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Volume One of these remarkable letters and diaries opens with a letter from Britten aged nine to his formidable mother, Edith. Music is already at the centre of his life, and it accompanies him through prep and public school and then to London to the Royal College of Music, where the phenomenally gifted but inexperienced young composer is plunged into metropolitan life and makes influential new friends, among them W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood. This was a time of prodigious musical creativity, a growing awareness of his sexuality, and the dawning of his political convictions. Most importantly, during this period Britten met Peter Pears and established the musical and personal relationship that was to last a lifetime. Volume One comes to a close in May 1939, when Britten, accompanied by Pears, departs for North America.
The letters and diaries in this illuminating first volume and its successor are supplemented by the editors’ detailed commentary and by exhaustive contemporary documentation. Together they constitute a comprehensive portrait not only of the composer but of an age.
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