Myth in the Early Collaborations of Benjamin Britten and William Plomer

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Although the most well-known collaborations of William Plomer and Benjamin Britten are the three church parables (or church operas) - Curlew River, The Burning Fiery Furnace, and The Prodigal Son - by the time of the completion of Curlew River in 1964, the librettist and composer had been working together for well over a decade. During that time, they had completed the opera Gloriana and had considered collaborating on three other projects: one a children's opera on Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mr. Tod, one on an original story of Plomer's called "Tyco the Vegan," and one on a Greek ... continued below

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Salfen, Kevin McGregor August 2005.

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  • Salfen, Kevin M.

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Although the most well-known collaborations of William Plomer and Benjamin Britten are the three church parables (or church operas) - Curlew River, The Burning Fiery Furnace, and The Prodigal Son - by the time of the completion of Curlew River in 1964, the librettist and composer had been working together for well over a decade. During that time, they had completed the opera Gloriana and had considered collaborating on three other projects: one a children's opera on Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Mr. Tod, one on an original story of Plomer's called "Tyco the Vegan," and one on a Greek myth (possibly Arion, Daedalus and Icarus, or Phaëthon). Far from being footnotes to the parables, these early collaborations established Plomer and Britten's working relationship and brought to light their common interests as well as their independent ones. Their successive early collaborations, therefore, can be thought of as a conversation through creative expression. This metaphor of conversation can be applied both to successive collaborations and to the completed Gloriana, in that the libretto and the music can be seen as representing different interpretations of both major and minor characters in the opera, including Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. In Gloriana, Britten employed at least three specifically musical methods of challenging the meaning of the libretto: instrumental commentary, textural density, and dramatically significant referential pitches. Plomer and Britten's conversation, carried out through these early collaborations, touches on the function of art, activism, and modern morality, but it is best circumscribed by the concept of myth. Two divergent and very influential interpretations of myth - Matthew Arnold's "sweetness and light" and primal liberation (deduced from Nietzsche) - can be usefully applied to Plomer and Britten's unfolding conversation. The implications of Plomer and Britten's adoption of myth as the topic and language of their collaborative conversation are vast and must be considered in order to understand more fully their work together.

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  • August 2005

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  • Feb. 15, 2008, 4:19 p.m.

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  • June 23, 2008, 11:57 a.m.

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Salfen, Kevin McGregor. Myth in the Early Collaborations of Benjamin Britten and William Plomer, dissertation, August 2005; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc4837/: accessed November 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .