Benjamin Britten: A Life For Music

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Brought to Book. From Powell we comprehend Britten's day-to-day existence. We know just how many minutes it took the prep-school boy to get home for his tea — about three — which may be a reason he didn't enjoy the behind-the-bike shed experiences of his more worldly fellow pupils. Kildea tells us about the young Britten's distaste for his teacher, the composer John Ireland, who was often drunk and probably made a pass at his pupil.

Benjamin Britten - A Hymn to the Virgin (w/score)

It falls to Powell, however, to mention that Ireland lived in Gunter Grove, Chelsea, and on one occasion urinated on the carpet. It depends what you are after. Each book deserves its readers. Topics Biography books The Observer. Benjamin Britten Classical music reviews. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Show 25 25 50 All. The latter said in , "He has sometimes told me, jokingly, that one day I would join the ranks of his 'corpses' and I have always recognized that any ordinary person must soon outlive his usefulness to such a great creative artist as Ben.

He did not want to hurt anyone, but the task in hand was more important than anything or anybody. Throughout his adult life, Britten had a particular rapport with children and enjoyed close friendships with several boys, particularly those in their early teens. He loved music, and loved youngsters caring about music. It was long suspected by several of Britten's close associates that there was something exceptional about his attraction to teenage boys: Auden referred to Britten's "attraction to thin-as-a-board juveniles Some commentators have continued to question Britten's conduct, sometimes very sharply.

A more recent controversy was the statement in a biography of Britten by Paul Kildea that the composer's heart failure was due to undetected syphilis , which Kildea speculates was a result of Pears's promiscuity while the two were living in New York. Britten's early musical life was dominated by the classical masters; his mother's ambition was for him to become the " Fourth B " — after Bach , Beethoven and Brahms. I remember receiving the full score of Fidelio for my fourteenth birthday But I think in a sense I never forgave them for having led me astray in my own particular thinking and natural inclinations".

Through his association with Frank Bridge, Britten's musical horizons expanded. The same composer's Symphony of Psalms , and Petrushka were lauded in similar terms. Besides his growing attachments to the works of 20th century masters, Britten — along with his contemporary Michael Tippett — was devoted to the English music of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, in particular the work of Purcell.

At that time Mahler's music was little regarded and rarely played in English concert halls. The Britten-Pears Foundation considers the composer's operas "perhaps the most substantial and important part of his compositional legacy. The early operetta Paul Bunyan stands apart from Britten's later operatic works.


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Philip Brett calls it "a patronizing attempt to evoke the spirit of a nation not his own by W. Auden in which Britten was a somewhat dazzled accomplice". Britten's subsequent operas range from large-scale works written for full-strength opera companies, to chamber operas for performance by small touring opera ensembles or in churches and schools. The secular The Golden Vanity was intended to be performed in schools.

Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century, by Paul Kildea

Owen Wingrave , written for television, was first presented live by the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in , two years after its broadcast premiere. Music critics have frequently commented on the recurring theme in Britten's operas from Peter Grimes onward of the isolated individual at odds with a hostile society.

Over the 28 years between Peter Grimes and Death in Venice Britten's musical style changed, as he introduced elements of atonalism — though remaining essentially a tonal composer — and of eastern music, particularly gamelan sounds but also eastern harmonies. As early as the music analyst Hans Keller , summarising Britten's impact on 20th-century opera to that date, compared his contribution to that of Mozart in the 18th century: "Mozart may in some respects be regarded as a founder a 'second founder' of opera.

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The same can already be said today, as far as the modern British — perhaps not only British — field goes, of Britten". These "realisations" brought Purcell, who was then neglected, to a wider public, but have themselves been neglected since the dominance of the trend to authentic performance practice. Throughout his career Britten was drawn to the song cycle form. Brett comments that though the work is much influenced by Wagner on the one hand and French mannerisms on the other, "the diatonic nursery-like tune for the sad boy with the consumptive mother in 'L'enfance' is entirely characteristic".

The work has never been popular; in the critic Colin Mason lamented its neglect and called it one of Britten's greatest works. In Mason's view the cycle is "as exciting as Les Illuminations , and offers many interesting and enjoyable foretastes of the best moments of his later works. The first of Britten's song cycles to gain widespread popularity was Les Illuminations , for high voice originally soprano, later more often sung by tenors [n 17] with string orchestra accompaniment, setting words by Arthur Rimbaud. Britten's music reflects the eroticism in Rimbaud's poems; Copland commented of the section "Antique" that he did not know how Britten dared to write the melody.

Matthews judges the piece the crowning masterpiece of Britten's early years. Mason draws a distinction between this and Britten's earlier cycles, because here each song is self-contained, and has no thematic connection with any of the others. The Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings sets verses by a variety of poets, all on the theme of night-time. Though Britten described the cycle as "not important stuff, but quite pleasant, I think", it was immediately greeted as a masterpiece, and together with Peter Grimes it established him as one of the leading composers of his day. Some of the music is pure word-painting , some of it mood-painting, of the subtlest kind.

Britten's technique in this cycle ranges from atonality in the first song to firm tonality later, with a resolute B major chord at the climax of "Death, be not proud".

Why Benjamin Britten’s music is ever youthful

Nocturne is the last of the orchestral cycles. This presents all its poems in a continuous stream of music; Brett writes that it "interleaves a ritornello-like setting of the seven proverbs with seven songs that paint an increasingly sombre picture of human existence. After he could no longer play the piano, Britten composed a cycle of Robert Burns settings, A Birthday Hansel , for voice and harp. Nicholas Maw said of Britten's vocal music: "His feeling for poetry not only English and the inflexions of language make him, I think, the greatest musical realizer of English". It intersperses the Latin requiem mass , sung by soprano and chorus, with settings of works by the First World War poet Wilfred Owen, sung by tenor and baritone.

At the end the two elements are combined, as the last line of Owen's "Strange meeting" mingles with the In paradisum of the mass. Matthews describes the conclusion of the work as "a great wave of benediction [which] recalls the end of the Sinfonia da Requiem , and its similar ebbing away into the sea that symbolises both reconciliation and death. Smaller-scale works for accompanied voice include the five Canticles , composed between and The twelve-note cycle in the first five bars of the piano part of the Canticle introduced a feature that became thereafter a regular part of Britten's compositional technique.

Eliot 's poem "Journey of the Magi". It is musically close to The Burning Fiery Furnace of ; Matthews refers to it as a "companion piece" to the earlier work. Although Britten had little idea of what the poem was about, [] the musicologist Arnold Whittall finds the text "almost frighteningly apt The Britten scholar Donald Mitchell has written, "It is easy, because of the scope, stature, and sheer volume of the operas, and the wealth of vocal music of all kinds, to pay insufficient attention to the many works Britten wrote in other, specifically non-vocal genres.

His orchestration has an individuality, incisiveness and integration with the musical material only achieved by the greatest composers. It fails because it is neither picturesquely nor formally symphonic".

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