In the Saturday edition of the Wall Street Journal, I survey the last decade of Benjamin Britten’s life though the perspective of his letters – the sixth and final volume of which have just appeared.
It was eventful decade, leaving me insufficient space to discuss the relative value of the works he poured forth as his health steadily failed. Did he maintain the same strike rate of masterpieces in his 50s as in his astonishing 30s? Surely not.
Most would count the Cello Symphony a major work and the last opera, Death in Venice, demands to be seen at least twice for its proliferation of psychological meanings. The third string quartet has rather faded off the radar and Owen Wingrave, an opera made for television, has never found its feet on stage.
Are there masterpieces of the final decade that I am missing?
UPDATE: So what really killed Britten? The British press sniffs smut.