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December 21 , 2010

Benjamin Britten (Penguin Special)


Benjamin Britten was one of the most important and unusual figures in twentieth-century music. This is the perfect introduction to his many wonderful works and his fascinating, controversial life.

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Of the three stories that comprise this volume, one, "The Wizard," a tale of victorious faith, first appeared some years ago as a Christmas Annual. Another, "Elissa," is an attempt, difficult enough owing to the scantiness of the material left to us by time, to recreate the life of the ancient Phœnician Zimbabwe, whose ruins…

Benjamin Britten single-handedly transformed the reputation of British classical music. The enormous popular appeal of his great works, such as Peter Grimes (1945) and the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1946), make him the most successful opera composer of any born in the twentieth century. But his success was not without controversy and pain: he was accused of fleeing Britain to avoid military service, he was widely known to be sexually obsessed with boys and he suffered an astonishing array of illnesses.

This short book combines a colourful overview of his life with pithy descriptions of all of his major musical works, providing an intimate portrait of this highly unusual man and a persuasive account of his influences, reputation and importance.

Each chapter tackles a key episode and theme in his life, from his first compositions at the age of 5, his early friendship and collaboration with W H Auden and the beginnings of his life-long relationship with the tenor Peter Pears, through to his great musical successes and the establishment of the influential, if tempestuous, Aldeburgh Festival, as well as his failures, such as his coronation opera Gloriana (known as 'Boriana') and being satirised by Dudley Moore in Beyond the Fringe - and ending with frank discussions of his na�ve politics, his troubling sexuality and his glorious musical legacy.

Published to coincide with his 100th anniversary of his birth, this is the perfect introduction to a towering figure of British culture.

Igor Toronyi-Lalic is a critic and curator. He writes regularly on music for, among others, The Times and Sunday Telegraph. He is a founder of, the author of What's That Thing? (2012), a report on public art, and co-director of the London Contemporary Music Festival.

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