Britten and the Guitar: Critical Perspectives for Performers

Publication Date 31st, August, 2016

ISBN 978-1-909325-87-6

Cost €25.00

Benjamin Dwyer’s Britten and the Guitar: Critical Perspectives for Performers is the first important study of the guitar works of Benjamin Britten. This book offers more than an objective analytical study of these compositions. Dwyer draws upon his expertise as a classical guitarist, composer and musicologist to deliver a multi-lensed examination of this music providing broad contexts and unique insights.

Dwyer not only explores the intricate relationship between Britten, his life-long partner, the tenor Peter Pears and the guitarist Julian Bream, for whom all the guitar works were written, but goes further in situating the Renaissance composer and lutenist John Dowland as a central and inspirational figure that hovers over all Britten’s guitar works. In so doing, he provides unique insights into Britten’s compositional approach demonstrating how techniques of musical rhetoric, exemplified by Dowland, are central to his musical idiolect.

Britten’s Chinese-poetry settings are amplified through a broader study of Chinese poetics; and his folksong arrangements are contextualized in his desire to set folksong against the norms established by the composers of the English pastoral school. Dwyer further situates Britten’s tonal language as a construct of self-insurgent tendencies—tensions brought about as a result of the composer’s unease as a homosexual living in a heteronormative society. Britten’s Second Lutesong of the Earl of Essex, in Bream’s arrangement, is placed within its context as a central linchpin to Britten’s opera Gloriana.

Significantly, Dwyer brings to world attention the heretofore-unknown Courtly Dances ‘Aldeburgh Version’—a work for guitar and orchestra performed only twice in the 1950s and 1960s, and since forgotten. Held at the Britten-Pears Library archive since 1957, this score remained lost to the guitar world until rediscovered by the author. Dwyer provides a perceptive and contextualizing analysis of the ‘Aldeburgh Version’ that will be key to introducing this unknown work to contemporary guitarists.

Finally, Dwyer interprets Britten’s Nocturnal, after John Dowland not only as a major work in the guitar repertoire but also as a significant landmark in Britten’s output, as it signposts, alongside Curlew River, Britten’s last stylistic phase in composition. Britten and the Guitar: Critical Perspectives for Performers is an essential text for the professional guitarist and singer, the committed teacher, and those who simply wish to understand more about this unique body of music by one the 20th-century’s most enigmatic composers.