"My bloody opera stinks & that's all there is to it," Britten grumbled to his life partner, the tenor Peter Pears, in June 1944. He was referring to Peter Grimes, the sea-tossed tale of the lonely Suffolk fisherman which soon joined the pantheon of 20th-century masterpieces and remains one of the composer's most arresting works. It's a characteristic remark, not for its language but for its furious self-doubt. This dazzling musician rarely felt confident of his achievements, yet at the same time had that complicated arrogance which any artist needs to survive.
A century after his birth in
Lowestoft, the youngest of four children born to a dentist and his wife,
Britten's life and work are being celebrated with a level of excitement
no one can have imagined when he died in 1976. True, he was famous and
had his array of honours and titles and his burgeoning festival in the
Suffolk seaside town of Aldeburgh. He had, too, a large circle of
devoted friends, and a far smaller knot of those he had cast aside,
often in a silly fit of pique.
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and controllers. Britten was spoken of as the greatest British composer
since Purcell, whom he revered, and Elgar, whom he did not. Children
may have been raised on his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra,The
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and Indoor Navigation. but most of his enormous output of operas (Billy
Budd, The Turn of the Screw, Gloriana, Death in Venice among them),
song cycles and choral works, string quartets and concertos was of
interest chiefly to the serious music lover.
Today, for entirely
nonmusical reasons, Britten has become the subject of excited gossip.
Paul Kildea's book has caused titivation by suggesting that the
composer's death was hastened by tertiary syphilis, a theory roundly
denounced by medical experts and those surviving doctors who were there.
Stories about the composer's taste for pretty boys have turned from
tendency – which is certainly all it amounted to, even if the desire was
real enough – to scandalous fact, without any foundation or new
These two new biographies, one by a Britten authority
who was head of music at Aldeburgh from 1999 to 2002, one by a Suffolk
local, the poet and biographer Neil Powell, do nothing to change that
view, but assess the evidence dispassionately and mostly sensibly.
Neither knew Britten. Both have waded through the acres of letters,
diaries and interviews and crafted their own strong narratives.
the volumes are complementary. Kildea's, dense and annotated, delves
deeper into the past, sifting over existing material with forensic
attention as to how events relate to the music. Powell instead carries
the torch into the present, naming those singers now performing the work
anew, painting a portrait of the Aldeburgh festival as it is today. His
account has more air and light, and brings alive the sense of landscape
– the East Anglian coast, the marshes, the wind and waves – which have
coloured so much of Britten's music.Wholesale various Glass Mosaic Tiles
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public schoolish, formal in manner, Britten was no extrovert. A superb
pianist, performing made him sick with nerves. There was nothing he
liked more than to lock himself away in Suffolk and get on with writing
music. By contrast, Pears liked the bright lights, dashing back to
London when the rural pace became too slow for him. They were together
for 35 years, somehow negotiating the illegality of their relationship
without fuss. Powell writes with a particular passion and psychological
insight, concluding: "[Britten] and Pears taught gay men of my
generation the astonishing lesson that it was possible for a homosexual
couple to live decently and unapologetically in provincial England."
is painstaking in providing sociopolitical background about Britain
before, during and after the wartime years. The syphilis business takes
up merely a few pages, which frankly is all it deserves, as no doubt
Kildea would agree. He must be embarrassed by the quick collapse of his
theory. From Powell we comprehend Britten's day-to-day existence. We
know just how many minutes it took the prep-school boy to get home for
his tea – about three – which may be a reason he didn't enjoy the
behind-the-bike shed experiences of his more worldly fellow pupils.
tells us about the young Britten's distaste for his teacher, the
composer John Ireland, who was often drunk and probably made a pass at
his pupil. It falls to Powell, however, to mention that Ireland lived in
Gunter Grove, Chelsea, and on one occasion urinated on the carpet.A
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the sandy shores of Rio de Janeiro's wealthy beach areas to the darkest
corners of its shantytowns, vibrant graffiti can be found decorating
various buildings. A graffiti artist is painting on Leblon beach.
Rio de Janeiro is a very joyful city, there's this tropical thing. The
colors, the sun and graffiti are colorful. There's a very strong
expression. I think that sometimes without even having great effects,
the color is enough to send a message. Personally, I think that graffiti
and Rio de Janeiro go hand in hand. Rio de Janeiro has its grey areas
that we try to color to change that image."
Kledison Barbosa, who lives on the outskirts of Rio, says graffiti can help change the stereotypes of the city's slums.
is for communities that really need graffiti. The concept takes away
the idea that these communities are places you cannot venture into.
There has to be some kind of art to attract people's attention."
2010, when the Christ the Redeemer statue was spray-painted with
signatures and symbols, a type of graffiti called "pichacao" in
Portuguese, Rio de Janeiro's secretary for conservation and public
services officials decided to stamp out such vandalism.
Carlos Osorio, the city's current secretary for conservation and public services, explains.
we are trying to do is encourage graffiti and at the same time decide
with the graffiti artists what is acceptable and what is unacceptable
from an urban point of view. The communities have been immensely
affected by the pichacao (graffiti tags) issue, and graffiti art is
starting to turn this around."
Two years later, the Brazilian city has again been covered in graffiti—but this time with the city's endorsement.
owner Andre Brettas is a member of a street art gang who has
connections to the office of the secretary of conservation and public
"They called me to find out who had done it. Instead
of repressing the pichacao, I suggested we create a pro-graffiti
After that phone call, Brettas set up the R.U.A.
Institute for Urban Artistic Revitalization. The institute allows street
artists to formally work hand in hand with city authorities on projects
that replace ugly graffiti tags with vibrant artwork. It is unusual to
be able to walk for more than two blocks in Rio without seeing some kind
of street art.
Here is Carlos Roberto Osorio, Rio de Janeiro's secretary for conservation and public services, again.
perception of graffiti has changed. The communities used to suffer
immensely from the pichacao issue, and now graffiti is turning this game
Rio is a major centre for the Art Deco style of
architecture. And the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado is
considered a classic example of Art Deco work.
this iconic statue was vandalized. After that, the city in partnership
with the R.U.A. Institute and other private sponsors facilitated several
urban art projects. The artists were provided with paint and security
guards and given an assurance that their graffiti would not be removed.
2012, a gigantic wall next to a train station in a slum, was painted by
15 street artists during a weeklong project approved by the city at the
request of the train station.
In the past, these artists would have been chased away or arrested.
artist Bruno Big has seen several positive examples of how graffiti has
revitalized formerly abandoned areas of the city.
started painting here in Rio I felt a lot of freedom and interaction
with the public with the people living here as well. Nowadays, we get to
know people. Here they know me by my name. One of the most interesting
things about graffiti is this exchange that we have when we paint in the