The fifth volume of the annotated selected letters of Benjamin Britten, edited by Philip Reed and Mervyn Cooke, covers the years 1958-65, during which he wrote two major operatic works - A Midsummer Night's Dream and the ground-breaking Curlew River - and his pacifist choral masterpiece War Requiem. Other significant compositions from the period include the orchestral song-cycle Nocturne, the first of the cello pieces for Rostropovich, and settings of poems by Blake and Pushkin.
Correspondents include friends, fellow artists and collaborators such as Peter Maxwell Davies, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, E. M. Forster, Percy Grainger, Duncan Grant, Robert Graves, the Earl and Countess of Harewood, Hans Werner Henze, Barbara Hepworth, Christopher Isherwood, Otto Klemperer, Alma Mahler-Werfel, Yehudi Menuhin, Henry Moore, John Piper, William Plomer (liberttist of Curlew River), Sviatoslav Richter, Mstislav Rostropovich, Dmitri Shostakovich, Edith Sitwell, Galina Vishnevskaya and William Walton, as well as Britten's partner and principal interpreter, Peter Pears.
The volume charts the peak of Britten's position as one of the leading figures of the international musical establishment as composer, conductor and pianist, and his continuing involvement with the Aldeburgh Festival and the English Opera Group. The deterioration in Britten's relationship with Boosey & Hawkes, his publishers since the mid-1930s, is closely documented, as is the founding, at the composer's instigation, of the new publishing house of Faber Music in 1964. Central to the period is the composer's warm friendship with musicians from the Soviet Union, and Britten's and Pears's visits to Moscow, Leningrad and Armenia are charted in detail.
Letters from a Life is more than just an edition of letters; it is a vast Britten compendium. [...] there can be no question that it is vastly more successful as biography than the straight [...] works on Britten have been. YALE REVIEW
A stupendous achievement of scholarship. AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE
The generously-illustrated, sumptuously annotated edition gives deep insights into Britten's life and milieu, and in this volume we, amongst many others, witness Britten encouraging young and aspiring composers [...] a most inspiring and inspired publication, with plenty new insights into Britten and his world. BMS NEWS
Editors Philip Reed and Mervyn Cooke have managed to balance the many factors involving selection and annotation [...] with notable success. MUSICAL TIMES
Impeccably edited, annotated, and presented series. AUSTRALIAN BOOK REVIEW
Like its predecessor, the fifth volume of the annotated letters of Benjamin Britten, now edited by Philip Reed and Mervyn Cooke, is co-produced by the Boydell Press and the Britten-Pears foundation. [...] Production standards could scarcely be higher [...] Enthusiasts will find it a treasure trove. INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW
The book is, as with previous volumes in the series, superbly crafted. The attention to detail, such as extensive editorial notes to set context for the letters where needed, explanations of who people are and their role in Britten's life and career, is nothing short of masterly in its scholarship and clarity. FONTES ARTIS MUSICAE
This hefty penultimate tome in what amounts to an immensely detailed biography manque covers what many would regard as the apex of Britten's career. ... Donald Mitchell... has now retired... but his principles of painstaking annotation are well sustained by Reed and Cooke. BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
The letters, published by the Boydell Press and meticulously edited by Philip Reed and Mervyn Cooke, are an even more direct and intimate examination [of his achievement].THE TELEGRAPH
In much of his correspondence, Britten is warm, addressing his friends as "my dear" or "dearest" and showing detailed concern for their tribulations. He can be catty but is preternaturally outgoing. Britten was a bigger man and a more important composer than his present reputation suggests. ECONOMIST