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Four Last SongsAging and Creativity in Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten$
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Linda Hutcheon and Michael Hutcheon

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226255590

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226255620.001.0001

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Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)

Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)

The Life Narratives of the Ever-Young “Working Composer”

(p.79) Chapter Six Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)
Four Last Songs

Linda Hutcheon

Michael Hutcheon

University of Chicago Press

Britten completed his last opera, Death in Venice (1973), just before cardiac surgery during which he suffered a stroke. Not yet 60, he underwent many of the changes associated with extended aging: dependency, physical impairment, the facing of his imminent demise. Known for his work ethic and professionalism, the prolific Britten completed only 9 independent works before his death 3 years later, but productivity is no measure of creativity: the last works stand as some of his best. Britten’s self-identification as a “working composer” underpinned one of the two life narratives that, this chapter argues, structured and gave meaning to his sense of himself. While he retained this narrative to the end, the other story of the self had to be abandoned with his sudden entry into older age: that of being ever youthful. Britten’s delight in the company of young boys, the topic of much gossip, is here seen as rooted in his own strong nostalgia for the innocence and spontaneity of youth. His two life narratives come together in that last opera, Death in Venice, the story of the homoerotic desire for a beautiful young boy experienced by an older artist in the throes of a creative crisis.

Keywords:   Benjamin Britten, Death in Venice, life narrative, productivity, creativity, impairment

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