Fourth B’

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

re­hen­sive­ness: also whether Kildea would match Car­pen­ter’s frank­ness about Brit­ten’s emo­tion­ally con­stricted per­son­al­ity, not to men­tion his pe­dophilic pro­cliv­ity.

The ti­tles of Car­pen­ter’s open­ing and clos­ing chap­ters threw down that gaunt­let — Once upon a time there was a prep-school boy and The best brought-up lit­tle boy you could imag­ine — and when I re­viewed his book for this news­pa­per in 1992 I thought they were an as­tute syn­op­sis of his sub­ject. I also de­vel­oped the con­vic­tion that if Brit­ten had still been alive then, he could well have been in jail (ex­cept for the pro­tec­tion of his friends in the Es­tab­lish­ment).

Kildea seeks to ‘‘ cor­rect’’ that view of the com­poser. Though he is will­ing to crit­i­cise some of the mu­sic (not enough, in my view) and ac­knowl­edge that, es­pe­cially in later life, Brit­ten of­ten treated col­leagues and friends — any­one! — in surly, grace­less fash­ion, his book is a strong (I won’t say ha­gio­graphic) at­tempt at re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

His clos­ing para­graph (in the con­clud­ing sec­tion that, far more def­er­en­tially, is called Der Ab­schied (The Farewell, af­ter Mahler’s Song of the Earth) is: ‘‘ He was the twen­ti­eth cen­tury’s con­sum­mate mu­si­cian, but he was also the spoilt child [EM] Forster once iden­ti­fied, who stamped his foot un­til he got his way, ruth­lessly dis­patch­ing those who ob­structed him. In so do­ing, he pro­duced a body of works and per­for­mances that was un­ri­valled in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury and is un­likely to be sur­passed any time soon.’’

The per­sonal as­sess­ment there is jus­ti­fied, but the mu­si­cal com­par­i­son sheer hy­per­bole. And, though there is much so­cial and aes­thetic his­tory to sug­gest that many peo­ple have be­lieved that fine art jus­ti­fies ap­palling be­hav­iour, even Kildea’s par­ti­san ap­proach is a tough jour­ney. Get too close to the flame and you’ll surely be burned.

Brit­ten was born 100 years ago, on the Feast of St Ce­cilia, pa­troness of mu­sic (Novem­ber 22), the son of a Suf­folk den­tist

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