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27 of 27 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
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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. Opera, film, television, all take their place alongside the wealth of music, large and small scale, that Britten produced in his relatively short life (he was 63 when he died.)

For music lovers, Britten's major works are dissected with scrupulous care. The many librettos and texts are also taken apart and analysed, even when there can be no real need or justification for doing so, and I can't help feeling that the results would sometimes have raised a smile on their creators' faces. But that's all part of the mystique that surrounds composers, who are after all in a class and world of their own, and as we must all acknowledge, Britten is definitely unique among modern music-makers.

This book is a superb read. For anyone and everyone. You do not have to be a musical genius to appreciate it, or to appreciate the genius of a man who was arguably one of the world's very greatest composers. That Benjamin Britten did so much to keep British arts and music alive at a time when the odds seemed almost overwhelmingly stacked against them is undeniable, and Humphrey Carpenter's biography is a fitting and masterful tribute to an extraordinary man.

By all means delve deeper into the life and times of B.B., and explore any of the more recent volumes about him, but 'Benjamin Britten: a Biography' is the perfect place to start the journey.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive, 16 Nov 2001
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P. A. Murphy "Paulie" (London) - See all my reviews
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Britten, 2 Aug 2013
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K. F. M. Fisher (Sommerset) - See all my reviews
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We bought this to fill a gap left by someone who did not return our previous copy. Informed, well written with details that add to the a better understanding of a very great composer
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight., 6 Nov 2012
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Martin Hodson (Gwent UK) - See all my reviews
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A most enjoyable read exploring the composer's life and creative process in much detail. With the centenary anniversary of Britten's birth coming up, this would be a great way to refresh or stimulate interest in his music.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brittenville, 7 Oct 2009
I thoroughly enjoyed this biography, it takes the reader chronologically through Britten's extremely interesting life.
It is a great balance of fact and insight into the man himself.
Mammoth read, but worth every minute.
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Benjamin Britten - A Biography
Benjamin Britten - A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter (Hardcover - 1993)
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