The Parisian intelligentsia and the...

  20. 12 Why did Benjamin Britten Return to Wartime England?
    (pp. 174-186)
    Brian McMahon

    On 16 March 1942 Benjamin Britten boarded the msAxel Johnsonat New York to begin his long and dangerous journey home as part of an Atlantic convoy.¹ He had departed England three years previously ahead of the commencement of hostilities in Europe disheartened and feeling that the continent was doomed to fascism. With the subsequent widening of the international conflict his commitment to pacifism saw him at odds with prevailing world-wide political events. Now at the height of the Atlantic war he was departing North America to return home: but why? Britten’s departure to the United States on the...

  21. Index of Britten’s Works
    (pp. 187-188)
  22. General Index
    (pp. 189-194)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-195)