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Letters from a Life: the Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976

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The sixth and final volume of the annotated selected letters of Benjamin Britten, edited by Philip Reed and Mervyn Cooke, covers the composer's last decade. The genesis, composition and premieres of major stage works such as Owen Wingrave, commissioned by BBC Television, and Death in Venice are fully documented, as are the church parables, The Burning Fiery Furnace and The Prodigal Son. Important concert works from this period include the powerful Brecht setting, Children's Crusade, the Third Cello Suite (for Rostropovich), Canticles IV and V (both settings of poetry by T. S. Eliot), Phaedra (for Janet Baker) and the Third String Quartet, with its haunting echoes of Death in Venice.
As in previous volumes, Britten's letters to his life partner and principal interpreter, the tenor Peter Pears, remain central. Other significant correspondents include the Queen and Queen Mother; librettists William Plomer and Myfanwy Piper; artistic collaborators Frederick Ashton, Colin Graham and John Piper; musicians Janet Baker, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Mstislav Rostropovich; and composers Oliver Knussen, Dmitri Shostakovich and William Walton.
The volume also traces the conversion of Snape Maltings into the Aldeburgh Festival's principal concert venue, its destruction by fire on the opening night of the 1969 Festival and its miraculous rebuilding in time for the following year's Festival, as well as major concert tours by Britten and Pears to New York, Canada, South America, Moscow and Leningrad, Australia, and New Zealand. Close attention is paid to Britten's final years, when his failed heart surgery left him a near invalid.

Published in association with The Britten-Pears Foundation.

Reviews

[A] richly documented tome. OPERA MAGAZINE

It is a wonderfully compiled tome. [...] what makes the book so successful, aside, of course, from Britten's writing to a whole host of friends and collaborators, is the inclusion of copious footnotes, which go into fastidious detail to illuminate each letter [...] The result is a comprehensive and fascinating insight into the composer's final decade; absorbing and revealing. GRAMOPHONE

These profusely annotated and copiously documented volumes have often been seen as the nearest thing there is likely to be to an 'official' biography [...] it is a triumphant vindication of the methods set in train with volume 1, and reflects enormous credit on the skill as well as the stamina of the editorial team. MUSICAL TIMES

[T]he importance of both this volume, with extensive indexes, and the entire series of Britten Letters cannot be valued highly enough, and it is essential for any Britten enthusiast to have them in his and her library. Highly recommended. BMS News

Britten could be alternately ice cold, stout-hearted, sly, courageously forthright and psychically tormented, but was always brilliantly creative, as these letters reveal. INTERNATIONAL PIANO

[T]his is a gripping account of Britten's final years. [...] Reed and Cooke have honoured [Britten's] legacy brilliantly by amassing and annotating this material and giving us the best record of the composer's life. CLASSICAL MUSIC

[A] superb edition of Britten's correspondence, now completed with a sixth 800-page volume covering the decade before his death in 1976 [...] the magnificent accompanying annotation and detailed apparatus make them richly revealing. SPECTATOR

[M]ost engaging and informative. Led by Britten's musicologist acolyte Donald Mitchell and his successors, the Britten-Pears Foundation has spent the past 20 years combing an extensive legacy of documents. The aim has been to trace Britten's life and activities through his own words, free of the gossip and speculation that surrounded the composer in his lifetime and grew after his death. FINANCIAL TIMES

As he [Britten] declines it becomes evident how much he is cherished himself, and by how many. BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE

Details

First Published: 15 Nov 2012
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843837251
Pages: 880
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: Boydell Press
Series: Selected Letters of Britten
Subject: Music
BIC Class: AV

Details updated on 29 Jul 2014



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