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One of the first major biographical landmarks in the Benjamin Britten bibliography after his death was Donald Mitchell and John Evans’ Pictures from a Life. Published in 1978 by Faber & Faber, it offered a pictorial journey through the composer’s life and times. Britten in Pictures, edited by Lucy Walker and published by the increasingly industrious Boydell Press in time for the composer’s centenary celebrations, follows in those early footsteps.

Whether seen in family snaps, rehearsal and productions images or more formal portraiture, Britten’s entire life was captured on camera. As his fame grew, the pictures increased and the Britten Pears Library in Aldeburgh now holds a wealth of photographic material.

Lucy Walker has chosen to complement these pictures with a series of posters, letters, prints and scores, charting Britten’s extraordinarily prolific career. There are passages from his school time diary, an early scenario for Peter Grimes and the draft of one of Wilfred Owen’s poems, given to the composer by his brother after the fi rst performance of the War Requiem. As such, the private and public sit side by side. Pictures of tennis matches or holiday fun with Pears are juxtaposed with the official face of ‘Britten Plc’ captured by Life, Cecil Beaton and, towards the end of the composer’s years, Nigel Luckhurst.

Walker has worked diligently on telling the full story of Britten’s life through pictures, but she commendably takes a back seat when it comes to her editorial presence. In short, images are allowed to speak for themselves. The design of the book, however, is slightly fussier and Boydell has occasionally crowded the page with too much information. Yet it feels like a suitably lavish book and one that cannot be replicated in digital reproduction.

With the completion of the Letters from a Life project – the sixth volume of which has just been published – and new biographies about to appear by Paul Kildea and Neil Powell (as well as a reprint of David Matthews’ brilliantly succinct account), Walker’s superb collation of this visual material will prove indispensable during the centenary year and beyond.

GAVIN PLUMLEY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Classical Music, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing