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Darkness Audible

Nicholas Spice

11 February 1993
Benjamin Britten 
by Humphrey Carpenter.
Faber, 680 pp., £20, September 1992, 0 571 14324 5
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... to appear in this biography, the least important (he only gets two sentences) is a manservant whom Britten employed early in 1950, just before starting work on his opera Billy Budd. The man, who is not named, went mad. He believed he was a great composer and that Britten was his servant. In the middle of the night, he would ...

Britten when young

Frank Kermode

29 August 1991
Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten Vol. I 1923-39, Vol. II 1939-45 
edited by Donald Mitchell and Philip Reed.
Faber, 1403 pp., £75, June 1991, 9780571152216
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... The list includes Mozart and Mendelssohn; and, despite all the limiting judgments, it includes Benjamin Britten. At a time when there was more interest than there is now in deciding what genius was, and what a genius was, Fichte argued that ‘where genius is really present, there industry is found spontaneously, and develops with a steady growth ...

Heat in a Mild Climate

James Wood: Baron Britain of Aldeburgh

19 December 2013
Benjamin BrittenA Life in the 20th Century 
by Paul Kildea.
Allen Lane, 635 pp., £30, January 2013, 978 1 84614 232 1
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Benjamin BrittenA Life for Music 
by Neil Powell.
Hutchinson, 512 pp., £25, January 2013, 978 0 09 193123 0
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... For someone growing up with the music of Benjamin Britten, it was sometimes hard to recall that his last name was not ‘Britain’. The race that Nietzsche had deemed heavy-hoofed and unmusical, whose last truly great composer had been Purcell, a nation that had been doing nothing very much, musically, but warbling in cathedrals for a couple of centuries, had somehow managed to produce a 20th-century composer of international stature, whose last name was that of the nation itself ...

Biographical Materials

Alan Hollinghurst

15 October 1981
Remembering Britten 
edited by Alan Blyth.
Hutchinson, 181 pp., £7.95, June 1981, 0 09 144950 2
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Britten and Auden in the Thirties: The Year 1936 
by Donald Mitchell.
Faber, 176 pp., £7.50, February 1981, 0 571 11715 5
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... Donald Mitchell recalls that Benjamin Britten had a low opinion of music critics in newspapers. Alan Blyth’s compilation Remembering Britten would have done little to make him change his mind: it is a book fundamentally misconceived and often grotesque in execution. The tributary volume of memoirs, such as the one Stephen Spender compiled after Auden’s death, has the value not only of illuminating its subject but of providing a complex shading of reaction and relation through the personalities of the contributors ...
4 February 1982
The Tongs and the Bones: The Memoirs of Lord Harewood 
Weidenfeld, 334 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 0 297 77960 5Show More
Putting the Record Straight: The Autobiography of John Culshaw 
Secker, 362 pp., £8.50, November 1981, 0 436 11802 5Show More
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Mastersinger: A Documented Study 
by Kenneth Whitton.
Oswald Wolff, 342 pp., £15, December 1981, 0 85496 405 3
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... with sensational success. That test was the effect the break-up of his marriage had on his friend, Benjamin Britten, and the effect Benjamin Britten’s reaction had on him. It is, in fact, Britten’s reaction which, in my own view now, makes me a desirable reviewer of the ...

Topping Entertainment

Frank Kermode: Britten

28 January 2010
Journeying Boy: The Diaries of the Young Benjamin Britten 
edited by John Evans.
Faber, 576 pp., £25, November 2009, 978 0 571 23883 5
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... A two-volume collection of Britten’s letters and diaries, entitled Letters from a Life and edited by Donald Mitchell and Philip Reed, appeared in 1991, and its first volume covers the same period as this new collection; but there was plenty of work for the new editor, John Evans. The diaries were begun when Britten was 15 and ended, rather abruptly, when he was 25 ...

Lola did the driving

Inigo Thomas: Pevsner’s Suffolk

4 May 2016
Suffolk: East, The Buildings of England 
by James Bettley and Nikolaus Pevsner.
Yale, 677 pp., £35, April 2015, 978 0 300 19654 2
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... from Ronald Blythe’s The Time by the Sea: Aldeburgh 1955-58, an account of years spent with Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and E.M. Forster on the east coast.) ‘I see by a handbill in the grocer’s shop that a man is going to lecture on the Gorilla in a few weeks,’ said Edward FitzGerald, who lived near Woodbridge. ‘So there is something to ...
22 October 1992
Stephen Spender: A Portrait with Background 
by Hugh David.
Heinemann, 308 pp., £17.50, October 1992, 0 434 17506 4
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More Please: An Autobiography 
by Barry Humphries.
Viking, 331 pp., £16.99, September 1992, 0 670 84008 4
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... the painter William Coldstream describes in his diary as a ‘slightly sticky’ party given by Benjamin Britten in Hallam Street. Present as well as the Coldstreams, and Spender and his then wife Inez, were Auden and Isherwood, their new boyfriends, and Peter Pears as co-host with Britten. The stickiness – clearly ...


Hans Keller

21 February 1980
Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich 
edited by Solomon Volkov, translated by Antonina Bouis.
Hamish Hamilton, 238 pp., £7.95, October 1980, 0 241 10321 5
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... never did have friendly contacts with a foreigner, with the possible exception of the composer Benjamin Britten.’ With the possible exception? At about the time Shostakovich dedicated his Fourteenth Symphony to Britten, Britten decided to dedicate his Third String Quartet to ...


William Feaver: John and Myfanwy Piper

17 December 2009
John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art 
by Frances Spalding.
Oxford, 598 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 19 956761 4
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... were appreciative. In the early 1950s, as the new Elizabethan age dawned, the Pipers worked with Benjamin Britten. Piper’s designs played up to the ivied pageantry and cod madrigality of Gloriana in 1953 and dominated the look of Britten’s operas, from The Rape of Lucretia to Death in Venice. Myfanwy Piper wrote ...

How terribly kind

Edmund White: Gilbert and George

1 July 1999
Gilbert & George: A Portrait 
by Daniel Farson.
HarperCollins, 240 pp., £19.99, March 1999, 0 00 255857 2
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... artistic couple of any sexual stripe), as celebrated as the earlier musical duo Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten, though they rigorously resist all efforts by the gay community to assimilate them. When Farson asked them for details of their sex life, George became vehement: ‘That’s part of a different story. Not part of the G–G story!’ And ...
21 October 1982
Hanns Eisler: Political Musician 
by Albrecht Betz, translated by Bill Hopkins.
Cambridge, 326 pp., £25, June 1982, 0 521 24022 0
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Music and Political: Collected Writings 1953-81 
by Hans Werner Henze, translated by Peter Labanyi.
Faber, 286 pp., £15, July 1982, 0 571 11719 8
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Vindications: Essays on Romantic Music 
by Deryck Cooke and Bryan Magee.
Faber, 226 pp., £12.50, July 1982, 0 571 11795 3
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... is too musical to stick to his extra-musical subject: what his deeply understanding article on Benjamin Britten has to do with politics, for instance, would be difficult to say. Deeply, rather than widely understanding: ‘you can detect an emphatically non-Continental musical thinking; no trace of the Vienna School, not even of its traditionalistic ...

Young Man’s Nostalgia

Diarmaid MacCulloch: William Byrd

30 July 2014
by Kerry McCarthy.
Oxford, 282 pp., £25, August 2013, 978 0 19 538875 6
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... Byrd was to 16th-century European music what Arnold Schoenberg was in the 20th century, but it is Benjamin Britten who makes for a more interesting comparison. There is that combination of pugnacity (seen in Byrd’s case at Lincoln Cathedral and in his lifetime of litigation) and an extraordinary capacity for deep friendship. Byrd’s career was ...

Grand Old Sod

Paul Driver: William Walton

12 December 2002
The Selected Letters of William Walton 
edited by Malcolm Hayes.
Faber, 526 pp., £30, January 2002, 0 571 20105 9
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William Walton: Muse of Fire 
by Stephen Lloyd.
Boydell, 332 pp., £45, June 2001, 9780851158037
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William Walton, the Romantic Loner: A Centenary Portrait Album 
by Humphrey Burton and Maureen Murray.
Oxford, 182 pp., £25, January 2002, 0 19 816235 9
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... to be discussed – and not infrequently duplicitous. Writing a self-confessed ‘fan letter’ to Britten about the premiere of Peter Grimes, he is also shooting off a note to the copyist Roy Douglas asking: ‘Did you see or hear “Grimy Peter”?’ Asperities about fellow composers are in plentiful supply. Tippett was another admired colleague/bugbear. To ...

Aviators and Movie Stars

Patricia Lockwood: Carson McCullers

18 October 2017
Stories, Plays and Other Writings 
by Carson McCullers.
Library of America, 672 pp., £33.99, January 2017, 978 1 59853 511 2
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... of Harper’s Bazaar, and for a while housed such diverse inhabitants as McCullers, W.H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Gypsy Rose Lee, Paul and Jane Bowles and Richard Wright. (Auden seems to have been an especially terrible housemate, complaining about excessive use of toilet paper and telling people their colds weren’t physical but mental.) Carson was ...

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