Alexander Waugh

The Chippy Composer

Britten on Music


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David Matthews


FEW COMPOSERS EVER wrote well – Berlioz, Busoni, Bax, maybe Wagner, stand out as exceptions. The composer’s gift, his ability to make logical sense from a palette of abstract sounds, seems to stand in the way of what, for the rest of us, is a more natural form of expression. Benjamin Britten was acutely conscious of hs own verbal ineptitude, both in conversation and in hs various attempts to write speeches or programme notes: ‘I do not easily think in words, because words are not my medium. This may surprise people, but I suppose it is the way one’s brain is made’, he said in hs acceptance speech on being awarded an honorary doctorate at Hull University. ‘I also have a very real dread of becoming one of those artists who talk. I believe so strongly that it is dangerous for artists to talk.’

Of course talking about music has never been easy and Britten could be gauche, but in this new anthology of his writing and interview transcripts it is not always the composer who is made to look incoherent or foolish –

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