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Benjamin Britten (20th Century Composers) Paperback – April 23, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

He wrote the first successful English opera since Purcell, along with a collection of songs, choral compositions, and ballets that have assured him an important place in 20th-century music. Michael Oliver, in one of Phaidon's series, 20th-Century Composers, offers a compact, useful introduction to British composer Benjamin Britten and his work, from folksong settings to church music and the great opera Peter Grimes. Frank about Britten's homosexuality and his long-time relationship with the tenor Peter Pears, the book is never prurient and seldom gossipy. Like all the Phaidon books, this one is relatively brief, well written, well illustrated, and not too technical. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

Similar to other volumes in Phaidon's "20th Century Composers" series, including Oliver's own Igor Stravinsky (LJ 2/15/96), this latest effort treats British composer Britten's life and works in strict chronological order, with detailed, easily intelligible discussions of major compositions. He deals forthrightly with Britten's homosexuality and its influence on his music without stooping to innuendo and gossip. Some personal opinions surface but do not detract measurably from the text, which illustrates Britten's development from youthful studies with Frank Bridge and John Ireland to later acclaim as one of Great Britain's most important contemporary composers. Abundant photographs and illuminating quotes from Britten's own writings are interspersed throughout. This book covers the same territory as Humphrey Carpenter's excellent Benjamin Britten: A Biography (LJ 6/15/93), albeit in a considerably condensed format. Enthusiastically recommended for all music collections as well as for general academic or public libraries that do not hold Carpenter's work.
Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, Ohio
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Series: 20th Century Composers
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Phaidon Press (April 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0714847712
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714847719
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,893,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Michael Oliver's "Benjamin Britten" is both informative and insightful. As one in a series of 20th Century Composers, I found this edition most interesting. I have read six other editions from the series, and Michael Oliver's is the best written thus far.
There are several well written biographies of Britten on the market. All that I have read thus far spend entirely too much time discussing the personal life of the composer, rather than focusing on his ground- breaking operas, or orchestral works. Oliver chooses to focus more on the music that is Britten, rather than getting wrapped up in his personal life. True, elements of Britten's childhood and adult struggles with the morality of the day may have caused him to compose the haunting tunes and melodies, but they are not the basis for understanding his music.
Oliver highlights the reason Britten is one of the 20th century's greatest composers- pure genious.
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The best general biography of Britten I have read. Its great strength is the clear, concise, thoughtful and revealing discussion of Britten's works in the context of his life: with his formidable work ethic, Britten's work was his life. The book describes his politics, sexuality, and career relationships frankly and fairly, while deliberately avoiding speculation about questions that are undocumented or of doubtful provenance. The author promotes no theories, but notes the 'reflection' in Britten's music of his sensitive nature, tragic sense of life (including pity for children and lost innocence --especially in war), and both the joys (as in his life partnership with the great tenor Peter Pears) and the tensions that affected him as a closeted homosexual in the time of dangerous illegality in Britain. This book gives fair play to the music: a valuable study for any listener.
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