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Benjamin Britten Biography [Hardcover]

5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 July 1993
A biography of Benjamin Britten which presents a panorama of British musical life since the 1920s.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 677 pages
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall & IBD (8 July 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684195690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684195698
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,029,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Humphrey Carpenter was born and educated in Oxford, and attended the Dragon School and Keble College. He was a well-known biographer and children's writer, and worked previously as a producer at the BBC. He wrote biographies of J. R. R. Tolkien, W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Ezra Pound, C. S. Lewis and Dennis Potter. Among his many books for children were the best-selling Mr Majeika series. He also wrote several plays for the theatre and radio. A keen musician, he was a member of a 1930s-style jazz band, Vile Bodies, which was resident at the Ritz Hotel in London for a number of years. He died in 2005. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The ceremony of innocence..." 7 Feb 2003
Britten was clearly not an easy man to get to know, but Carpenter has managed to present the complicated, creative and flawed Ben in what must surely be the composer's seminal biography.
What makes this work so well is the way that Carpenter has used the major works (in particular the operas)to mirror events taking place in Britten and Pears's lives. Carpenter gives us an insight into the operas which grounds them very much in Britten's day to day experiences and psychologically in the complex psyche of the foremost British composer of the twentieth century. Themes of loss of innocence, the existence of evil, the intrinsic yet often covert homosexuality of so much of the material used sit alongside Britten's personal ambiguities ("I don't think Ben really took sides", Myfanwy Piper [Britten's librettist for Turn of the Screw] revealingly states).
The biography reveals the incredible amount of life Britten managed to squeeze in to his 63 years. The sheer variety of experiences and people he worked with and knew are enormous, but Carpenter is also able to demonstrate the huge output which continued to the very end of Britten's life (and even though the book contains an abridged chronological list of works this in itself is very useful, as is, incidently, the chronological list of interviews undertaken by Carpenter).
This marvellous book deserves to be better known both for its literary merit (and it is a fine example of how to write a biography) and for the insight it gives into the life and work of an extraordinary, monstrous, loveable man.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm Backing Britten - and Carpenter 24 Aug 2013
I can't help feeling that Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Benjamin Britten will outlive most of the others. There is of course a thriving Britten Industry at the moment: Britten was born 100 years ago this year, and so lots of people are cashing in on the fact. A wealth of biographies, large and small, has been produced - with a wealth of detail (some of it purely speculative) about the man's life and loves and hates and passions - and of course because plenty of research has been possible, together with a healthy 35-year gap since the subject's death, Britten the man and Britten the composer have been gone over with a fine tooth-comb, leaving not so much as a crotchet or quaver unturned.

For my money, Humphrey Carpenter wins. Writing in the 1990s - fifteen years after the composer's death - he has produced a compelling and readable account of a musical genius who was also a charming, lovable, annoying, neurotic, and sometimes downright unpleasant man. The book is rich in quotation, anecdote, episode and interview - it's always literate, always compassionate, and carefully avoids the pitfall of hero-worship that has marred some versions of the BB legend.

Here we have a superbly rounded portrait, and one that the reader will be the richer and more knowledgeable for. Issues are not fudged: there is, fortunately, no attempt to conceal or whitewash Britten's sexual preferences - and nor is there any attempt to silence the occasional detractors who fell foul of Ben's surprising and often unexpected ruthlessness.

Heroes of the British arts float in and out of the pages, names that are as familiar today as Britten's own: John Piper, William Walton, John Betjeman, Kathleen Ferrier, W.H. Auden - the list goes on.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive 16 Nov 2001
By P. A. Murphy VINE VOICE
Humphrey Carpenter, ably assisted by the Britten Estate, has produced a thorough, readable and balanced account of Britten's eventful life. There is no deification of the man here, nor does Carpenter lose sight of the fascinating, attractive and genial qualities of the 20th Century's finest composer. There is little more to be said: there are many fine books on Britten, but any real study of the man's life and motivations begins here and ends here. Splendid!
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