Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes is one of the few operas of the last half-century to have gained a secure place in the repertory. Its appearance in 1945 shortly after the end of the war in Europe was a milestone in operatic history as well as in British music. But the origins of the work lie in the United States, where Britten and his friend Peter Pears (the first Grimes) spent the years 1939-42. In 1941 they read an evocative essay by the novelist E. M. Forster on the Suffolk poet George Crabbe (1754-1832); this precipitated Britten's decision to return to his native country, and sent them both to Crabbe's poem, The Borough, which gave them the idea for the plot they drafted together. This book opens with Forster's original essay and his later one on Crabbe and Peter Grimes. From there the reader can trace the history of the opera: in Donald Mitchell's annotated interview with the wife of the librettist, Montagu Slater; in Philip Brett's detailed study of the fascinating documents preserved in the Britten-Pears Library at Aldeburgh; and in his history of the work's stage presentation and critical reception. Hans Keller's remarkable synopsis, first printed in 1952, is complemented by a fine new analytical study by David Matthews of Act II scene 1, the crux of the opera.
Table of Contents
Part I. History: 1. Two essays on Crabbe E. M. Forster; 2. Montagu Slater (1902-1956): who was he? Donald Mitchell; 3. 'Fiery visions' (and revisions): Peter Grimes in progress Philip Brett; 4. Breaking the ice for British opera: Peter Grimes on stage Philip Brett; Part II. Synopsis and Analysis: 5. Peter Grimes: the story, the music not excluded Hans Keller; 6. Act II scene I: an examination of the music David Matthews; Part III. Criticism: 7. Introduction Benjamin Britten; 8. Neither a hero nor a villain Peter Pears; 9. Peter Grimes: a review of the first performance Desmond Shawe-Taylor; 10. An account of Peter Grimes from 'London in Midsummer' Edmund Wilson; 11. Music and motive in Peter Grimes J. W. Garbutt; 12. Plausible darkness: Peter Grimes after a quarter of a century Peter Garvie; 13. Britten and Grimes Philip Brett; 14. Postscript Philip Brett.