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What Are the Ways in Which Britten's Peter Grimes Might Be Considered Neo-Classical?

Autor:   •  November 3, 2012  •  Book/Movie Report  •  4,098 Words (17 Pages)  •  960 Views

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Composed just after Britten's return from America in 1944-45 with life-long companion Peter Pears, the story of Peter Grimes was taken from one of George Crabbe's poems The Borough. Holding many key features close to Britten's heart; based in Aldeburgh, Britten's home, The Borough explores the inhabitants of Aldeburgh and in particular a brutal fisherman called Grimes whose rough upbringing perpetuates the abuse of his three apprentices. The ghosts of his father and the apprentices haunt him until his death. Britten's own take on this poem shows the Borough's rejection of Peter Grimes for his crimes, although in Britten's opera Grimes is innocent as the deaths of his apprentices were all accidents. The character Grimes is shunned because he is a dreamer and visionary who does not belong in the small community even though he longs to show the borough that he is a worthy man who can provide for the woman he loves. Though having written an operetta earlier on in the year, Paul Bunyan, to a text by W. H. Auden which was performed for a week only and ‘critics damned it unmercifully' (Brett 1983: 148); Britten still wanted to compose more works for the stage. Having found a story that he could relate to in Peter Grimes; Britten wanted to show the ‘perpetual struggle of men and women whose livelihood depends on the sea' (Brett 1983: 149). Britten and Pears began work on fleshing out the story to the opera, the background of which they took from The Borough, Britten then asked Montagu Slater to write the libretto for the opera. The first performance of Peter Grimes was to be by the Sadler's Wells Opera Company to re-open the Sadler's Wells Theatre when the war was over. After many months of debate and strife from varying singers calling the opera ‘a waste of time and money' (Kennedy 1981: 44) Peter Grimes had its first performance on the 7th of June 1945. The opera was well received and The Times critic said:

‘It is a good omen for English opera that this first-fruit of peace should declare decisively that opera on grand scale and in the grand manner can still be written… The opera is filled with… effortless originality and spills over with interest…' (Kennedy 1981: 45)

Audiences flocked to hear Peter Grimes and its fame quickly spread worldwide being performed in Berlin, Stockholm, Milan and New York to name but a few; ‘Britten was acclaimed as the first natural English composer of opera to arise since Purcell' (Kennedy 1981: 46). To gain a deeper understanding of Britten's intentions, this essay will explore the neoclassical elements to be found within Britten's Peter Grimes looking at theorists Martha Hyde and her concept of neoclassic and anachronistic impulses and Joseph Straus' concept of misreading.

Determining something as neoclassic poses its own problems because there is no set definition for neoclassicism and it is difficult


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