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Britten's Century Hardcover – 25 Jun 2009
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About the Author
Mark Bostridge's books include Vera Brittain: A Life, shortlisted for the Whitbread Biography Award, the NCR Prize for Non-Fiction, and the Fawcett Prize, the bestselling Letters From a Lost Generation and Florence Nightingale: The Woman and Her Legend.
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There are some fascinating contributions. For example, an interview with Janette Miller who took part as a child in "Noye's Fludde" in 1958 under Britten (she explains, unsurprisingly, that the composer wasn't at all interested in the girls!). I also enjoyed John Bridcut's account of Britten's competitive tendancies, Stephen Hough's short but perceptive overview of Britten's piano music and Richard Jarman's piece on the work of the Britten-Pears foundation. It is an extremely rich and varied selection.
One or two pieces are less welcome. For instance, Philip Brett's "Britten Century" is bogged down in 1990s gay studies theory and was extremely heavy going and overly academic for my taste. I also disliked the cloyingly reverential tone of Janet Baker's reminiscences: she starts her contribution trumpeting that "Ben was a king". Okay luv, you've made it clear which camp you are in.
Altogether a rewarding and fascinating read. A perfect book for celebrating the centenary.
It's a mixed bag of personal reminiscences and critical essays. Janet Baker writes about working with Britten; Britten's music composed for the GPO's film unit in the 1930s is the subject of both 'Britten and the Gang' and 'Auden, Britten and Night Mail'; Hans Keller's piece on the Third String Quartet is too technical for the general reader; Philip Brett's 'The Britten Century' is a portentous academic essay.
In the first piece, Britten's latest biographer, Paul Kildea, criticises an earlier one, Humphrey Carpenter, for taking "many stories at face value even when he was unable to corroborate them". Words that must be coming back to haunt Kildea in the light of his ill-judged views on the cause of Britten's death which he put forward in his own biography.
The most interesting and informative essay is the final one in which Richard Jarman describes the work of the Britten-Pears foundation.
There are signs that the book was hastily put together; there are a number of proofreading errors.
In a book consisting of just 183 pages, five of the essays have been previously published elsewhere. Even at Amazon's special price, this hardly represents value for money. Frankly, it's a rip-off.
These essays should have been posted on the Britten-Pears Foundation website where they would have reached a wider readership.