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4.0 out of 5 stars A Genius To Be Sure
In the Preface to this book the author states that 'Benjamin Britten was the greatest of English composers - rivalled only by Henry Purcell and Edward Elgar - and one of the most extraordinarily gifted musicians ever to have been born in this country.' I have no quarrel with the second part of that opinion but vigorously dispute the first : Ralph Vaughan Williams is also...
Published 2 months ago by M. J. Nelson

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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent but lacking sparkle
Having read much about Britten I wasn't expecting to find anything new here - and I didn't. However, since so much has already been written about this composer, one does expect when approaching a new biography to find a particular slant or emphasis which offers an original/different perpsective. Otherwise, why is yet another biography warranted?

Powell's is a...
Published on 3 Mar. 2013 by Nigel J. Morgan


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4.0 out of 5 stars A Genius To Be Sure, 6 Mar. 2015
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M. J. Nelson (Leeds) - See all my reviews
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In the Preface to this book the author states that 'Benjamin Britten was the greatest of English composers - rivalled only by Henry Purcell and Edward Elgar - and one of the most extraordinarily gifted musicians ever to have been born in this country.' I have no quarrel with the second part of that opinion but vigorously dispute the first : Ralph Vaughan Williams is also fit to be mentioned in the same breath as Purcell (next to whose tomb in Westminster Abbey he is buried) and Elgar. The general tenor of this lengthy and (in the first half especially) perhaps over-detailed biography is that Britten was the 'Sun King' around whom his contemporaries were merely satellites. Thus in the infrequent references to the works of other English composers the tone is decidedly dismissive : for example Ireland's beautiful Piano Concerto and Walton's wonderfully entertaining one-Act opera The Bear are given pretty short shrift. But, to be fair, Powell has not written a hagiography : neither the composer himself nor his (astonishingly large) body of work is exempt from critical comment. Yet any fair-minded reader can surely only admire Britten's huge achievement, especially given that throughout his working life he was hampered by frequent illnesses and general bad health. His long-time professional and personal partner, Peter Pears, naturally looms large in the story : their collaboration was unique in the history of music. Powell exempts his subject from the oft-alleged charge that his sexual orientation blighted his association with several young boys with whom he became friends or with whom he worked; and he waits until the very last paragraph of the book to skate over Britten's 'falling-out with some former colleagues and friends' (notably Lord
Harewood), which some commentators, less in awe of him than Powell, might still view in a less charitable light. But in the end it is his music that counts and from his early years to the end of his life he produced work after work that testified to his genius. It is to the author's credit that he conveys this genius with a real conviction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Britten the greatest, 20 Jan. 2014
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Britten has been my favourite British composer for as long as I can remember. A ceremony of Carols was my introduction to his music.. This book is interesting because it explores in detail the music and some of the processes of composition. Also it provides an honest picture of Britten the man behind the music.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, 7 Jun. 2014
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Loved this book. Gave different insights into Britten and his world. Would recommend this to Britten aficionados out there. Excellent.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful and evocative, 21 April 2013
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Suzette A. Hill (UK) - See all my reviews
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Plenty of material here both for the general reader and for Britten afficionados: a searching, succinct and sympathetic analyisis of Britten's musical and personal life. Vivid vignettes of his friends and colleagues.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Britten revealed, 28 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Benjamin Britten: A Life For Music (Hardcover)
Very well written, well researched and perceptive, particularly in his comments on the music. A little turgid in style at times and marred by an over-positive reaction to the really rather unsatisfactory evidence as to the cause of Britten's heart problems. However highly recommended.
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent but lacking sparkle, 3 Mar. 2013
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Nigel J. Morgan (Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Benjamin Britten: A Life For Music (Hardcover)
Having read much about Britten I wasn't expecting to find anything new here - and I didn't. However, since so much has already been written about this composer, one does expect when approaching a new biography to find a particular slant or emphasis which offers an original/different perpsective. Otherwise, why is yet another biography warranted?

Powell's is a creditable, workmanlike effort. Factually it is sound but doesn't contribute anything which cannot be found in previous tomes on Britten. Powell draws heavily on the published letters and numerous other already well quoted sources.

What we have is a straightforwad telling of a story that has been already well told. Moreover, Powell does not really illuminate the music itself - his comments on the music are usually rather pedestrian.

However, what concerned me most is that there is not enough analysis and critical comment on Britten the man. Time and time again Powell appears over-reverential towards his subject. He is constantly defending Britten from his detractors. Well at this point in time, Britten really doesn't need defending - it is clear from previous biographies that whilst Britten was a brilliant musician, he was often an unpleasant individual and I don't think that this comes across strongly enough here.

Britten's unsavoury fascination with young boys isn't devoted sufficient space or analysis. This had such fundamental implications for all Britten's work. All credit to Humphrey Carpenter who in his 1992 biography focussed extensively on this (though in doing so, he was criticised by many). This was the slant that made the 1992 biography stand out from the pack. The problem is that Powell's lacks a critical focus. When the ground has been so well tread,this becomes vital.

Certainly, the Carpenter biography feels more scholarly and substantial and is the one which I would recommend at this point in time (I have yet to read the deluge of Britten books due in 2013).

I think this is one for the Britten novice (and as such, I should say it is a very decent introduction). But in the broader scheme of things, it doesn't really earn a place amongst the already extensive shelf of works on Britten.
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nicely presented book, 5 April 2013
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This review is from: Benjamin Britten: A Life For Music (Hardcover)
Very well written with lots of good photos very much enjoyed reading it. A marvellous tribute to Britten it will go with me to my desert island.
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Benjamin Britten: A Life For Music
Benjamin Britten: A Life For Music by Neil Powell (Hardcover - 31 Jan. 2013)
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