Saturday, April 27, 2013

Benjamin Britten: Music, Sex, and Politics

A new book about the modern British composer is reviewed by R.J. Stove. (I don't think Rob cares much for Britten's music.) To quote:
It has become a cliché among such books’ reviewers to observe that Britten is as popular now as when he died in 1976. He is certainly as much talked about as he was then. How much this verbiage concerns his music is another issue. (After the nauseating revelations of earlier biographers, John Bridcut and the late Humphrey Carpenter, no newspaper in 2013 would dare use the headline with which London’s Sunday Times flagged the composer’s obituary: “Britten: a man with purity of vision.”)

We need not adopt the indefensibly extreme stance of dismissing Britten as a Harvey Milk with brains to point out that his initial cheer squad drew disproportionately upon musical semi-literates. Tributes to him as “English music’s savior” or “the first major English composer since Purcell” were always absurd. The truth is, artistic criteria play a smaller role in Britten’s current repute than in that of any other important modern creative musician, Shostakovich excepted. For most present-day pundits, Britten and Shostakovich matter primarily as dissidents, sexual dissidence assuming the same inspirational role with the Englishman that political dissidence has with the Russian. Both men accordingly generate innumerable column inches from a commentariat largely uninterested in musical considerations. (Read entire article.)

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