Britten’s Century: Celebrating 100 Years of Benjamin Britten by Mark Bostridge (ed); The Time by the Sea: Aldeburgh 1955–1958 by Ronald Blythe - review by Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Benjamin by the Sea

Britten’s Century: Celebrating 100 Years of Benjamin Britten

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Bloomsbury 183pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

The Time by the Sea: Aldeburgh 1955–1958

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Faber & Faber 256pp £15.99 order from our bookshop
 

It’s 1957 and the musical avant-garde is in full swing. Pierre Boulez is dyna-miting the 19th-century furnishings. Karlheinz Stockhausen is wiring up the concert hall. John Cage has dispensed with sound itself. Benjamin Britten, meanwhile, withdraws to a house overlooking a golf course and offers the world Noye’s Fludde, a children’s opera whose only concession to modernity is the introduction of a row of tuned mugs as percussion.

He’s not an easy sell, Britten. Part-time modernist, part-time provincial squire, the composer can come across more Alan Partridge than Igor Stravinsky. His average day – walks by the sea followed by rounds of tennis – doesn’t exactly fizz with the excitement expected of 20th-century great lives. There’s a hint

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