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Benjamin Britten: new books published for the centenary

(April 2013)

Four new Britten books celebrate the composer in his centenary year, encompassing biography, letters and photos.

The Benjamin Britten centenary has brought the publication of four major new books on the composer: two biographies by Paul Kildea and Neil Powell, the completion of his correspondence with a sixth volume covering Britten's final years, and a lavish new collection of photos capturing a personal rather than official view of the composer.

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Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century
by Paul Kildea
Allen Lane (Penguin), hardback, 688 pages

Paul Kildea's detailed new biography of Britten looks set to be one of the authorative books on the composer, drawing on the years of research and insights since Humphrey Carpenter's study published 20 years ago.

"The first and most substantial new archeological dig of 2013 is from the former head at the Aldeburgh Festival and the Wigmore Hall, Paul Kildea... Lovingly but not uncritically re-examining every one of Britten's compositions in a way that enlightens but never overloads, Kildea gets closer than most to the nub of why Britten's music endures. New light is shone on the masterpieces. New cases are made for the neglected. Everywhere are subtle reconfigurations..."
The Sunday Telegraph

"Writing with crisp urbane elegance, [Kildea] displays an acute sense of his subject's convoluted psychology... His bracingly opinionated and beautifully articulated book brings all Britten's complexities vividly to life"
The Spectator

"His chief achievement is to show how Britten's life was interwoven with so many fundamental social and political developments... But Kildea, a conductor as well as fine writer, is also perceptive about Britten's development as a composer in the face of hostile critics and uncomprehending or incompetent performers... Truly a fascinating portrait of a genius, warts and all."
The Times

Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music
by Neil Powell
Hutchinson, hardback, 528 pages

Alongside the Kildea volume, a new biography by the Suffolk poet Neil Powell has been published by Hutchinson (Random House), providing a subtle and moving portrait of Britten the man and the environment in which he worked.

"...[Powell's biography] presents a detailed narrative of an incredibly busy and often fraught creative life... Powell also shows a novelist's understanding of the feelings of all those - siblings, lovers, colleagues and rivals - who had to deal with Britten's complex personality... Those seeking an informed, yet untendentious account of Britten's life and work will find it here."
BBC Music Magazine

"Luckily the volumes are complementary. Kildea's, dense and annotated, delves deeper into the past, sifting over existing material with forensic attention as to how events relate to the music. Powell instead carries the torch into the present, naming those singers now performing the work anew, painting a portrait of the Aldeburgh festival as it is today. his account has more air and light, and brings alive the sense of landscape - the East Anglian coast, the marshes, the wind and waves - which have coloured so much of Britten's music."
The Observer

Britten Letters from a Life, vol.6 (1966-76)
edited by Philip Reed & Mervyn Cooke
Boydell Press, hardback, 880 pages

The sixth and final volume of the annotated selected letters of Benjamin Britten has been published by Boydell and Brewer. Edited by Philip Reed and Mervyn Cooke, it covers the composer's last decade including the genesis, composition and premieres of major stage works such as Owen Wingrave, Death in Venice and the three church parables.

"A superb edition of Britten's correspondence, now completed with a sixth 800-page volume covering the decade before his death in 1976... the magnificent accompanying annotation and detailed apparatus make them richly revealing."
The Spectator

"Led by Britten's musicologist acolyte Donald Mitchell and his successors, the Britten-Pears Foundation has spent the past 20 years combing an extensive legacy of documents. The aim has been to trace Britten's life and activities through his own words, free of the gossip and speculation that surrounded the composer in his lifetime and grew after his death."
Financial Times

Britten in Pictures
edited by Lucy Walker
Boydell Press, paperback, 288 pages

Britten in Pictures, celebrating the many facets of Britten's life in a major new photographic treatment, has been published by Boydell & Brewer. Using the wealth of images housed in the collections of The Britten-Pears Foundation at Aldeburgh, the book charts the curve of Britten's life, using a selection of rare and previously unpublished images to reveal him anew in all phases of his career, catching a multitude of informal glimpses of the man 'behind the scenes' at work and play as well as in more familiar formal settings. The result is a new and often surprising portrait of this major musical genius.

"Lucy Walker has drawn much of her material from hitherto unpublished collections, in which the composer has been snapped unawares... they tend to reveal a more relaxed, happier man to set against the tense, darkly troubled peronsa suggested by many of his later works."
BBC Music Magazine

"Walker's superb collation of this visual material will prove indispensable during the centenary year and beyond."
Classical Music

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