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Benjamin Britten Biography Hardcover – 8 Jul 1993
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Benjamin Britten by Humphrey Carpenter is a brilliant, enthralling biography of Benjamin Britten, one of twentieth-century Britain's greatest composers. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
If you can put up with this then you will enjoy this wonderful biography for which Humphrey Carpenter easily deserves 5 stars. In this respect I can add nothing to the reviews which have already been written.
For such an expensive book Amazon Distribution need to do something about the quality of their publishing.
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