Deliver to your Kindle or other device


Try it free

Sample the beginning of this book for free

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Sorry, this item is not available in
Image not available for
Image not available

Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century [Kindle Edition]

Paul Kildea
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £10.99
Kindle Price: £5.28 includes VAT* & free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
You Save: £5.71 (52%)
* Unlike print books, digital books are subject to VAT.

Free Kindle Reading App Anybody can read Kindle books—even without a Kindle device—with the FREE Kindle app for smartphones, tablets and computers.

To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.


Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle Edition £5.28  
Hardcover £30.00  
Paperback £8.79  
Kindle Daily Deal
Kindle Daily Deal: Up to 70% off
Each day we unveil a new book deal at a specially discounted price--for that day only. Learn more about the Kindle Daily Deal or sign up for the Kindle Daily Deal Newsletter to receive free e-mail notifications about each day's deal.

Book Description

Published to mark the beginning of the Britten centenary year in 2013, Paul Kildea's Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century is the definitive biography of Britain's greatest modern composer.

In the eyes of many, Benjamin Britten was our finest composer since Purcell (a figure who often inspired him) three hundred years 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 have entered both the popular consciousness and the musical canon.

He did all this while carrying 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 Aldeburgh Festival and the building of Snape Maltings, but also how costly the determination that this required was.

Above 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 ever likely to go. Kildea reads dozens of Britten's works with enormous intelligence and sensitivity, in a way which those without formal musical training can understand. It is one of the most moving and enjoyable biographies of a creative artist of any kind to have appeared for years.

Paul Kildea is a writer and conductor who has performed many of the Britten works he writes about, in opera houses and concert halls from Sydney to Hamburg. His previous books include Selling Britten (2002) and (as editor) Britten on Music (2003). He was Head of Music at the Aldeburgh Festival between 1999 and 2002 and subsequently Artistic Director of the Wigmore Hall in London.

Product Description


Paul Kildea's superb biography gets closer to Benjamin Britten than any other. His deep insight into Britten's public and private life uncovers a troubled brilliance which has few parallels in twentieth-century music. This is a compelling, incisive, revelatory - and sometimes disturbing - book, both as musical commentary and as narrative (Colin Matthews, composer and former assistant to Benjamin Britten)

Paul Kildea has, perhaps against the odds, given us a compelling new Britten. Beautifully written, meticulously researched and with a professional's ear for the musical achievements, his compulsively readable new biography boasts an impressive historical sweep and - most important - an unflappable sensitivity to the complexities of his troubled subject. This is by far the best treatment of Britten and his music - and one of the best biographies of any composer - that I know (Roger Parker, Professor of Music, King's College, London)

This at last is the biography Britten deserves: engaged with the music and fascinated by the composer's place in his own times, Kildea presents a truly convincing portrait of a great artist (Ian Bostridge)

About the Author

Paul Kildea is a writer and conductor who has performed many of the Britten works he writes about, in opera houses and concert halls from Sydney to Hamburg. He has written extensively on the relationship between music and culture in the twentieth century: his previous books include Selling Britten (2002) and (as editor) Britten on Music (2003). He was Head of Music at the Aldeburgh Festival between 1999 and 2002 and subsequently Artistic Director of the Wigmore Hall in London. He lives in Berlin.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 36763 KB
  • Print Length: 619 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (28 Jan. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #115,086 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
  •  Would you like to give feedback on images?

More About the Author

Discover books, learn about writers, and more.

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By Mark Meynell VINE VOICE
Having read a number of books about Britten's life and music, I wasn't quite sure what to expect of this. But having heard Paul Kildea at an author's talk at Daunt Books in London, I quickly realised this would have particular authority. Kildea is a musician and a PhD musicologist (2 things which don't always go hand-in-hand). Not only that, he has had experience of performance and running festivals. In particular, he was for many years head of Music for the Aldeburgh Festival (which means you can't get much closer to this source than that, in this generation at least).

This is not hagiography (unlike some books about Britten) - and is the better for it. There is nuance amidst the genuine and profound respect for the composer. Ben was notoriously prickly and prone to feuds - his inner circle sometimes shifting, often protecting him to enable him to compose (but in-so-doing, acquiescing to his occasionally appalling cruelty). And yet, despite this, here was a man with extraordinary humanity and conviction, which profoundly shaped his musical output. The pieces are described and engaged with from a performer's perspective as well as a musicologist. And as one who has had a little experience playing and singing Britten, these descriptions really resonated with me. Most significantly, reading this book has impelled me to dust off old recordings that I've not listened to for ages, now with greater insight and understanding.

As to the book's subtitle (A Life in the Twentieth Century), it is a curious choice. After all, it does seem rather redundant.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A life for the general reader 23 Feb. 2013
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

For any biographer of Benjamin Britten, there is an enormous amount of source material; much, inevitably, has to be omitted, and I think Kildea is right to employ such a selective process, otherwise this would have been a three volume biography. Such a methodology does mean that there are serious omissions. I would have liked more about the circumstances surrounding the composition and première of 'Paul Bunyan'. Brief reference is made to the composer's friendships with adolescent boys, but this is a subject that has been dealt with more fully elsewhere. We are not told enough about Peter Pears' role, good and bad, both from a personal aspect and the influence he had in developing Britten's compositions.

Elsewhere, Kildea displays a less than rigorous approach to the material he has chosen. He does not explain the origins of the commission for the ballet 'The Prince of the Pagodas' nor why, at this stage in his career (the 1950s), Britten agreed to compose a piece in a genre of which he had shown no previous demonstrable interest, or empathy. Kildea attempts to place Britten in the context of the British professional musical scene of whose standards the composer was so critical. He uses an example from fiction to describe the poverty of Britain's musical life in the 1930s: " ...the land of Mapp and Lucia, E.F.Benson's comic creations musical soirées where the sole offering was the slow movement of Beethoven's 'Moonlight' Sonata. Britain just didn't know any better" (p46). Kildea should have researched this issue more; using a fictional yard-stick is reductive and lazy.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Selling Kildea - Biographies and the Market Place 16 April 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Two stumbling blocks seem to stand before biographers: venereal diseases and blaming of the partner. Kildea avoided none of them. In respect to the former, he made Britten rejoin the glorious company of Schubert, Wolf, a.o. In respect to the latter, he made Pears rejoin the no less famous company of the biographers' "bêtes noires" - Konstanze Mozart and Sophie von Kühn (Novalis's fiancée) come to mind. Kildea needed Pears's "bad behaviour" (based on a hearsay theory of one person who disliked him) to support his speculation about the venereal disease and further "bad influence" on Britten.
Now Britten's supposed disease has been rebutted by several of his doctors (Kildea's misfortune is that they are still alive) and the misrepresentation of Pears is contradicted by first hand sources like the six volumes of "Letters from a Life" and witnesses of people who knew him well (his and Britten's biographer Christopher Headington among others).

The main point about these errors and inaccuracies is that they cast doubt on Kildea's research or seriousness and therefore I can't really trust him as a biographer. Too bad, because the book is corrective of some of Carpenter's major flaws but it contains also, in addition to the main speculations, some misleading half-truths (e.g. some half-told stories which when complete - as they can be found in other books - share a different light on the narrated events).
Kildea's avowal of disliking Britten as a person gives him some apparent credit, but this too is a fashion among biographers: lest one be accused of hagiography, better say the music is good and the man not so good.
Read more ›
Was this review helpful to you?
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Were these reviews helpful?   Let us know
Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A record of amazing creativity, but...
The 'but' is that Britten seems to have held all human relationships but one to be expendable. His achievements were amazing, and not only in the sheer number and variety of his... Read more
Published 5 days ago by Deep Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars the best so far
the best so far, at least for musicians amateur and professional. References extremely thorough and very useful for research too. Read more
Published 8 months ago by R A BAILEY
4.0 out of 5 stars Very illuminating biography
I love classical music and have very wide tastes, but Benjamin Britten has been a blind spot. I've struggled to get into his music. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Al James
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read
I learnt a lot from this book. I cannot pretend I read this book all in one go but by the end I appreciated what a good book it is to read and keep as a reference book
Published 11 months ago by Thomas Austin
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
This book is a superb review of a troubled life that gave us all great music. A must read for any music lover
Published 14 months ago by John Dew
4.0 out of 5 stars interim
Without doubt the best commentary on Britten so far.Mr Kildea is far removed from the cabal of Aldeburgh and is able to make comment on many things that would have been almost... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Lehmanesque
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced and comprehensive
The author not only has a feel for his subject, but also for the various locations, particularly Suffolk. Read more
Published on 23 April 2013 by Dr Michael C Thorne
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written and revealing account of the great composer's...
Paul Kildea may well regret the furore which surrounded the publication of this book early in 2013, because it has largely obscured objective criticism of his splendid biography. Read more
Published on 21 April 2013 by David Maxwell Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning achievement
I have just finished this outstanding biography. It was a slow read (it took me 3 weeks) as it is packed with detail, but is never less than accessible. Read more
Published on 6 April 2013 by Nigel J. Morgan
5.0 out of 5 stars DEFINATIVE BIOGRAPHY
Published on 30 Mar. 2013 by CENTRAL LONDON MAN
Search Customer Reviews
Only search this product's reviews

Customer Discussions

This product's forum
Discussion Replies Latest Post
No discussions yet

Ask questions, Share opinions, Gain insight
Start a new discussion
First post:
Prompts for sign-in

Search Customer Discussions
Search all Amazon discussions

Look for similar items by category