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This review is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Still Listening neil powell, Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music (Hutchinson) £25

This last summer in Britain found Britten just about everywhere, and the rather tiresome pun was bandied about again the way it had been during the war when people complained that the composer had fled, along with Auden and Isherwood, The Battle of. But in his centenary year, Britten was not vilified - whether as pacifist, homosexual, or exile - but celebrated as the national composer he eventually became, even as the monument that no artist ever wants to be lest the pigeons leave their droppings on his head in the public square. In Aldeburgh, banners proclaimed that 'Britten Lives Here', and indeed his music did - lots of it, even Peter Grimes on the beach which, for the dress rehearsal anyway, admitted for free the locals who live in that seaside town the year round, not just at festival time. The memorabilia was a bit much: you could buy a full festival-themed tea set along with matched Benjy and Peter cuff links. And of course plenty of CDs. As in the old days, there were performances in Orford church as well as the Snape Maltings concert hall, and one could find oneself sitting next to quite pleasant and modest celebrities. I had Heather Harper to my left at a dinner, Ian Bostridge just in front of me at a concert. But this reviewer has to admit that he loves the festival, and Britten's music as well. A poet acquaintance mumbled to me at one event that 'Britten is too English'. Not for me, but I understand. As a Yank ...


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