A Life For Music
Neil Powell’s Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music is the landmark biography of this pioneering musician's rich life and work.
Benjamin Britten was the greatest English composer of the twentieth century and one of the outstanding musicians of his age.
Born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, in 1913, Britten was the youngest child of a dentist father and amateur musician mother. After studying at the Royal College of Music, he became a vital part of London’s creative and intellectual life during the 1930s, collaborating with W. H. Auden and meeting his lifelong partner, the tenor Peter Pears. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Britten and Pears were already in America, earning a precarious living as freelance musicians before re-crossing the Atlantic by ship in the perilous days of 1942.
But the east coast of England was where Britten, as he himself said, belonged: this was where he returned to write his most famous opera, Peter Grimes, and – with Pears and Eric Crozier – to found the Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. In the years that followed, his worldwide reputation grew steadily, helped by a busy schedule of international tours and, for many, crowned by the extraordinary success of his War Requiem. Meanwhile, his festival went from strength to strength, its progress symbolised by the opening of Snape Maltings Concert Hall in 1967.
Britten was a mass of paradoxes: a solitary, introspective thinker who came to ebullient life in the company of young people, for whom he composed some of his most memorable works; a man of the political left who was on the friendliest terms with members of the royal family; a composer inspired by some of the twentieth century’s deepest preoccupations who combined innovation with a profound understanding of musical tradition. Devoted to his friends, protégés and fellow musicians, he was, above all, someone who lived for music.
Neil Powell’s book is the landmark biography for Britten’s centenary year: a subtle and moving portrait of a brilliant, complex and ultimately loveable man.
“Neil Powell is a poet, and it shows. Fluent… intimate… psychologically adept… [Powell does] an exceptional job of bringing this strange, neurotic and evasive man to life.”
Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times
“[A] fine biography... Powell has a more personal touch... takes a more literary approach, and is good at relating the vocal pieces to their sources.”
“A sensible, well-written book by an author who is a literary scholar: this is the biography to choose if you are new to Britten and want an introduction to his life.”
“Powell 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 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.”
“Tightly focused... sympathetic. Powell lives in Suffolk and has a strong understanding of the composer’s cultural rootedness in that part of the world.”
“This concise and well-written biography draws effectively on almost every available major source to provide a valuable synthesis of modern scholarship and opinion … This book comes with many rare photographs, a very useful bibliography, and is well indexed … For a well-written distillation of Britten’s life and art, Neil Powell’s biography can be thoroughly recommended, particularly to those who want an accessible and comprehensive account as a preface to further study.”
Classical Music magazine
“Powell has a certain ease as a writer… and an unerring eye for the unexpected revealing quotation.”
“Powell’s biography provides a reliable, uncluttered narrative, useful for Britten beginners.”