The Cambridge Companion to Benjamin Britten (Cambridge Companions to Music)

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After the briefest of editorial prefaces and a useful chronology, the volume is arranged in two large sections: the first with essays on "contexts and concepts" twentieth-century aesthetics, English "traditions," early music, politics, sexuality, the creative process , and the second with essays focused on particular "works and genres" King Priam and related works, symphony, concerto, piano sonatas, string quartets, opera, nonoperatic vocal music. If the overall organization of the volume seems more inherited than inventive, it is salutary to encounter in multiple chapters extensive consideration of Tippett's own ideas about genre, particularly his idea of individual genres conveying "historical" and "notional" archetypes.

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In other words, the partial organization along generic lines, however frequently encountered in other similar collections of essays, is justified here to a certain extent by the importance those genres and the concept of genre held for the composer. One of the surprises of the volume, given the variety of writers and approaches they employ, is the extent of consensus about various issues in Tippett studies and the apparent absence of significant disagreement.

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A possible explanation for this is that Tippett studies at present rely heavily on the accomplishments of musicologist Ian Kemp , who also published widely on Kurt Weill and Paul Hindemith. It is to him that the volume is dedicated, and references to his Tippett: The Composer and his Music Oxford: Oxford University Press, appear in every chapter. An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page.

Antonia Malloy-Chirgwin's article on Gloriana will also seem familiar to Britten scholars, since it draws heavily on her chapter in Britten's Gloriana: Essays and Sources ed. But his contribution to this volume goes beyond what his earlier articles offer. His interpretation of Billy Budd relies heavily on the optimistic views of Britten's librettist, E. Forster, often at the expense of perceiving the conflicts between Forster's ideas and Britten's. But in discussing Death in Venice, Hindley expands his earlier interpretation of same-sex love to [End Page ] encompass the dark, pessimistic aspects of the opera.

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His reading of Aschenbach's passionate but passive love for the boy Tadzio conveys clearly the ambiguities of Britten's portrayal of homosexual love. Such an interpretation is more poised and convincing than wholly grim or one-sidedly gay-affirming readings of the opera.

One of the most interesting essays is Donald Mitchell's, on Britten's preoccupation with violence. The late Hans Keller wrote intelligently and matter-of-factly about the prevalence of violence in Britten's works, at a time when few were willing to confront their disturbing aspects.

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But most writers have been disinclined to adopt Keller's psychological theories about the connections between Britten's pacifism and his portrayals of violence. Mitchell goes beyond Keller's interpretation, resisting the idea that Britten's depictions of violence can all be linked to his pacifism: "one ideological description simply will not suffice" p. It is good to see such a bold response to this issue.


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