[E–pub Free] (Benjamin Britten) BY Paul Kildea
They were the first things he composed in a high fever
AFTER TRAVELLING WITH MENUHIN TO PERFORMtravelling with Menuhin to perform victims of the newly liberated Belsen concentration camp an xperience that continued to haunt him for the rest of his life At the time I went to University Britten was already an stablishment figure wealthy and loaded with gongs so it was a surprise to read that in 1940 he lived with Pears in a brownstone in Brooklyn which he shared with such bohemian figures as WH Auden and Chester Kallman Paul and Sally Bowles where characters like Leonard Bernstein Kurt Weill and Salvador Dali would come and go and which was nicknamed Salvador Dali would come and go and which was nicknamed House by no
less a figure than Anais Nin I had known that in his youth Britten collaborateda figure than Anais Nin I had known that in his youth Britten collaborated Auden and Randall Swingler but I had not realized what a profound influence Auden had on him Words were obviously of critical importance to Britten and almost all his important works revolved around settings of words and it is clear from this biography that the reason was Britten s passionate hatred of war and deep unease about conomic ineualities reuired words to put across He was of course attacked from the right for his pacifism and support of the Peace Pledge Union and from the left later for his willingness to lunch with the royals and take holidays with Princess Margaret of Hesse but one never gets the feeling that he became right wing as he got older ven less that he put his blinkers on and became intellectually complacent He seems to have been someone who lived from first to last with his yes open so that late in his life he confided to Sidney Nolan that he thought western civilization was in crisis and the result would be tragic Altogether then my impression of Britten remains that he like Owen represents the best of England really the best we had to offer He may have upset the left and the right at various times but he was always a high minded man alert to the happenings in the culture from which he had sprung The fact that he may have been prickly on occasions seems irrelevant really when you look at his output and the pressures on him one friend said that music simply poured out of him He was always active building bridges promoting his musical values As for his sex life what I took most from the book was the feeling that a really solid marriage is the thing that allows creative people the freedom to get sex out of the way and concentrate on the things that matter What kind of marriage it was seems private and irrelevent This suffers from an illness common to biographies Biographers think that their topic is inherently fascinating so they don t ven try to make it so Edit my friends dit lists of dates and names just make readers want to cry I own both the Humphrey Carpenter biography and now the Kildea biography of Britten I wouldn t be without ither 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 performed Carpenter s biography leans towards a psychological study of Britten and his relationships Both are compelling reading From BBC Radio 4 Book of the WeekBiography of the English composer by Paul Kildea 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 ar 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 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 normous I cannot feel or think of anything lse my deepest thanks Page 370He filled his fountain pen with black ink so the score could be asily photographed apologizing to various correspondents for contravening the tiuette that restricted this color to condolence lettersPage 406Normally Britten responded to such letters in one of two ways I think this is my best piece yet he would say to his intimate friends Or to those outside the circle he might say one is always fondest of one s youngest chil. 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 ver likely to go Kildea reads dozens of Britten's works with normous intelligence and sensitivity in a way which those without formal musical training can understand It is one of the most moving and njoyable biographies of a creative artist of any kind to have appeared for years. Blurb Paul Kildea s major biography of the
Composer Benjamin Britten Is Published The Year That MarksBenjamin Britten is published in the year that centenaryIn this vivid portrait of the composer Paul Kildea xplores the private and creative life of the man who composed operas that have The Shadow Reader entered the popular consciousness as well as the musical canon These include Peter Grimes Billy Budd and The Turn of the Screw Kildea alsoxplores his forty year complex relationship with Peter Pears for whom Britten created an array of operatic and vocal roles Kildea brings his Cinderella Unmasked (Fairytale Fantasies experience as a conductor who has performed many of Britten s works to bear in his insightful interpretation of the composer s music Radio 3 will be marking Britten s Centenary across the year including broadcasts of all his operasRead by Alex Jennings who is well known to Radio 4 audiences and has appeared in many films and television dramas He is currently appearing at the National Theatre in Hymn by Alan Bennett In 2009 he played Benjamin Britten in The Habit of Art also by Alan BennettAbridged by Richard HamiltonProduced by Elizabeth AllardTalk about serendipityAm just a few pages into February Houseand last week we were discussing the operatic version of Boris GodunovSING ALONG And now ladies and gentlemen without further adoIt is indeed a great pleasure to introduce to youHeld over three weeks and gettin rave reviewsHere s Benjy the Britten the King of the skewedShooby doo wop wop wop yeahShooby doo wop wop wop wowShooby doo wop wop wopLet me hear it how bout thatShooby doo wop wop wopShooby doo wop wop wop yeahShooby doo wop wop wop wellYes BBC R4 BOTWGrade AAuden and Britten Nightmail Dances from Gloriana in Venice biography is allncompassing and I was nthralled it is such a shame that Britten s music does not thrill me at all 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 be for me personally that is I ve not been a huge fan of Britten and after checking my stores found I had only six CDs of his work and not the biggest pieces like Peter Grimes but some I love However one doesn t need to be intimate with the music works to njoy this biographyMy personal joy was to follow him from childhood onward in England specifically in all the places I know so well from Lowestoft Aldeborough Flatford Mill Ipswich Cambridge Friends House in Euston Road and so forth His political and moral stands against war ineuality famine all spoke to my condition And so many of my favourite singers and musicians appeared along the way along with a few other heroes His personal life is so intriguing his relationships his contacts his The Power Of A Choice endeavours to build a music community are all so impressiveI rarely read non fiction andven rarer for me to read biographies but this one touched my heart and soul Very highly recommended 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 xcellent 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 nded up with sympathy for him by the nd 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 This is an xcellent and very readable biography of one of the great British composers Britten is still something of an The Case for Paleolibertarianism and Realignment on the Right enigma and contradiction a difficult subject just as he could be difficult in real life uintessentially English he seemed to be part of thestablishment yet he was hated by many parts of the Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling 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 inform. In theyes of many Benjamin Britten was our finest composer since Purcell a figure who often inspired him three hundred years Monsieur Pain 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 haventered both the popular consciousness and the musical canonHe did all this while .
Atively He points out that Britten was often slated by the
critics often because he was too innovative but also because heoften because he was too innovative but also because he not initially perceived to be part of the music stablishment 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 lse 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 tc were ntrapped 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 ntrap men dubbed the pretty police Alan Turing the mathematical genius who helped to break the Nazi nigma code was one of those caught he later committed suicide probably The tabloid press were on board Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. especially the Daily Express Britten was also interviewed by the police sadly no recordsxist 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 stablishment 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 ditor 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 xactly what was to be xpected 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 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 childhood I listened to his records saw Pears sing Peter Grimes and saw the War Reuiem performed in the new Coventry Cathedral Later I lived in Essex and Suffolk and I met many people who had had contact with Britten in one way or another and heard him give a song recital with Peter Pears at Essex UniversityFirstly one think about this biography is that the writer is a musician and the detailed discussion of Britten s major works is very illuminating and will be an invaluable reference to them for anyone who wants to listen further Britten s music is never simple there are often sub texts in the circumstances surrounding any particular piece For xample of the Britten that I know which is only a small part of his ouevre I most love his settings of the Holy Sonnets of John Donne and it s illuminating to discover that. 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 .
characters Benjamin Britten.