The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion

By Claire Seymour | Go to book overview

2

Paul Bunyan

Once in a while the odd thing happens, Once in a while the dream comes true, And the whole pattern of life is altered, Once in a while the moon turns blue.

W. H. Auden, Paul Bunyan

I've seen & am seeing Auden a lot, & our immediate future is locked with his, it seems.

Benjamin Britten 1

When Benjamin Britten met W. H. Auden for the first time, on 5 July 1935, the young composer was immediately awed by the charismatic poet who, seven years Britten's senior, was already a renowned writer, intellectual, left-wing spokesman and homosexual. Soon after returning to England to take up a teaching post in 1930, after two years in Germany, Auden had become involved with Rupert Doone's Group Theatre, and in 1935 began writing for the GPO Film Unit. When he heard the incidental music that Britten had written for the song 'O lurcher-loving collier' for the film Coal Face, Auden was convinced that he had found the composer to complete the 'group' of writers, poets, directors and designers who were collaborating on various projects at this time. He praised Britten's: 'extra-ordinary musical sensitivity in relation to the English language. One had always been told that English was an impossible tongue to set or sing ... Here at last was a composer who set the language without undue distortion.' 2 Britten was similarly filled with admiration for the poet; he wrote to Marjorie Fass, 30 December 1935: 'I haven't had time to read much of the Auden yet — but I feel that most of it is definitely going to be for me — knowing him as I do, & feeling quite a lot in sympathy with his ideals. I am working with him on various projects outside films — it is a treat to have someone of his calibre to think with!' 3 However, he was somewhat oppressed by Auden's intellectual dominance, recording in his diary: 'Spend day with Coldstream and Auden ... I always feel very young and stupid with these brains — I mostly sit silent when they hold forth about subjects in general. What brains!' 4 Auden's guiding influence was immediately evident. Until this time Britten had shown little public interest in politics; now, introduced into

____________________
1
3 September 1939, to Barbara Britten; LL, vol. 2, p. 696.
2
HC, p. 67.
3
LL, vol. 1, p. 391.
4
17 September 1935; ibid., pp. 380—1.

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The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Operas of Benjamin Britten - Expression and Evasion *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Permissions *
  • Abbreviations x
  • 1 - Introduction *
  • 2 - Paul Bunyan *
  • 3 - Peter Grimes *
  • 4 - The Rape of Lucretia *
  • 5 - Albert Herring *
  • 6 - The Little Sweep *
  • 7 - Billy Budd *
  • 7 - Billy Budd *
  • 8 - Gloriana *
  • 9 - The Turn of the Screw *
  • 10 - Noye's Fludde *
  • 11 - A Midsummer Night's Dream *
  • 12 - The Church Parables *
  • 13 - Owen Wingrave *
  • 14 - Death in Venice *
  • 15 - Conclusion *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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